Sorry this is getting out a little later in the week…it was a heart-wrenching loss and it has taken me until now to find answers. Not really, because my eyes knew the answers all along. But after a bit of investigative research, I’ve found some telling insight into just what went wrong. I’ve also found a lot that went right and some exciting developments that the Jaguars’ can build upon (along with the three victories in our last four games and a manageable schedule moving forward). Point #1 is a doozy, so make the jump to continue reading…
- 1. So what did your eyes see? It all makes sense once you burn the stat sheet. On the first drive of the game, I saw a Giants’ running game that was tunneling holes through the Jaguars front-seven like the Vietcong. I saw Brandon Jacobs, running hard behind his pads, not being touched for the first five yards and then blowing up whoever tried to tackle him for a few extra. I saw Ahmad Bradshaw take a swing pass to the outside and burn our linebackers for 10 yards and a first down. I saw Eli Manning doing exactly what Colt McCoy wasn’t capable of – hitting receivers perfectly in the “honey hole” of our Cover 2 defense (see diagram below: the yellow circles to the left and right are the honey holes), just over top of our corners and with perfect timing, making it impossible for our fledgling safeties to make a play in time (he hit this pass several times and that was the same throw Mario Manningham ultimately burned us for a touchdown on). And though there were some fantastic stops by the Jaguars’ defense as the game progressed, that first drive defined much of the game, as the Giants’ ran hard and hit the passes they needed to when they needed to. Late in the game, I saw the Jaguars’ send seven blitzers on what ended up being the deciding play of the game and right after I saw seven blitzers come up short, I saw Green Courtney Greene (who I do like and hope can continue to develop in our defensive) one-on-one with a massive tight end, Kevin Boss, who broke the tackle with relative ease and ran unimpeded the remaining 20 yards to the end zone. In the first half, I saw a Jaguars’ offensive line that absolutely mauled the Giants’ defenders and made huge holes for Maurice Jones-Drew and Rashad Jennings, who ran their hearts out. I saw David Garrard executing a superbly called gameplan by Dirk Koetter that protected the quarterback with short dropbacks and passes that right at the sticks or designed to get good yards after the catch. In the second half, I saw a Giants’ defensive line that came alive, no longer relenting to the Jacksonville maulers and coming after the quarterback with a tenacity not seen in the first half. I saw David Garrard throw an interception on his first pass of the second half and take some hard hits after the throw in the following series and after that I saw David looking extremely tentative when he was taking anything more than a three step drop. I saw the Jags get caught in some 3rd-and-longs that they didn’t face in the first half and get absolutely demolished by the pass rush. And then I saw a scoreboard that said 24-20, Giants.
- 2. Digging deeper: exploring the Jaguars’ play-calling and 3rd down situations. Many fans complained that we abandoned the run in the second half, so let’s look into it…In the first half, the Jaguars’ called 17 running plays, 16 passing plays, and David Garrard scrambled twice. Five of those passes and two of the scrambles came inside of the two-minute warning. In the second half (and up until the final drive, which was 9 straight pass plays), the Jaguars called 12 passes, 11 runs, and Garrard scrambled 3 times. Seems pretty balanced to me. If you take issue with the play-calling, you might be able to make an argument for handling the final drive different, but Koetter was calling a damn good game up until that point. It gets more interesting when you look at the Jags’ 3rd down situations. There was only one 3rd-and-long (8 yards or more to go) in the first half; six 3rd-and-longs in the second half. A little research seems to tell a more complete story of the Jaguars’ 3rd down successes and failures and might explain why we lost the game in the second half. The Jaguars were 5 for 6 on 3rd down in the first half BUT the only 3rd-and-long situation (8 yards or longer to go), the Jags did not convert (this was the “surrender” run near the goal line, following a 3rd-and-7 where Manuwai falsely started, and resulted in a field goal). In the 2nd half, the Jags were 7 for 11 on 3rd down, converting all but one of their 3rd-and-short or 3rd- and-medium (less than 8) situations. The Jags had six 3rd-and-longs in the second half; they converted a 3rd-and-9, were awarded a first down after defensive holding on a 3rd-and-10, and failed on 3rd-and 8, 20, 18, and 25. What does this tell us? The Giants’ pass rushers are who we thought they were. David Garrard was hit 11 times for four sacks and three stripped balls and ended his last drive with a lost fumble and a sprained wrist. When they knew we were passing, they got to us and in a big way and if you can’t pass effectively in the modern game, you’ll end up bleeding away a perfectly good lead when the other team does pass the ball well, does rush the passer well, and does find ways to win in crunchtime.
- 3. The Jaguars can be proud for much of their performance and there are some indicators that this team is sharply on the rise. I’m sure you’ve heard by now, but our 2006 2nd round draft pick, Maurice Jones-Drew, aka: Mighty Mouse, aka: the Human Pinball, aka: Pocket Hercules, is BLOWING UP RIGHT NOW! This man is the hottest running back in the NFL with four back-to-back 100 yard games. Everyone got on Mojo’s back last year about fading down the stretch, well not this year. It may be a passing league, but as long as those giant little legs are churning under #32, he will be the soul of this offense. The run blocking has been stellar, which has much to do with the resurgence of Vinny Manuwai. I watched the game on NFL Replay and this guy was throwing Giants’ lineman to the ground the whole game – his new nickname should be IHOP the way he was dishin’ out pancakes. And that was a huge reason for the Jags’ success on 3rd down, they converted every 3rd-and-short in the game and most of the time by running the ball – that is possibly the biggest development in our offense and is a huge sign of our progress. The Jags also showed their maturity by not only avoiding being flustered by the big stage, but executing their gameplan with calm perfection in the entire first half. Playing in New York, New York against one of the league’s premier franchises is a big deal to a guy in his first, second, even fifth year guys and despite the shortcomings in the second half, the Giants are responsible for beating the Jags – not the distractions of the venue. We may get to the playoffs, we may not, we may win a playoff game, we pay not, but we won’t lose because the stage was too big.
- 4. Sorry fans, can’t blame the coaching on this one. Dirk Koetter had the gameplan dialed in perfectly on this one. The Jaguars let negative plays on 1st and 2nd down and untimely penalties put us in some touch situations in the second half and this is where the Giants’ defense finally slowed us down. Many fans are faulting Del Rio for the 2nd half collapse of his team and admittedly, this team has been a 35 minute team for the last few games (the first half and the last 5 minutes), but this week was only a 30 minute team. However, this is the trademark of our youth rather than our coach. These guys are just now learning how to play together and win together. They’re learning who they are and what the NFL is all about. Tyson Alualu and Terrance Knighton haven’t even turned 25 and are already turning into one of the most dynamic tandems in the league. That Mike Thomas guy is pretty good. Eugene Monroe has shut down some of the best pass rushers in the NFL when he’s on the field. I’d say they’re learning faster than we ever could have hoped for…
- 5. The Jaguars still managed to get back to work on Monday relatively unscathed. The Colts not only lost Sunday, keeping the Jaguars effectively on top of the AFC South, but they did it on the national stage and everyone now knows that the Colts (and Peyton Manning) are not who they used to be. Their aura, their mystique, have faded like a 4th quarter Manning pass and you better believe teams will be coming at them for the rest of the season without fear. Honestly, the Giants game, though emotional, was the one we could most afford to lose – it was a non-conference game and had little implication as far as tiebreakers.The AFC South is wide open and the Jags control their destiny – win our two home games against the Raiders and the Redskins (not a cakewalk, but certainly manageable), take down either the Texans or the Titans on their turf, and beat Indy in the Lucas Oil Dome and you can punch our ticket to the playoffs.
- Andrew Hofheimer