In nature, the Jaguar is an elusive, secretive animal that relies on stealth rather than speed to capture it's prey. It relies on a bit of trickery at times to get what it desires.
On Sunday, the Colts will face a similar beast in the revamped Jacksonville Jaguars offense. If you think they are the same inconsistent, unremarkable offense of the past couple of years, you may be in for a rude awakening.
In the debut of new offensive coordinator Carl Smith's "vertical offense," the Jaguars were noticeably improved. And just as the Colts needed their defense to step up a bit this season, the Jaguars desperately needed their offense to do the same.
Gone is the more conservative offense, designed to allow Byron Leftwich to slowly mature while relying on Fred Taylor to be the focal point. And the timing couldn't be better. The aging and battered Taylor, coming off of serious knee surgery and wearing a brace, will be expected to run more north-and-south to establish a power-running game and credible play-action passing plays. Meanwhile, Leftwich is expected to air it out through a wide variety of pass formations and routes designed to grab substantial chunks of yardage with each completion. It's an offense that's willing to gamble with play-action downfield passes, but that also takes advantage of high-percentage quick outs and medium-length passes that are caught in stride in the soft areas of zone coverage between the corners and the safeties.
Despite the more aggressive passing attack, Leftwich wasn't picked off once by the Seahawks last week. He looked sharp and precise, hitting 17-31 passes for 252 yards and 2 touchdowns. He actually finished the weekend with a higher quarterback rating than Petyon Manning. Of course, he wasn't exactly facing a defense of the same caliber that Manning did.
As if those changes weren't enough, here's the other twist to the Jaguars offense. With the arrival of 6'6 rookie Matt Jones -- a converted quarterback who is now a receiver in Jacksonville -- Carl Smith has designed a number of trick plays for his offense. And Jones' versatility and size are a focal point for those plays.
The Jaguars, much like their counterpart in nature, have evidently decided that if they don't have what it takes during any given encounter to overwhelm their adversary, they are going to try to outwit them with a few tricks.
Last week against the Seahawks, Jones lined up repeatedly a step behind -- not next to -- Jimmy Smith. At the snap of the ball, the two men exploded sometimes in opposite directions from the start, other times bolting downfield for a short time before breaking ranks.
Inside the Seahawks' 15-yard line, the Jaguars lined up in the shotgun. Leftwich....no, wait! It's Matt Jones at the quarterback position with Leftwich lined up as the left wide receiver! Jones grabbed the snap and ran a right sweep for a short gain.
Later on, the Jaguars ran a reverse to Jones. Not such a wild play, right? But don't forget, this is a guy who played quarterback last year. Jones kept the arc of his reverse run fairly conservative and waited for the Seahawks to close on him. Then, just as if he was still in college, he pulled up a bit and fluidly shuttled the ball as though he was executing a perfectly timed option run out of the quarterback position. And wide receiver Reggie Williams finished the play off for a 6-yard gain.
Big deal, a whole 6 yards you may say. But here's the point. Once a defense sees these plays, it throws them off balance a big on the more routine plays. Because they can't trust what they know would traditionally happen on the play. Tony Dungy has been preaching the importance of the Colts defenders staying in their gaps. Against this offense, it's going to be more important than ever or the Jaguars will find gaping holes to exploit as the trick plays create compelling misdirection opportunities.
And guess what. It's not going to be long before Carl Smith lets Jones toss a few out of that shotgun formation just to keep defenses guessing even more. You might even see it on Sunday since the Jaguars know the Colts saw Jones' running and option plays on film this week. To catch them off guard, a pass would be the logical addition to the mix.
The Jaguars will attempt to take advantage of Jones' height in red zone situations as well. Last week they tried to connect on a high pass at the back of the end zone that only he was tall enough to catch. Unfortunately for Jacksonville, his feet came down out of bounds.
One more thing you better be aware of as you are settling in for the game. Leftwich hit seven different receiving targets last week, but 36-year old Jimmy Smith did the bulk of the damage with his seven catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns. I guarantee you that the Colts will be aware of him and the soft spots he found in the Seattle secondary that allowed him to effortlessly pull in receptions for long gains, including a 45-yarder.
The difference the Jaguars will likely see this week is a more aggressive defensive line across all positions. Last week, only Grant Wistrom succeeded in harassing Leftwich, allowing him time to find his receivers. The Jags offensive line quite honestly wasn't all that impressive. The Seahawks were simply average at best with their pass rush. Jacksonville's line will be severely tested and could be the weakness that keeps them from fully taking advantage of the other offensive improvements they've made. And if that happens, they will struggle to keep up with Peyton Manning and the Colts offense -- no matter how many tricks they have in that playbook.
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