After starting the season by placing two of their interior offensive linemen on injured reserve and working without center Brad Meester, things have settled down for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
OT Tony Pashos
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Meester has started the last eight games, guards Dennis Norman and Uche Nwaneri and tackles Tony Pashos and Khalif Barnes have started all 14 games thus far this season, and the offensive line has actually become an area of stability for the Jaguars. It has not, however, developed into an area of strength.
Quarterback David Garrard has been knocked down more times than any other quarterback in the NFL and has been sacked 38 times already this season, which is a remarkably high number for such a strong, mobile, and aware player. Jacksonville has also fallen to 18th overall in terms of run offense.
Although the three interior linemen have the advantage of having worked together the past eight games, NFL teams have the advantage of being able to analyze multiple games worth of film on these three men.
What they have discovered is that Meester is the only lineman on the inside that can pull and, if a defensive tackle is able to penetrate and get his hands on Meester, he can re-direct Meester and force him out of his assignment.
All the Jaguars offensive linemen are big, hulking men that get off the ball slowly. If they are able to lock down on the Colts linemen, they will be able to push Antonio Johnson and Raheem Brock off the ball. On the outside, Pashos should be able to get a push on Robert Mathis and Barnes should be able to overpower Dwight Freeney, but Freeney and Mathis hold a significant advantage when the Jaguars elect to pass.
In addition, neither Barnes nor Pashos is quick or fluid enough to turn their hips and seal off the edge, so that means Jacksonville will have to focus their running efforts between the tackles.
These factors work in favor of the Colts, as the Jaguars are far less effective running the ball between the tackles or relying on passing to move the ball. The loss of Fred Taylor means that they will have to run the ball to the outside with Maurice Jones-Drew and use him as a receiver as well.
The Jaguars are without Matt Jones, their leading receiver, due to a suspension for violating league policy, but their receiving corps may not be as adversely affected as one would assume.
WR Dennis Northcutt
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Dennis Northcutt has filled in for Jones and added a deep threat that has been lacking from the Jacksonville passing game. Former Vikings first rounder Troy Williamson has a reputation as a speedster as well and the duo of Northcutt and Williamson make for a real threat as the deep part of the two-deep reads that the Jaguars like to run.
However, both men have inconsistent hands and suffer from lapses in focus, so they represent quite a boom or bust element of the Jacksonville passing game. It will be an interesting challenge for Antoine Bethea and Bob Sanders over the top, but either of these receivers may bail them out by dropping a critical deep pass.
Underneath, Reggie Williams runs the slant route better than almost every receiver in the NFL and the Colts cornerbacks were victimized numerous times against Detroit, as Calvin Johnson cut in front of Tim Jennings and Kelvin Hayden and boxed them out with his massive frame.
Williams is just as big and just as good at positioning his body, though he's certainly not as dangerous after the catch.
Tight ends Marcedes Lewis and Greg Estrandia will also get their fair share of looks and represent a match-up problem for the linebacking trio of Buster Davis, Freddy Keiaho, and Clint Session, as none of the men can cover either of the tight ends one-on-one and they will be distracted on the edges with Northcutt and Williams.
Add Jones-Drew into the mix, catching screens and checkdowns, and it should be a long day for the back seven of the Colts, facing a surprisingly deep and talented group of players where the whole is certainly greater — and more dangerous — than the sum of its parts.
The only way to contain this attack is to make it work, keep the play in front of you, take sound pursuit lanes to the ball carrier, and execute proper tackling techniques. That is also the best way to stop Jones-Drew.
The injury to Taylor, coupled with a season-ending injury to fullback Greg Jones, has drastically altered the makeup of the Jacksonville offense. They run single back formations exclusively at this point and almost always deploy two tight ends.
RB Maurice Jones-Drew
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If Lewis and Estrandia were more accomplished blockers, this would open things up on the edge for Jones-Drew, but they are simply not strong enough to seal off the edge and allow Jones-Drew to get to the perimeter, so he has been forced to the inside.
The Colts defenders have certainly had issues bringing Jones-Drew to the ground, but they have learned, as have most teams, that the best way to attack him is to square your shoulders to him, watch his shoulders, and tackle at his ribs or lower.
Jones-Drew is simply too strong and too small of a target to go after peripheral areas. He needs to be approached straight on, going for either his waist — the smallest, weakest area of his torso — and tackling up or going for his legs, the smallest area below his waist.
Indianapolis defenders need to keep Jones-Drew in front of them at all times, square up, and attack. That is the only way they are going to stop him and, by proxy, this Jacksonville offense.
Though David Garrard's star has certainly fallen since the end of last season, he is still a very talented and effective player that is far more leader and catalyst than he is game manager.
QB David Garrard
His numbers have declined since 2007, but they were bound to do so, as it would be incredibly difficult — if not impossible — for him to duplicate those numbers in 2008.
However, he has thrown fewer touchdowns (13 in 2008 versus 18 in 2007) in the same number of starts (14), but has thrown far more interceptions (10 in 2008 versus three in 2007).
Even though the Jaguars have place eight offensive players on injured reserve and Garrard is working behind a depleted offensive line, he still has had more than enough talent to work with during the course of the season.
His decision-making skills and accuracy are off this season and, although he is still a fine player, capable of great things with his arm and legs, he is no longer a player that can take a team on his shoulders and carry them to victory.
With the injuries and setbacks Jacksonville has suffered through this season — Taylor and Jones-Drew have, at different times, questioned the toughness and tenacity of this offensive unit — the Jaguars needed something more than Garrard to pull them out of the abyss. At this point in the season, they are too far into the abyss for Garrard to pull them out, even if he were suddenly capable.
For Jacksonville to again be successful, they need to get back to what made them successful in the past. They need to run the ball.
Jones-Drew. The Jaguars do not have the mental fortitude to maintain long drives against this Colts defense and they lack the talent and big play ability to beat a very disciplined Cover 2 defense deep.
The only way they are going to be effective is if Jones-Drew rips off some big runs against what Indianapolis has left in their front seven after injuries.
Given the matchups and how badly the Jaguars linemen have struggled between the tackles, it looks as though Jones-Drew will have to do this himself. The good news for Jacksonville is that he's the one player capable of doing that himself. The bad news for Jacksonville is that he's the only player capable of doing that himself.