Jags Searching For Playmakers

The Jaguars face a tougher schedule next year, and unless they find some players that can bring more pop to their offense, they might not fare as well as they did this season.

Searching for playmakers.

That's the top item on the Jaguars agenda in the off-season as they attempt to take the step from a playoff team to a team that can win in the playoffs.

The Jaguars posted a 12-4 record last season, their best mark since 1999 when they went 14-2.

But their lack of big-time playmakers - particularly on offense - explains why they finished 8-1 in their last nine regular-season games but weren't competitive in their only game against a winning team in the last nine or in their only playoff game.

The Jaguars fell behind Indianapolis 26-3 on Dec. 11 and lost 26-18, and they lost to New England 28-3 in their first playoff game in six years.

In games against the Colts (twice), Denver and New England, they had just three touchdowns. And two of them came in garbage time against the Colts after they were behind 26-3.

To illustrate the problem, compare their statistics to those put up by the Carolina Panthers.

The Jaguars tied for 15th in offensive yardage and the Panthers were 22nd. The Jaguars were 10th in rushing yardage and the Panthers were 19th. The Jaguars were 19th in passing yardage and Carolina was 17th.

On defense, Carolina was third and the Jaguars were sixth. In rushing defense, the Panthers were fourth and the Jaguars were 14th. In passing defense, the Panthers were ninth and the Jaguars were seventh.

In points scored, the Jaguars were 12th and the Panthers were eighth. In scoring defense, the Jaguars were sixth and the Panthers fifth.

Looking at those statistics, the teams looked quite similar. And yet the Jaguars were eliminated in the first round and the Panthers won a pair of playoff games to make it to the NFC title game.

The difference is that the Panthers have a big-time playmaker in wide receiver Steve Smith, who caught 103 passes for 1,563 yards and 12 touchdowns.

The Jaguars don't have a playmaker in his mold. Their top receiver, aging Jimmy Smith, had 70 catches and some critical drops in the playoff loss to New England.

They also don't have a big-time running back. Fred Taylor was hurt part of the year and led the team with only 787 yards rushing.

The unfortunate thing for the Jaguars is that they drafted receivers on the first round the last two years in Reggie Williams and Matt Jones, but neither seems to be on the verge of becoming a star.

And Williams is facing a marijuana possession charge that is likely to land him in the NFL's drug program.

So in free agency or the draft, they need a playmaker who can turn games around.

They had hoped quarterback Byron Leftwich could become that type of player, but he didn't have the breakout season the Jaguars expected he'd have as he missed the last five regular-season games with a broken ankle.

His lack of mobility and his slow windup release have raised questions about him.

On top of that, Jacksonville's schedule gets much more difficult. In 2005, the Jaguars played just six games against teams with winning records and went 3-3, including a victory over a Pittsburgh team that was missing Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward. Next season, they have nine games against winning teams plus Philadelphia, which is likely to rebound from a losing year.

 So this is a critical off-season for the Jaguars as they attempt to find a playmaker who can make a difference.

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