The offensive line for the Jaguars has been injured, lacked time to gel, and is rapidly appearing to deteriorate behind overmatched personnel. Do we start Eben Britton or undrafted rookie center Mike Brewster at left guard? Can Cameron Bradfield outplay Guy “The Turnstile” Whimper at right tackle? Is Uche Nwaneri really that good at right guard? These questions are key for the Jaguars. Once a strength of the Jaguars, the offensive line is the key to being competitive and winning games for Jacksonville. Back in July I prophesied that center Brad Meester would be the key to the Jaguars in 2012. I thought that as Meester played, so would the rest of the offensive line, and with better offensive line play the Jaguars offense would click.
Turns out the veterans’ influence isn’t that strong.
Through four games the best players on the O-line are center Brad Meester and left tackle Eugene Monroe. Both players have yet to allow a single sack and they only have one penalty called against each of them – a false start on Monroe and a hold on Meester. Monroe is playing like a premier left tackle this season, his movement is still good but looks sluggish because of poor guard play, and Meester sets the kind of example that you would expect from a 181 game veteran.
Yet Gabbert is ending up on his butt at least three times a game (twelve total sacks this season, six against the Bengals). So, who’s allowing these sacks? Will they total near 40 like they did last season?
The next best player on the team is right guard Uche Nwaneri. Nwaneri has only allowed one sack and has one false start penalty on the season. He and Meester combine to make big holes for the running game on most rushing plays and both have the game experience to be effective in tandem. Where Nwaneri has troubles is often when Guy Whimper is playing at right tackle rather than Cameron Bradfield.
Bradfield has been injured and only played in two games. He has allowed one sack and has no penalties against him. When he is on the field, he helps make the right side of the line incredibly powerful. He is a big right tackle who outplayed ex-starter Britton for the spot this offseason. His strength and ability to be on the field put him over Britton, yet he has been injured much like Britton this season. He needs to stay in more so The Turnstile isn’t brought in. Guy Whimper has played in all four games and started two at right tackle. He has allowed 1.5 sacks and has three penalties against him, setting the offense back a total of 30 yards. The Turnstile is one of GM Gene Smith’s worst pickups and was rewarded for allowing 14 sacks last season with a two year contract extension.
Just to sum up thus far, we’ve discovered where 3.5 sacks have been allowed thus far – all on the right side – but the real problem lies at left guard. In a crucial spot between the stellar play of Meester and Monroe lies a black hole of a most heinous nature. Who should the Jaguars start? Backup center Mike Brewster has played well, what about ex-right tackle Eben Britton? Should the team put street free agent Herb Taylor back in? Let’s look at the play going down the depth chart. Will Rackley, a third round rookie last season, is on IR so the Jags shifted Britton in to start. Britton has played in two games and been injured for two. He did not finish the Bengals game because his play was so painful – especially his run blocking. While not committing a penalty thus far, Britton has allowed two sacks. His backup, Mike Brewster started one game in his absence, has committed one penalty for 15 yards, and has allowed one sack. Brewster has demonstrated much better run blocking in the last week than Britton. In week two the Jaguars started street free agent Herb Taylor at left guard. Taylor hadn’t played in a game since 2008 and has allowed no sacks for the Jags, but committed two penalties in his one start and two appearances.
All in all, the O-line is underwhelming – especially at left guard. It isn’t just sacks that need to stop, it’s also the ability to open holes. It seems that the left guard spot is opening more lanes for pass rushers and run stoppers than they are opening holes for the runner at times. It’s getting tough to watch. I never thought I’d want to see Will Rackley starting again (he allowed seven sacks last year. Combined with Whimper, they allowed over half of Gabbert’s sacks in 2011) but it’s getting painful.
Against the dominant and opportunistic Bears defense, the offense line simply must play better. The Bears play a base 4-3 like the Jaguars that relies on good play from players rather than complex scheming. Unlike the Jaguars, they are far more effective at it. Call it instincts or better coaching, but the Bears’ D could cause fits for OC Bob Bratkowski if the offensive line doesn’t find a way to gel, fast.
– Luke N. Sims
You can also find me on Twitter @LukeNSims