Okay, on to the second game, against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags finished a disappointing 8-8 in 2006 after a 12-4 season in 2005. Talk about expectations. Last year was the year they were expected to challenge the Colts for AFC South supremacy, but instead they lost to the Texans twice. This will be another road game for the Falcons. The Jaguars 6-2 at home last year, and have been strong at home under Del Rio, winning 21 of 32 games. So they have a home field advantage.
Offense: Their offense should get a nice kikc in the pants with Dirk Koetter taking over. Or at least that’s what they hope. He’s the third offensive coordinator to helm the team under Del Rio, and it’ll be interesting to see what sort of impact he can have. Obviously, their issues start at quarterback with Leftwich. When he’s healthy, he’s generally been good. Problem is, he hasn’t been healthy very much. Garrard is one of the better backups in the league, going 9-7 as a starter in his last 16 starts, but he doesn’t really blow you away and isn’t what most would consider a true franchise quarterback. Their running game is strong however with a good duo in Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. They will have Greg Jones added to the mix this year, which means that they have everything you look for at that positions: speed, power, etc. Their wide receivers have struggled, but they have talent and they are hopeful that Koetter’s offense will bring out the best in them. If Matt Jones, Reggie Williams, and Ernest Wilford could be combined into one player, perhaps they would be very good, but each is too inconsistent to really be considered a strong unit. They will utilize more twins sets this year, and added Jermaine Wiggins to join George Wrighster and Marcedes Lewis at tight end. If Lewis lives up to his potential, which he did not last year as a rookie, it gives them the best corps of tight ends in the league. Their offensive line is good. They have shuffled it around, but it pretty much guarantees that the best five will be on the field. Maurice Williams is moving to left tackle to challenge Khalif Barnes, since Tony Pashos gives them a stronger run blocker at right tackle. Vince Manuwai is emerging as a premier guard in the NFL, while Brad Meester and Chris Naeole are solid.
Defense: This unit was dominant in certain games, and iffy in others. But finished 4th in scoring defense and 2nd in total defense last year. Their front four is arguably the best with Reggie Hayward coming off injury. Stroud and Henderson are the league’s best pair of tackles, and McCrary emerged last year as a double-digit sack guy. Their linebackers are top with Peterson, Daryl Smith, and Clint Ingram. At cornerback, Rashean Mathis is one of the best in the league, arguably in the top five. Brian Williams is a serviceable No. 2 guy. Safety is the only major concern here with Deon Grant leaving via free agency. Gerald Sensabaugh and Donovan Darius will man this spot, Sensabaugh isn’t an ideal free safety and Darius is getting up in age. That is the biggest weakness to potentailly exploit this year, the deep ball.
Off-season: The additions of Pashos, Dennis Northcutt, and Wiggins were the biggest they made. Their only losses were Kyle Brady and Grant. Wiggins offsets Brady’s departure, but Kevin McCadam won’t make up for Deon Grant. They’re a team that has kept relatively low-key this off-season besides spending big money on Pashos in the opening weekend.
Draft: I suspect despite their issues on offense, the Jaguars will go defense in Round 1, since they are more concerned with getting their young offensive talent to play better than to replace them. But they’ll address areas as as wide receiver later in the draft, but their defense should only get stronger since they are in a position in which safety is their only major need, allowing them to select best available throughout the draft.
Overall: Much like the Falcons, the Jaguars are a team that needs to play better rather than get better. Their key players on offense like Leftwich and the receivers just have to get better. They’ve all flashed the potential to be impact players on this level, but haven’t done it consistently. Their defense however is still going to make them a factor in most games, and despite concerns in the secondary their front seven is going to be even better with the return of Hayward and Peterson this year.
How they Matchup: They have one of the league’s best ground attacks, and they hope their passing game will improve with new guidance by Koetter. Potentially they could be very balanced, but more than likely the passing game won’t make huge strides this year. They have 3 big wideouts that can run, which will be difficult for our secondary to match up with. Their front five is athletic and physical, the types that tend to get our front seven the most trouble. Defensively, they can shut down anything we throw at them. Peterson and/or Smith have the speed and range to spy Vick and have a big impact, and their front four will be a very tough matchup for our offensive line.