31 Days, 31 Teams: Jacksonville Jaguars
In 2009 the Jacksonville Jaguars fell shy of the playoffs but were competitive throughout the season. Now in 2010 with one of the NFL's best running backs and with much needed changes to the defensive line do the Jaguars have what it takes to return to the playoffs?
In his first season without Fred Taylor running back Maurice Jones-Drew took on a heavy workload , carrying the ball 312 times for nearly 1400 yards while also ranking second on the team in receptions. But while Jones-Drew is reliable quarterback David Garrard is not. For every 300 yard or 3 touchdown performance Garrard laid an egg, like throwing for only 139 yards in a crucial December loss to Miami or his 139 yards, 2 INT game versus Tennessee. One big reason for Garrard's inconsistency was the inability of the offensive line to protect the quarterback. Garrard was sacked 42 times with 20 of those sacks coming down the stretch when Jacksonville went 1-5. For quite a few season the Jaguars have been looking for a go-to wide receiver and they may have found it in Mike Sims-Walker. In 2009 Sims-Walker broke out with 63 catches for 869 yards. The Jaguars are also hoping for a big year out of new number two receiver Mike Thomas.
Perhaps the biggest number for Jacksonville in 2009 was 14. That's the number of times Jacksonville sacked opposing quarterbacks last season. To put that number in perspective, Denver's Elvis Dumervil led the NFL in sacks last year with 17, three more than the entire Jaguars defense. Jacksonville switched to the 3-4 defense in 2009 and simply didn't have the personnel to make it work. Clearly this was a need and the Jaguars targeted it in the offseason. It started with the free agent signing of Aaron Kampman who returns to his old position of defensive end as the Jaguars will go back to the 4-3 defense. In April the Jaguars used their first four picks on defensive tackles/ends including taking Tyson Alualu, a high risk/high reward pick at number ten overall.
At one point last year the Jaguars were 7-5 and in the driver's seat for a wild card spot in the playoffs but a four game losing streak derailed any postseason possibility. Success in 2010 will be defined by the offensive and defensive lines. If Garrard can be protected and assuming Jones-Drew can stay healthy the Jaguars should be able to put up enough points. Jacksonville ended 2009 ranked 24th in scoring defense primarily because teams had all day to throw. That should change with a stronger pass rush.