- 1. This Del Rio defense is (finally) for real. I think we can safety say the past few years of cookie-dough Jaguars defenses are behind us. Jacksonville’s starters (and nickleback Drew Coleman, who was all over the field) looked focused and aggressive yesterday, led by a front four that answered some lingering questions from a sack-less preseason and overcame a capable, veteran Tennessee O-line to squash the vaunted Chris Johnson-led running game and pressure quarterback Matt Hasselbeck with relative consistency. Matt Roth set the tone on the first play of the game by blowing past his blocker and sacking the veteran QB, a play that was met with unbridled jubilation and a simultaneous sigh of relief by the 61,000+ Jaguars fans in attendance. Chris Johnson was limited to a paltry 49 total yards, with only 24 rushing yards on 9 attempts. This left Hasselbeck no choice but to chip away with dink-n-dunk passing, which was mostly ineffective except for the blown-play-touchdown to Kenny Britt and a few longer completions when the defense was in softer coverages. It wasn’t an overwhelming performance, but it was clear yesterday that this defense has more talent, awareness, and desire than we’ve seen for some time, and on a day with gametime temperatures well into the 90’s, finding a way to assert their will and get the win was paramount. It’s clear from their play and their post-game words that this is a proud and disciplined unit; players stayed true to their assignments, yet attacked with tenacity. It was precisely this combination that repeatedly stuffed Chris Johnson at the line and never allowed him a run longer than 9 yards.
- 2. Luke McCown’s got me feeling like this could be the Jaguars 2007: Redux Edition. Doesn’t this look familiar all of a sudden? The Jaguars cut the inconsistent, incumbent quarterback right before the start of the regular season and promote the career backup into the starter’s role, backed by a strong defense and running game to provide ample support as he grows into his starter shoes and gradually inspires Dirk Koetter to open up the playbook little by little. We all would have liked to see Luke turned loose yesterday, but Jack and Dirk had a stingy gameplan dialed up from the beginning and after jumping out to an early lead (mostly thanks to the ground game), it became all about running the clock down, keeping our key players healthy, and getting out of the heat with the W. Luke made the plays when he needed to and especially impressed on a decisive and accurate strike to a barely open Mike Thomas, converting a big 3rd down late in the 4th quarter that allowed the Jaguars to keep the clock running past the 2 minute warning and force Tennessee to exhaust their remaining timeouts. The pass was the indisputable play of the game and showed a real gutsyness by McCown that should inspire confidence in the Jaguars faithful and the man calling the plays from up top, Dirk Koetter.
- 3. Make no mistake, this is still a running team. When your star running back gets 25 carries for 100 yards and a TD and is pissed off because he feels like he’s stuck on the sideline missing all the action, you know that your team identity is with the ground game. Deji Karim, who appears to be the Jags #2 RB as of now, received 14 carries in a designed effort to limit MJD’s exposure in his first full contest since he was put on IR last season, with a miniscus injury that he’d been playing through all season long. Deji failed to impress and still has a ways to go before he’ll be considered a legitimate second option, but Montell Owens impressed me on his limited carries and could emerge as Jones-Drew’s primary reliever. He looked surprisingly smooth on his runs and has a “battering ram” type frame at 5’10”, 228 lbs that could prove quite useful for continuing to wear out defenses while keep Mojo fresh/healthy. The Jaguars will likely be using the next several games as “tryouts” for the #2 and #3 RB spots and don’t count out a (cheap) veteran free agent signing in the coming weeks.
- 4. Is the supposed lack of #1 wide receiver even going to be noticed? McCown did not have the benefit of a healthy Marcedes Lewis yesterday and still managed a 71% completion rate and healthy 7.3 yards/attempt. He targeted Mike Thomas and Jason Hill 16 times for 12 completions and was able to move the chains with them in critical situations. The playmaking ability is there and as this offense finds itself and Cecil Shorts, Jarrett Dillard, and Zach Miller get into the mix, this could be a very diverse and dynamic passing attack.
- 5. Rumors of Jacksonville’s (lockout-induced) Demise have been Greatly Exaggerated. The official attendance for yesterday’s game at Everbank Field was 61, 619, a number that exceeds the blackout threshold by more than 10,000 tickets. The grounds of the Jacksonville Sports Complex were buzzing with eager fans hours before kickoff, celebrating the return of regular season football with tailgating revelry as the looming summer sun steadily intensified towards the Vulcanesque levels that pervaded the afternoon. This was a no-joke Florida scorcher, but the 12th man held their ground, gutting through the heat and filling the stadium with a resounding roar on 3rd downs. Something special just might be a-brewing in Duval.
– Andrew Hofheimer