You've Got Smoke, I've Got Mirrors

The Jacksonville Jaguars lack of national star power has been discussed time and time again. Simply put, the one player on their team that is closest to a household name has a hyphenated name that many people can't say right, and he, Maurice Jones-Drew, isn't even a starter.

The Jaguars offense and defense lacks explosion and sexiness, yet they are currently tied for the third-best record in their conference, and fifth-best record in the NFL overall.

Out of the four major offensive and defensive categories, the Jaguars are only ranked in the top 13 in one area, rushing offense. Despite having the third best rushing attack in the NFL, the Jaguars offense is still ranked 18th overall in yards, and are in the middle of the pack (15th overall) in scoring, averaging just 20.7 points per game. Their third-down conversion rate of just above 40% is mediocre as well.

So they're winning with that stifling, physical defense that the Jaguars have been known for in recent years, right? Wrong. The Jacksonville defense currently sits at 24th overall, their worst ranking this late in the season since the Del Rio era began in 2003. The Jaguars run defense is up to 14th overall (yes, I wrote up), and the pass defense is the fifth-worst unit in the entire league. Teams can run with some effectiveness against the Jaguars defense, and they can nearly throw it at will.

So how has this Jacksonville team won seven out of their first 10 games, luck? That's part of it. The Jaguars absolutely stole a victory nearly four weeks ago in Tampa Bay when they had no as semblance of a passing game, playing with backup quarterback Quinn Gray (making his first start). The Jaguars were fortunate enough to receive some "gifts" from Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia as he threw his first three interceptions of the season, as well as misfiring three times to wide open receivers that would've easily gone for touchdowns. A little more luck came the Jaguars way in week two against Atlanta when the Falcons kicker (now former Falcons kicker), missed two chip-shot field goals in a 13-7 Jacksonville victory. The Jaguars could easily be a 5-5 team right now instead of a 7-3 team, but teams get lucky breaks throughout the course of a season, one way or the other.

Perhaps the main reason for the Jaguars stat-defying success is the special teams unit, the usually forgotten part of any football team. The Jaguars kickoff coverage is tops in the NFL, and their punt coverage is in the top ten. Their kickoff return team is in the top five, and their punt return unit is in the top half of the league. Where the Jaguars offense and defense have regressed statistically from a year ago, the special teams unit has improved dramatically, partially due to new special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis.

DeCamillis convinced the rest of the Jaguars front office to have an eye on special teams when they made their selections in April's draft and it appears to be paying dividends. First-round pick Reggie Nelson, second-round pick Justin Durant, fourth-round pick Adam Podlesh, and seventh-round picks Chad Nkang and John Broussard have all been special teams contributors and have made big plays this season.

As you can plainly tell by their win/loss record, stats can sometimes be deceiving when referring to the Jaguars. The Jacksonville defense is statistically terrible in yards allowed, yet they are eighth-best in the NFL in points allowed. The Jacksonville offense is very average, and the passing game is near the bottom of the league, yet quarterback David Garrard has a quarterback rating of 104.6, fourth-best in the NFL. The Jaguars may be winning with smoke and mirrors, but smoke and mirrors are getting the job done. Winning in



Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of Jagnation.com, and a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports.com, Sirius NFL Radio, and Sportsillustated.com. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and is a columnist for the New Smyrna Observer.

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