- The Jacksonville offense is perceived as a run-first scheme, with QB David Garrard fueling the passing game off of a terrific run game. Early in the 2008 season the Jaguars have not enjoyed the success running the ball they are accustomed to. Is the issue of the Jaguars offensive inconsistency driven by the inconsistency of Garrard in 2008, or again an issue of questionable play-calling?
The Jaguars decline in rushing can be pointed to a few factors, first and foremost the way teams are defending against them. Pittsburgh gave the NFL a blueprint on how to slow down the Jags in the playoff matchup last year, as they brought Troy Polamalu in the box and forced the Jags to throw over the top. Teams are simply stacking the box against them and the only two good rushing games they've had this year came against Indianapolis and Denver, two defenses that I may be able to run for 100 yards against.
Another reason the Jaguars running game hasn't been as effective is the three injuries to the interior offensive line. The team has had to use backups and guys off the street and although they are beginning to gel, they're just not as talented as the lost starters. The team is likely to get center Brad Meester back this Sunday which should help.
As for Garrard, he's played better in recent weeks, but opposing defenses don't respect the Jaguars' passing attack and until they make some big plays through the air, Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew will face eight- and nine-man fronts.
- How have injuries along the offensive line impacted the Jaguars thus far in the 2008 season? Losing three starters early, the Jaguars appear to be rebounding; but, has this unit shown enough to believe Jacksonville will again compete for a playoff spot?
With the usual powers of the AFC struggling this year, I believe everyone is in competition for a playoff spot. As Pittsburgh proved in 2005, all you have to do is get there and get hot. I don't like the Jaguars' defense enough to make a bold, deep playoff-run prediction, but the talent is there.
- Former Cleveland Browns WR Dennis Northcutt was signed by the Jaguars in hopes of adding a presence in the passing game. Has Northcutt been as expected for a Jacksonville team that has had issues since the combination of Keenan McCardell and Jimmy Smith left?
I don't think anyone really expected Dennis Northcutt to be any kind of savior in the passing game. He's a nice slot receiver who catches a lot of passes and seemingly drops big passes. Last season he led the team in receiving and that's probably much more than they could've asked for.
- WR Matt Jones appeared to be coming into his own following a few seasons of disappointing play. With Jones poised to serve a suspension due to an off-the-field incident, who is expected to step-up and replace the lanky receiver?
Although you wouldn't know it by looking at the stat sheet, the Jaguars signed a pretty expensive free agent wide receiver named Jerry Porter this spring. Porter has been hampered with a hamstring tear that required surgery, but the team believes that he is close to 100% and ready to make an impact. Mike Walker is probably the team's most talented receiver, but he will be out for at least a week or two with a knee injury. I look for more opportunities for Northcutt and Reggie Williams with Jones out, assuming he doesn't appeal his suspension.
- Questions about consistency and a pass rush were areas of concern heading into the season for the Jaguars. Six games into the season, the Jaguars' defense is rated near the bottom third of the league. Outside of the lack of pass rush, what is the perceived issue with this Jacksonville defense?
The lack of a pass rush leads to break downs everywhere else. The secondary has to cover for longer, and although they have some talented guys, any starting-caliber NFL quarterback will tear a defense apart if he has five or more seconds in the pocket, and most do against the Jaguars.
What's been somewhat surprising is the poor play from the Jaguars' linebackers. Mike Peterson has been downright awful this year, and Justin Durant has been battling injuries. In the secondary, Drayton Florence is who we thought he was, which is a bad cornerback that gives up big plays. Add in a Reggie Nelson injury that caused him to miss a few weeks and you have a very average to below average defense.
- The Browns head into Jacksonville coming off a disappointing loss in Washington. The Cleveland run defense is as poor as any in the league, and the expectation is for the Jaguars to pound the ball relentlessly. On the flip-side of the coin, can the Jaguars defensive backfield adequately match-up with the Cleveland passing game, if Browns QB Derek Anderson is provided the opportunity to sit in the pocket against a Jacksonville team that has issues pressuring the QB?
If Derek Anderson has time to throw he should be able to torch the Jaguars secondary with the exception of cornerback Rashean Mathis, who has played very well in recent weeks. Anderson will have to make unforced errors on his own because the Jaguars haven't supplied much of a pass rush and I don't expect that to change against a solid Cleveland offensive line. Cleveland needs to find Drayton Florence and throw his way early and often and they will find success.