We just passed the quarter pole of the season, and amidst all the negativity and/or forced optimism amongst the Jaguar fan base, many, many questions still remain. But I’ll narrow that down to what I think are the top ten questions that Jaguars must answer over the next 12 weeks. Let’s hit it.
1. Is Blaine developing?
2. Is it fast enough?
Any question about a team must first start with its quarterback – especially if this is the presumed face of the franchise. He’s definitely the present… but is he the future?
3. What is our offensive identity?
A combination of philosophy and personnel made the Jaguars a ground-it-out, run-first team over the past decade or so. With a new quarterback and coaching staff, the offensive philosophy will likely change to something more balanced or passing-focused, but its evolution clearly depends on the progress of both the quarterback individually and the team’s ability to grasp and adjust to the new offensive concepts. To be successful, however, the new philosophy must place the onus of playmaking onto our beast playmakers, and right now, we’re having trouble doing that. Our best playmaker and workhorse for the last three years, MJD, has seen 12 or 13 carries in 3 of our last 4 games. In addition, in only one of these games has he seen more than three catches or caught for more than 16 yards. His usage rate is far, far lower than it has been over the past few years. While this might be a purposeful decision by the coaching staff to give Gabbert the opportunity to grow, I think getting the ball in the hands of your best playmaker (regardless of whether it’s in the form of a hand off or a short swing pass) is integral for our team’s development, along with Gabbert’s.
4. What receivers are for real?
For some of these receivers, this is likely their last chance (I’m looking at you Mike Thomas). For others, their time could be coming sooner rather later. This season will be vitally important in determining the future form our receiving corps takes. And for Pete’s sakes, give CIII (Cecil Shorts III) some more playing time!
5. Will the defense recover?
We hoped for Blaine to become pretty good; but we expected nothing less from the defense. You can point towards Daryl Smith’s injury, but the weaknesses have been all across the board, and we’re playing very poorly in departments that good defenses simply do poorly (ie tackling).
6. Will Terrance Knighton get back to form?
With a new contract on the line, Terrance Knighton kept the weight off and came into camp in mid-season shape. Jaguar fans bemoaned the eye injury that kept him off the field, but now that he’s on the field, you can’t really tell much of a difference. I’ve always been a Knighton fan, but he’s just not making plays up front like he used to. The Jags have been gashed by their opponents’ run game (ranked 31st), and Pot Roast is a huge part of that.
7. Will we be able to rush the passer?
A perennial question that perennially starts with pass rush depth. This year, the depth was looking better with new rookie Andre Branch and our first real look of D’Anthony Smith, but injuries to Austen Lane and John Chick left the Jaguars D-line looking thin. The relative pass-rushing ineffectiveness of the DEs and DTs has brought on some creative yet often ineffective blitzing. Last Sunday, against five or more rushers, Jay Cutler torched the Jaguars for 10.2 YPA, 2 TDs, 0 interceptions, and 3 plays of 20+ yards, compared to 6.6 YPA, 0 TDs, 1 interception, and 0 plays of 20+ yards against 4 rushers.
8. When will Daryl Smith get healthy?
What is going on with Big D? Groin injuries tend to linger, and it’s good the Jaguars are waiting until it’s completely healed before he plays, but they’ve been pretty coy with the information regarding the injury. He’s easily the best player and playmaker on our defense, and it doesn’t take an ESPN analyst to figure out that his ability is sorely needed.
9. What’s Gene’s leash?
10. What happens to Mularkey and Co. if Khan cans Gene?
Both of these last two questions depend on our overall record and the team’s progress over the last three-quarters of the season, but it’s hard not to wonder how long Gene Smith has. His four year rebuilding plan has felt progress-less in key areas, and at the end of the day, he wasn’t hand-picked by Khan so Khan might not have the faith in Gene or the patience with him that Weaver did. But with a brand new coaching staff in place, this decision gets trickier than simply firing the guy who seems to have missed on a bunch of first round picks. Having the reputation of being an astute businessman, don’t expect any rash decisions from Khan during the season.
Have any big answers?
– Zain Gowani