After the terrible home performances against the Bengals and the Bears, I think every Jaguars player, fan, and coach needed a break from the season. That alone perfectly shows how well things are going in Jacksonville… The ’12 campaign continues with 2 away games against the Raiders and the Packers, so Mike Mularkey and his team travel to the West Coast on Friday to prepare for Oakland. This game could be a perfect indication about what we can expect in the remaining 11 weeks from the Jaguars.
Oakland’s season has a couple similarities with the Jaguars. Both teams are 1-4. Both teams have new head coaches (but former Denver DC Dennis Allen is a real newcomer at the position while Mike Mularkey had 2 years of head coaching experience in Buffalo). Both teams have recorded 3 interceptions (although the Raiders recorded all 3 just last week). Both teams have major issues in the pass rush (Jacksonville is dead last with 3, Oakland is 1 spot ahead with 4). Both teams are inconsistent. Both teams’ best offensive player is a RB but both of them are struggling a bit. Of course there are some differences, like the QB for example.
While Blaine Gabbert is improving, he is progressing (very) slowly. Meanwhile Oakland’s Carson Palmer is becoming more and more comfortable with Oakland’s offense. The Raiders made a (ridiculous) trade for the former 1st overall choice by the Bengals and last year he struggled ( he was an interception throwing machine). The new regime (General Manager Reggie McKenzie and Head Coach Dennis Allen) were confident in Palmer and he is playing much better this season. Palmer can still produce costly mistakes, however. Last Week against the Falcons Palmer threw a pick-six with less than 3 minutes left in the game. That critical mistake overshadowed his overall great day in Atlanta and cost the Raiders the victory. That’s the issue with Palmer in Oakland. He is far from being very bad (if he stays on pace he might have career records in passing attempts, completions and yards) but his mistakes (19 interceptions in 15 games) are a primary reason Oakland is 5-10 with Palmer as a starter. Still, he is perfectly capable of beating a team like the Jaguars with his receivers. One thing that could boost the chances of Mel Tucker’s unit is the fact that Palmer and Jaguars Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski worked together in Cincinnati and shaped his game for every year he played there, so he can gave ideas about Palmer’s weak spots.
Palmer is surrounded with average talent (with great speed) at the receiver position. His best targets are TE Brandon Myers and WR Denarius Moore. Since Dwight Lowery and Daryl Smith will sit out the game, defending Myers could be problematic. Not to mention that Darren McFadden is also a pass catching threat. The Jaguars must also pay attention to Derek Hagan and UDFA rookie Rod Streater. That said, the real threat of the offense is Darren McFadden. The Raiders feature back is far from his best form this year (he suffered an injury last year and missed 9 games). He averages 3.2 yards per carry, which is not much, but since the Jaguars run defense is far from perfect (and as I wrote earlier, they will miss Lowery, one of the better tacklers and will play Chris Prosinski instead who has issues in this area), McFadden could have a breakout game. Just remember – when the 2 teams played against each other back in ’10 in Jacksonville, McFadden had 209 yards from scrimmage and three TDs (but the Raiders still lost the game). One of the problems with the Raiders running game is the offensive line which struggling to open holes for the RBs, Their best run blocker is RT Willie Smith, so look for rush attempts on the right side. The offensive line has been dealing with injuries all season long. This time former Jaguar Khalif Barnes must sit out the game. Former Texans RG Mike Breisel is expected to play on Sunday. He left the Atlanta game with a concussion. He may be their best offensive lineman though I wonder how the concussion will affect his game. The Raiders offensive line has allowed 10 sacks so far. The Jaguars can count on George Selvie, so Jeremy Mincey can rest more and will hopefully be more effective with less snaps. Since the defense will miss 2 key starters, a little more help from the pass rush could be more than useful.
