The Jacksonville Jaguars turned over their coaching staff during last season, and their front office after that. They spent big in the offseason and now have their sights set on finally improving and getting back to the playoffs after nine years away.
Oddly, the same sentiment was present as the Jags started last year. A close Week 1 loss to Green Bay had a lot of people wondering if they really could compete. Unfortunately, they got run over by the Chargers the next week, and the same old Jaguars quickly reared their ugly heads.
Wins either side of the bye restored a little faith, but that was soon dashed by a nine-game losing streak. After a Week 14 loss to Houston, Gus Bradley was fired as head coach. The return was a win the next week against Tennessee but in the end, the Jags season was a colossal disappointment.
The problems stemmed, almost entirely, from a disappointing passing game. After breaking out in 2015, Allen Robinson saw a lot more coverage and could do far less damage than he did before, and Blake Bortles was simply unable to read coverages consistently or work the ball into tight windows. The big-armed quarterback slumped to a miserable season, posting a 58.9% completion rate, throwing 23 touchdowns to a massive 16 picks and managing just 6.2 yards per completion, which is woeful. With the passing game imploding, defenses were able to hammer down on the run game and punish TJ Yeldon and Chris Ivory, who failed to break even 500 yards and both finished with under four yards per carry.
Defensively though, the Jaguars were improved. Jalen Ramsey came in and instantly showed why there had been so much hype around him coming out of college, while Dante Fowler finally took to the field and flashed some of his elite pass rushing skills. Still, with poor field position and bad morale, they couldn’t halt teams from scoring enough to win.
|AJ Bouye, CB||John Cyprien, S|
|Calais Campbell, DL||Kelvin Beachum, OT|
|Barry Church, S||Luke Joeckel, G|
|Earl Watford, OT||Prince Amukamara, CB|
|Mychal Rivera, TE||Tyson Alualu, DT|
|Audie Cole, ILB||Davon House, CB|
|Tom Coughlin, VP of football operations||Roy Miller, DT|
|Doug Marrone, Head coach||Gus Bradley, Head coach|
|Leonard Fournette, RB (Draft)|
Jacksonville were not shy of spending their masses of cap space once free agency opened. They threw a five-year, $67.5 million contract at AJ Bouye, a one-year wonder cornerback who had terrorized them with the Texans. They went and got Calais Campbell on a four-year, $60 million deal and then added Barry Church with a four-year, $26 million offer. All told, they handed out just shy of $72 million guaranteed to free agents in the offseason, with those three taking up the bulk of it.
The Jaguars also brought in the franchise’s first ever head coach, Tom Coughlin, to be vice president of football operations, but also retained general manager David Caldwell, and together they confirmed Doug Marrone, who had been offensive coordinator since 2015 and served as interim head coach after Bradley was fired, as the full-time HC. It’s a curious triumvirate at the top of the Jaguars organization, with many assuming that Coughlin will pull the strings on the team via Marrone, and the strings of the organization using Caldwell as a human shield. I’m not so sure Coughlin is so Machiavellian, but it is an interesting dynamic having someone who definitely still wants to coach in the front office.
|1||@ Houston Texans|
|2||Vs Tennessee Titans|
|3||Vs Baltimore Ravens (London)|
|4||@ New York Jets|
|5||@ Pittsburgh Steelers|
|6||Vs Los Angeles Rams|
|7||@ Indianapolis Colts|
|9||Vs Cincinnati Bengals|
|10||Vs Los Angeles Chargers|
|11||@ Cleveland Browns|
|12||@ Arizona Cardinals|
|13||Vs Indianapolis Colts|
|14||Vs Seattle Seahawks|
|15||Vs Houston Texans|
|16||@ San Francisco 49ers|
|17||@ Tennessee Titans|
The AFC North, NFC West, New York Jets, and LA Chargers are on Jacksonville’s slate, which gives them some very winnable games against the Rams, 49ers, and Jets, but also some tricky ones. They avoid traveling to Seattle, but still have to face the brilliance of the Seahawks roster.
Their fate will come down to their divisional matches though, and ending the season at the Titans could be a nightmare.
Three players to watch
There has been a lot of turnover on the Jaguars roster, and there are several players that the team needs to perform well this year.
Cam Robinson, offensive tackle
The Jags’ second-round pick, Robinson was expecting to compete for the right tackle job or a guard spot, but Branden Albert’s sudden terribleness and retirement opened up the left tackle spot, and since that was what he did in college he was thrust into that spot. The work so far has been very good.
In the first preseason game against the Patriots, Robinson was very good in run blocking as expected, and held his own in pass protection. Now, this was against the Patriots second-string defense, but it was still a very reassuring sight for Jaguars fans who are far too used to pass rushers breezing to the quarterback.
Calais Campbell, defensive line
Campbell has long been a favorite of mine. He was ridiculously good in Arizona during his time in the desert, lining up all over the defensive line and causing havoc. He was best utilized as a 5-tech defensive end though, and that’s not a position in the Jags defense. I’m not saying he can’t be effective inside on the guards on a consistent basis, but it’s always a worry when a defensive lineman changes fronts. If Campbell can be the player he was in Arizona then he’s worth every dollar the Jaguars are paying him, but if not then they are in trouble.
Myles Jack, linebacker
Jack was a second-round pick last season, but mostly due to a knee injury. If he had been healthy he would probably have been a top 20 pick. He was brought along softly last year, playing just 22.2% of the defensive snaps as well as some special teams. This year though, he needs to come out and perform at the highest level.
Paul Posluszny and Telvin Smith played nearly every snap for the Jags last year, and the defense spent a lot of time with just two linebackers on the field partly because they didn’t have a third. Now that Jack is healthy they do, and if one of Posluszny or Smith goes down he has to be ready. Jack can bring so much to the Jaguars defense if he can be the player he was projected to be and I am very excited to see him play down after down this season.
From talking about Robinson, Campbell, and Jack you might think I am very positive about the Jaguars this season. Unfortunately, I’m not.
Don’t get me wrong, I think their defense could be pretty good, top-10 in DVOA kind-of good. They lack the pass rush, especially if Dante Fowler gets suspended, to be truly elite, but with talent at every level they should be a very good unit.
The problems come on offense, and specifically at quarterback. Blake Bortles has been bad enough in the preseason and training camp for the coaches to publicly say the job is there to be won for backup Chad Henne. The issue is that we’ve seen the Chad Henne Jaguars and they are no good either. At his best, Henne is a hand-off machine who can throw a few nice passes. At his worst, he’s impossible to win with.
Even if Cam Robinson works out, and Leonard Fournette bruises his way to 1,200 yards, and Allen Robinson & Allen Hurns take yet another step forward, the man distributing the ball is simply not good enough to take advantage of all those factors.
The defense will be enough to keep games close, and even win a few on its own like the 2015 Broncos, but without an improvement from Bortles, they won’t be able to compete for the AFC South. I see seven wins as the ceiling for the Jaguars, and four as the floor. They will probably end up in the middle and looking for a new quarterback by the time the season is over though.
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