The proclaimed starting quarterback for the last four years was unexpectedly released nine days before the season, and the backup who had a season-ending meltdown in 2006 which caused him to be benched, was implemented as the team's new leader. The wide receiver position was a concoction of underachieving high draft picks, a slow, former second-day pick who drops a lot of passes, a seventh-round tiny speedster from a small school out west, and a veteran who didn't get re-signed by his former team, who is most famous for a crucial drop. The one perceived foundation of the team was certainly the defense, which finished second overall in 2006, despite having season ending injuries to key players on the defensive line, linebacker, and safety. Or so we thought.
As we all know, the Jaguars got ran over and manhandled on opening day by the Tennessee Titans, who have pretty much no threat of a passing game. Despite the Jaguars returning many of their defensive starters, they allowed a franchise record 282 yards rushing. Many saw this as an aberration, but in the Jaguars four game losing streak dating back to last season, the team has allowed 359, 395, and 350 yards of total offense, and they've allowed an average of nearly 190 yards per game on the ground. Reggie Hayward clearly isn't yet the player he was prior to his ruptured Achilles, Marcus Stroud had off-season surgery, John Henderson is nicked up, and Paul Spicer has had a bad back. Take away last season's standout linebacker Clint Ingram, and the Jaguars have some major issues up front. Head coach Jack Del Rio described the opening day loss--
"Everybody wants to know why, and then look for alibis or excuses and we're not offering any. We just need to play better. When you look at certain things as a coach, where you're real sloppy, were you're penalized a lot and all…So, bottom line is we didn't play horribly, but we have to play better because we didn't win and we're not happy if we're not winning. I think the players said it best, we just need to play better and that's my responsibility first to make sure our guys do that, and we're all accountable. I think one thing you see with our group, and I think that is a positive, is guys understand we have to do better and we expect to do better and our next opportunity is Sunday at one o'clock. So hopefully we get a good crowd out there and we'll put on a good show for them."
So what did the Jaguars do that next Sunday? They held the Atlanta Falcons, which are a bad team, to just seven points, and 248 yards of total offense, -5 yards in the fourth quarter. So did the Jaguars change up their scheme from week one to week two? Not according to Marcus Stroud, who had five tackles and a sack--
"We didn't change the scheme. We just went out there and played the same defense but we tightened up and cut out the mistakes."
Defensive end Brent Hawkins, who had a career high of two sacks, added--
"We were ready to play. John Henderson had a huge part in that. He had me really hyped up at the beginning of the game he was just telling me to leave it all there, leave it all out on the field. That is how we went out today and everyone played well. It came from practice starting on Wednesday. Coach Del Rio said you have to leave it behind you. Even with that being said we all had a bad taste in our mouth. You don't have a game like that without having a bad taste in your mouth."
So which is the real Jaguars defense? The one who was trampled over time and time again vs. Tennessee, as well as the end of last season, or the team that stepped up and held the Falcons talented running back tandem of Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood to 80 yards combined?
The Jaguars will get a great test this week as they travel to the Mile High City, and face the NFL's top-ranked offense in the Denver Broncos, who also boast the league's top rusher in Travis Henry. The Jaguars defense isn't any healthier, as John Henderson will miss a lot of practice time this week after his concussion, Clint Ingram is still questionable, and safety Gerald Sensabaugh will be out, and could possibly miss the rest of the season.
Although the match-ups don't look favorable on paper for the Jaguars against this Denver team, the Broncos haven't been overpowering opponents in their 2-0 start. It took a field goal as time expired to beat the winless Buffalo Bills on opening day, and the Broncos were taken to overtime, and were nearly beaten by an Oakland Raiders team that finished with just two victories a year ago. If the Jaguars can stop the Denver rushing attack, they have a legitimate shot at pulling off an upset. If they are going to get in a shootout, the Jaguars 11.5 points per game average will likely have them on the short end of the scoreboard.
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