Now let’s turn our attention to the Raiders defense. The good news is that they are not exactly the Chicago Bears. The bad news is that they played really well in the Georgia Dome last Sunday against the Falcons. Oakland didn’t record a single interception before the game but Tyvon Branch, Michael Huff & co picked off Matt Ryan three times. That is a warning for the Jaguars passing offense and Blaine Gabbert who threw 2 pick-sixes against the Bears 2 weeks ago. However, neither their secondary nor the pass rush is considered good. Oakland has 4 sack, 2.5 of them coming from Matt Shaughnessy who will face Eugene Monroe on Sunday. The other DEs, Lamarr Houston and David Tollefson are struggling, so the Raiders signed former Patriot Andre Carter last week. But based on his play in Atlanta, he needs some time to be a factor in the pass rush. Monroe has allowed only 1 sack in 5 games and even that was more of Herb Taylor’s fault. So if Monroe can take out Shaughnessy, Gabbert might have more time to throw than usual. Since Shawtae Spencer is still injured and Ron Bartell is on IR there are some weak spots in the Raiders secondary. Since Spencer is out, former 1st round pick Michael Huff is now moved from the safety position to CB (and he playing well at the new position). That means Matt Giordano is now the FS and he is not that good this year. The Jaguars could try to match him with Marcedes Lewis, who is one of the few bright spots (again) in the Jaguars passing offense. At the other corner position Pat Lee (in sub packages it is Joselio Hanson who recorded an interception last week) are not that good as Huff so either Justin Blackmon or Cecil Shorts could have a great day against them. I think this is the game where the passing attack
might must progress.
I wrote “must” because the Raiders run defense is quite good. The two DTs, Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly are arguably the best players in the entire defense. According to Jaguars color analyst Jeff Lageman, if these two play well they can make Maurice Jones-Drew a non-factor. That is a scary statement and, quite frankly, the Jaguars running game has not been that good the past two weeks. This is partly because Brad Meester and Uche Nwaneri are not so effective at opening holes for Jones-Drew or Rashad Jennings in the middle. They must be better in that area. The other reason the Raiders run defense is so good is because of strong side LB Philip Wheeler. The former Colts linebacker was a very smart (and cheap) sign in the offseason. He is the leading tackler for the team and already has 2 FFs as well. Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver has made some changes lately in the LB unit. The rookie Miles Burris became the new weak side linebacker and former 1st round pick Rolando McClain’s playing time has been reduced to just 16 snaps. McClain is a huge disappointment for the Raiders (and for me – he was my leading candidate as the Jaguars 1st round pick in ’10). Once Aaron Curry is activated (currently on PUP) he might see even fewer snaps. If McClain is on the field the Jaguars might target him in both the running and passing game.
I must mention the ST units as well. On both teams the kicker and the punter are among the league’s best. Sebastian Janikowski and Shane Lechler are arguably the best K-P combination in the legue right now. But Josh Scobee and Bryan Anger could be very close to them. Scobee hasn’t missed a FG yet and Anger is leading the league right now in punt yard average, and he is currently having the second best season in that category ever. Also the Jaguars will have new returners (at least 1 since Aaron Ross has had a couple punt returns already) in this game. Mike Thomas’ role will be reduced not just as a receiver but he is replaced by WR/KR Michael Spurlock as well. Since the Raiders’ best gunner, Taiwan Jones is banged up, Spurlock or Ross could help out the Jaguars’ offense.
In my opinion the Jaguars are entering another barometer game. If they win this game, there is slight chance that things can turn in the right direction. I’m not expecting a shot at the playoffs (since this roster is simply not that strong), but with a victory the Jaguars could send a message to the league, to their fans, and to themselves that they have not given up just yet. They still want to achieve things (since 14 teams in the AFC have a record of 3-3 or worse, the Jags are technically not very far from a wildcard). If they win this I can see a similar late season push like the Bills had under Mike Mularkey in ’04 (of course I don’t think the Jaguars will end up with a better record then .500). However, if the Jaguars lose to another 1/1 contender on Sunday, I just don’t think things will turn around. it’s the NFL anything can happen (just see how crazy last week was), but I don’t think the Jaguars have too many miracles in them. If this game is another loss, I think the time bomb in Everbank Field will officially start ticking for a lot of people…
Raiders 17 – Jaguars 19
– Zoltan Paksa