Is it possible for numbers to lie? Apparently numbers never lie. I beg to differ. According to cbssports.com, the Jaguars ranked 8th in overall pass defense last season allowing only 208.8 yards per game. That’s pretty good right? Yes, it’s very good! Our defense saw increased play last season due to free agency acquisitions Dawan Landry, Paul Posluszny, Clint Sessions, Dwight Lowery, Drew Coleman, and Matt Roth. Mel Tucker ran a mean unit last season indeed.
I was looking at how Jacksonville did overall in 2011. We finished 5-11 and “you are what your record says you are.” Right, Bill Parcels? I’d have to agree, but the Jaguars were a paradox. This was a team I saw go toe to toe in 2011 with the Ravens, besting them on the national stage on Monday Night Football. Even though the Saints put up 23 on us at home, a defense can only hold up against Drew Brees for so long. We were in that game until Drew Brees did what Drew Brees does.
Many would say that if we had a more potent offense maybe just maybe we could have won some of those games that required us to have an effective passing attack. That is definitely true. True as true can be. But what if the offense comes out in 2012, and it’s not any better? What if the team is once again thrown onto the back of the defense?
41-14, destroyed by Atlanta on Thursday Night Football. 32-3, embarrassed by the New York Jets. 38-14, taken apart by the San Diego Chargers. When was the last time you heard about a top 10 defense being decimated that many times in one season? Do numbers lie?
If we want to see this team succeed, we have to do more than just improve the offense. I’m a believer in our rushing defense. There are a lot of pieces coming back healthy in 2012 that will only improve the unit.
What about the pass defense? How many times did we see receivers running wild on this unit last season? Should we really feel better about Rashean Mathis coming back healthy? If he’s the best corner we’ve got, sure. Should we feel better about Derek Cox coming back healthy? Absolutely.
The Jags fans have been pretty tough on old Mathis, and I can see why. He’s more of a ball hawking corner. He goes for the ball first, then tries to make the tackle. That worked a few years ago, but it’s not going to work at his age. He’s going to have to rely more on recognizing routes, tackling well, and just being a solid vet. If he continues to try to be a “play maker” when his play-making days are in the rear view mirror, he’s going to get beat and become an even bigger liability in coverage.
As far as Cox goes, ever since after his rookie season in 2009 his play has been digressing due to injuries. In 2011 he hit IR pretty early in the season. If he can come back healthy, build on the level of play of his rookie season, and begin covering teams’ #1 receivers we’ll be in good shape. I still believe we should put free agent acquisition Aaron Ross in the slot. I believe he’s best suited to cover the #3. Last season with the Giants, he totaled 60 tackles, 46 solo, 4 interceptions, and 12 passes defended. He’s still relatively young and has two super bowl rings.
There are some young corners on the roster that I think have a lot of potential in William Middleton and Kevin Rutland. Both saw playing time last year. Middleton totaled 38 tackles and one interception while Rutland had 21 tackles and an interception. Middleton was drafted by the Falcons in fifth round of the 2009 draft and Rutland made the gameday roster as an UDFA in 2011. Throw 2012 6th round draft pick Mike Harris into the mix, and all of a sudden you have 3 young corners providing depth and possibly competing for a roster spot depending on how many corners we decide to carry.
Can we cover? Will Mathis step up and be the vet we need him to be? Will we see more of those flashes of brilliance from a healthy Derek Cox? Will Ross be the good value free agent acquisition I’m hoping and praying he will be? Will Middleton, Rutland, and Harris challenge one another to be better and develop their game?
If not, then prepare to see wide receivers run wild and rampant in our secondary. If our offense isn’t equipped to participate in a shoot out with teams like the New England Patriots, then hope and pray we can cover.
-David R. Johns