By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts Keg Stand Hall of Famer
It seems if you want some coaching security, you get a job in the AFC South, where mediocrity is an acceptable achievement – at least outside of Indianapolis.
Jeff Fisher famously spent 16-plus seasons in Tennessee, despite the fact that 11 of those seasons were .500 or worse, before finally getting ousted this year.
Gary Kubiak is entering his sixth season in Houston, despite a series of disappointing drafts, dreadful defenses and just one winning season on his resume – a humble 9-7 mark in 2009.
And then there is Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville. He's now the senior man in the AFC South, with eight seasons under his belt. How'd he achieve such longevity in the Not For Long League?
Damned if we know. Maybe it's the 65-63 career record, the one playoff win back in 2007 ... or the spiffy suits. If it were us? We'd trade in the high-class threads for a high-class pass rusher. But, you know, that's just us.
The 2010 storyline: It's almost a miracle that the Jaguars went 8-8, considering they fielded the worst defense in franchise history (419) and were virtually incapable of stopping opposing quarterbacks – as evidenced by a dreadful performance in every one of our pass defense Quality Stats.
The Vital Signs
2010 record: 8-8 (22.1 PPG – 26.2 PPG)
Last five seasons overall: 39-41 (.488)
Best Quality Stat in 2010: Offensive Hog Index (15th)
Worst Quality Stat in 2010: Defensive Passing YPA (32nd) and Defensive Quarterback Rating (32nd)
All Quality Stats
Defensive Passing YPA: 32nd
Quarterback Rating: 17th
Defensive Quarterback Rating: 32nd
Relativity Index: 27th
Statistical curiosity of 2010
David Garrard is hardly considered one of the game's elite passers. But he posted the highest uncapped single-game passer rating of the 2010 season, with his 184.6 mark vs. Dallas in Week 8 (17 of 21, 260 yards, 12.4 YPA, 4 TD, 0 INT). Defensively, the Jaguars fielded the worst defense in the AFC in games against Quality Opponents: they surrendered a conference-worst 32.3 PPG in those games against teams with winning records.
Best game of 2010
31-28 win vs. Indianapolis (Week 4). The worst kept secret in football is that the Jaguars need to find a way to knock off the mighty Colts if they're to capture an AFC South title. And on the first weekend of October – even after two bad losses that put the Jags at 1-2 – it looked like the team had finally turned a corner. David Garrard was devastatingly efficient (17 of 22, 163 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, 1 rushing TD), the Jags won the turnover battle 2-0 and Josh Scobee booted a thunderous 59-yard field goal on the last play of the game to lift Jacksonville to the dramatic early-season win.
But honest Jags fans saw the writing on the wall amid the ecstatic celebration: the team won on a day in which it lost the first-down battle 28-20 and in which – the real issue here for the Jaguars in 2010 – Peyton Manning torched the Jax D for 352 yards through the air.
Worst game of 2010
34-24 loss at Indianapolis (Week 15). Buoyed by the Week 4 win over the Colts, the Jags won seven out of 10 games to improve to 8-5 and a spot atop the AFC South a week before Christmas. All they had to do was get past Indy (7-6 at the time) one more time and prove that 2010 was the Year of the Jaguar.
Not so much.
The team's solid running game disappeared against Indy's pathetic run defense, while Indy's Donald Brown gashed the Jax defense for 129 yards and a score on just 14 carries. The final kick in the nuts came when Tyjuan Hagler picked up Scobee's desperate onside kick with 1:54 to play and took it 41 yards for the game-sealing score.
Jacksonville played worse in other games overall, most notably against the Eagles (28-3), Titans (30-3) and Chiefs (42-20). But the game at Indy was the most devastating loss of the season. The dispirited Jags dropped their final three to fall from 8-5 and driver's seat in the AFC South to another bumbling 8-8 season.
The ground game. Jacksonville's institutional lack of capabilities was evidenced by the fact the team finished 27th overall in our across-the-board Quality Stats. You'd expect that kind of ranking out of a 4-12 team. The Jaguars really did only one thing well, and that's run the football: the team averaged an impressive 4.65 YPA on the ground (fifth).
Human bowling ball Maurice Jones-Drew naturally led the team with 299 attempts for 1,324 yards (a nice 4.4 YPA average), while Rashad Jennings quietly displayed a home-run hitter's touch with 459 yards on just 84 attempts – an awesome 5.5 YPA average – including a huge 74-yard score that sparked a big comeback win over the Raiders. Quarterback David Garrard shared the team lead for rushing TDs (5) with Jones-Drew.
Pass defense. Put most simply, the Jaguars fielded the worst pass defense in football in 2010. And in a league in which you can't win if you can't stop the pass, it proved a devastating flaw.
Jacksonville finished dead last in Defensive Passing YPA (torched for 7.53 yards every time a QB dropped back to pass, even accounting for sacks) and dead last in Defensive Quarterback Rating (our new indicator that accounts for sacks, fumbles and QB rushing, as well as passing stats). Meanwhile, only Houston was worse than Jax in Defensive Passer Rating.
Lack of a pass rush was a huge problem: Jacksonville registered just 26 sacks all year (only Denver was worse with 23). A total of 13 INTs also ranked well within the bottom half of the league.
The Jags produced a Negative Pass Play (sack, INT) on just 7.33 percent of opposing dropbacks, 29th in the NFL.
General off-season strategy/overview
The team has committed to Jack Del Rio – for one more year. So the pressure is clearly on the architect of Jacksonville's failed Pittsburgh Lite strategy, which is Del Rio's desire to win the proverbial "old fashioned" way with a powerful ground game and tough defense.
Two problems with his approach: the powerful ground game, as loyal readers of CHFF now, is virtually useless without a top-tier quarterback, which Jacksonville has not had; and the tough defense is anything but. In fact, the Jags have ranked no better than 12th in scoring defense in each of the past four years. And, as noted above, they fielded the worst pass defense in football last year and the worst scoring D in franchise history.
The team desperately needs a defensive overhaul: gamebreakers at both cornerback and with the pass rush. The organization seems happy with its corners (Derek Cox and Rashean Mathis). But the Cold, Hard Football Facts tell us that the secondary is simply not getting the job done, no matter how much faith management puts in the names on the back of the jerseys. The Jags have danced with former Colts safety Bob Sanders here in the offseason. But an oft-injured safety – as good as he might have been at the height of his skills – simply is not the answer.
Some mocks have the Jags tabbing a pass-rush specialist like Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan with their No. 1 pick. That would probably be a smart decision. Anything other than a gamebreaker on defense is a huge mistake – especially if they ignored these needs and went for the proverbial QB of the future.
Hey, we know David Garrard is not going go to the Hall of Fame. But he is productive enough to take a team deep into the playoffs – at least if said team had a legit D. But as presently constructed, not even Tom Brady or Peyton Manning could win with the defensive unit that Jacksonville put on the field last year.
Totally premature 2011 diagnosis
The instinct is to say that the Jaguars were an 8-8 team on the cusp of the playoffs last year. After all, they were 8-5 and looked like a playoff team heading into the stretch run. But statistically, they were much worse than 8-8. Consider that the team enjoyed just a single win all year over a Quality Opponent – that dramatic win at home vs. the Colts way back in Week 4. They were pretty much dominated by every other Quality Opponent. Bottom line: not a playoff-caliber club, even if they appeared like one in December of 2010.
So the Jags actually need a lot more improvements than the record would indicate. Even if the team shows improvements in key areas – pass defense specifically – it's hard to see more than 8 or 9 wins in 2011.