Jacksonville Jaguars 2010 Season Preview: Coming Soon to L.A.?
FanHouse's 2010 NFL Season Preview features division-by-division predictions based on our tried and true "Heat Index" formula. Each team is graded on a scale of 1-10 (10 being highest) in five key categories: Offense, Defense, Special Teams, Coaching and Intangibles. The higher the score, the better we think the team will be this season. Coming Sept. 6: NFC South.
Things were looking surprisingly good in Jacksonville through Week 12 of the 2009 season. The Jaguars stood at 7-5 and were poised to make the playoffs with a strong finish. Unfortunately, they lost their last four games and blew the opportunity. Not that anybody was paying much attention. All but one of Jacksonville's home games were blacked out locally and their average home attendance was a mere 49,652. It's hard to imagine what, if anything, can save the Jaguars from having to leave mid-market Jacksonville in the coming years. The question is whether the few fans they do have there will have anything fun to watch before that happens.
Offense -- The Jaguars do exactly one thing very well -- run the ball with Maurice Jones-Drew. With Fred Taylor having left for New England, the offense became Jones-Drew's entirely last year, and he quite literally took the ball and ran with it. He rushed for nearly 1,400 yards and 15 touchdowns and continued to build on his reputation as one of the top running backs in the NFL. Jacksonville's offensive line woes didn't seem to bother him, and neither did the inconsistent and inefficient passing game run by QB David Garrard. The Jaguars are at their very best when they can get Jones-Drew the ball and watch him work his magic. Unfortunately, no team can live on rushing alone.
Garrard is fine, but nothing special. He was helped last year by the early emergence of top WR Mike Sims-Walker (what's with all the hyphenated names in Jacksonville?), but Sims-Walker struggled through the second half with a calf injury and the Jags didn't find too many other passing game options. (Jones-Drew was the second-leading receiver with 53 catches). A step forward by young wideout Mike Thomas could open things up for the passing game, but much of what the Jaguars can accomplish on offense will depend on the development of second-year tackles Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton. Heat Index: 7
Defense -- It's hard to imagine going through an entire NFL season and having your defense record just 14 sacks, but that's the no-pressure world in which the Jaguars live. They struggled all year to generate any kind of pass rush and failed. So they signed veteran DE Aaron Kampman in free agency to help with that, then they reached badly to take Tyson Alualu with the 10th overall pick in the draft. Those two should help with the pass rush, since you can't get a lot worse when no one on last year's defense registered more than three sacks, but if they can't, the Jags will still give up a lot of points. They feature a porous secondary behind a fairly strong linebacker group that was bolstered by the addition of Kirk Morrison. Heat Index: 3
Special Teams -- Jacksonville struggled in the return game in 2009 and addressed it by bringing in specialist Kassim Osgood as one of about a half-dozen players whose primary focus will be on special teams. The return duties will be handled by rookies, it appears -- Deji Karim on kicks and Scotty McGee on punts. They've looked good and speedy and elusive in the preseason, but they are rookies and are likely to struggle some as a result. There's also some concern in the kicking game, where kicker Josh Scobee's accuracy has sunk from 92.3 percent of field goal attempts made in 2007 to 76 percent in 2008 and 64.3 percent in 2009. Heat Index: 5
Coaching -- The uncertainty surrounding the status of the team in Jacksonville obviously extends to the head coach's office, where Jack Del Rio's job could be in jeopardy if the Jags don't have a surprisingly good season. Del Rio's done little to distinguish himself in his seven years as coach of the Jaguars, amassing a 57-55 record and two playoff appearances. But if ownership really is interested in moving and trying to get the city of Los Angeles interested in the Jaguars, the apathy and acceptance of mediocrity that has characterized the Del Rio tenure may have to be blown up in favor of something more exciting and forward-looking. Heat Index: 3
Intangibles -- There's just very little to like about the team and the situation. There's no veteran leadership. There's very little inspiration coming from the coaching staff. Nobody goes to watch the games. They play in a division where the other three teams contend for playoff spots every single year. The NFL has surprise teams every season, of course, and Jacksonville could always play better than it looks. But for the Jags to make a serious run, they'd have to overcome some obstacles other teams in larger, more passionate markets just don't have to overcome. Heat Index: 2
Total Heat index: 20/50 -- It's just about impossible to see the Jaguars making hay in a division that includes the dominant Colts, the hungry Texans and the always-pesky, never-say-die Titans. Their non-division schedule, outside of trips to Dallas and San Diego, doesn't look like a killer. But on paper, the Jags are going to be outclassed in every single one of their division matchups unless the passing game and the pass defense take major dramatic leaps forward.