It is a well-known (and probably overused) notion that the current NFL is a “passing league.” While quarterbacks have always grabbed headlines and highlights, 2011 saw the record for number of quarterbacks to throw for over 4,000 yards (10) completely shattered (the previous record was 7), Dan Marino’s 17 year record for most passing yards in a season (5,476) broken by both Drew Brees and Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning’s record for most passing yards by a rookie (3,379) broken by Cam Newton. Of every quarterback in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards in a single season, 25% did it in 2011!
While this seemingly means there is a lot of pressure on Blaine Gabbert, and don’t get me wrong there is, defense has become a premium. Regular season games are easier to win if you don’t have to score 35 points every game and in the playoffs sacks and turnovers can completely swing the momentum of a game in a single play.
The 2011 Jacksonville Jaguars finished ranked 6th in total defense. The franchise resigned many key free agents and brought in Aaron Ross from the Giants through free agency and Andre Branch via the draft. We will rely on the defense in 2012 to perform as well if not better than 2011. Will they?
The defense will succeed in 2012 because…
Experience, cohesion, and additions. The Jaguars did not lose any key pieces from the 6th ranked unit this offseason. Jeremy Mincey chose to stay in Jacksonville over going to Chicago because he truely believes in what the Jaguars are building towards. Aaron Ross brings championship experience and leadership to the secondary that definitely needed depth with uncertainty surrounding veteran Rashean Mathis’ knee injury. Andre Branch is expected to be a contributor at defensive end and possibly compete for the starting job opposite Mincey. The defense could combine last year’s excellent performance with a full offseason to create something really special under the leadership of outstanding defensive coordinator Mel Tucker (the only carryover from the JDR era). The Jaguars play 4 of the 10 quarterbacks with the highest interception ratio in 2011 and possibly another 5 games against inexperienced quarterbacks (Luck (x2), Locker (x2), Tannehill). Those 9 games could easily turn into dominating performances by the Jags’ defense.
The defense will underperform in 2012 because…
Misleading stats, opponents, and pressure. Let’s face it, our offense was horrific last year. If it weren’t for MoJo, wherever he may be, we might not have won a single game. Because the offense was so bad in 2011, many teams focused on ball control and clock management after taking the lead. Since we entered the 4th quarter losing in 8 games, teams did not attempt many big plays or passes late in games. This actually pads our defensive stats in a very misleading way. Comparatively, the New England Patriots had the last ranked defense despite winning 13 games and going to the Super Bowl largely due to their big leads in games that forced opponents to pass a lot and gain more yards. Their defense was probably better than stats indicated and the Jags defense was probably weaker than stats indicated. Even though we were ranked 6th overall, we ranked 25th in sacks and allowed the 3rd most yards per completion. Secondly, our schedule is much more difficult in 2012. We play 3 quarterbacks that threw for around 5,000 yards last year (Aaron Rodgers fell a few yards shy because he sat out the last game of the season). Add another 3 games against the Texans and Bears whose quarterbacks were stastically on pace to get there before being injured after 10 games and the result is 6 very difficult games for even the best defenses. Lastly, if the offense doesn’t improve from a year ago, as unlikely as that may be, we will again have to rely on our defense to bail us out on a weekly basis. That may prove to be a tough task for a second year in a row.
Stats and rankings can be misleading. They support both sides of an arguement and rarely represent the whole truth. The bottom line is that the Jaguars have a good defense. They played like champions last year despite the offense’s struggles and Matt Turk punting like a cross-eyed infant. We have a great collection of both youth and experience. The defense is hungry. Mel Tucker is one of the best defensive coaches in the league. Time to buckle the chinstraps and plow our way through the 2012 NFL season. As Mike Peterson once said, “Welcome to Duval. Prepare to get hit.”
Go Jags and go USA!