Over the next week or so we will be going through the Jacksonville Jaguars 2012 roster to try and find the problems that led to the franchise’s worst-ever record: 2-14. There were so many problems with this team that it goes well beyond one article. So, for the sake of simplicity, we’ll take it one position at a time.
This time: linebackers.
The linebacker position for the Jags lacked two major things: Daryl Smith at outside linebacker and a third linebacker.
For a team running a 4-3 defense, the Jags were woefully shorthanded at the linebacking position heading into the season. Part of that was due to Clint Session never getting off the physically unable to perform list (sorry buddy) and the other part was Smith’s replacement being a below average starter. The outside linebacker position was abysmal and the middle linebacker position was poor as a result.
A lot of the 2012 Jaguars season can be attributed to injuries, but a lot of it falls to planning as well.
Russell Allen was there to step up in case a linebacker went down, like Session did in 2011, but what if two linebackers went down? We found out when Smith was injured. Smith didn’t start a game until week 16. So, instead of having a competent backup starting for the majority of the season, the Jags got Kyle Bosworth and Julian Stanford thrown into the mix as well.
To say that starting two backups at outside linebacker throughout the season was a mistake would be a generous. The Jaguars may not have been able to anticipate Smith’s injury, but knowing that Bosworth was the next man up they should have upgraded the depth a little during the offseason. Bosworth was unproven and, when tested, was wanting in all aspects of his position.
In fact, every outside linebacker performed poorly. Allen proved that he was not a high quality starter, Bosworth proved that he probably should no longer be with the Jags, and Stanford showed that starting an undrafted rookie free agent to solve “the Bosworth problem” actually doesn’t work.
All three of them graded incredibly poorly against the pass. Quarterbacks throwing into Stanford’s coverage (the least experienced linebacker) averaged a QB rating of 85.1. Qbs against Bosworth racked up a decent 89.5. QBs throwing into Allen’s coverage averaged 107.3. That’s pretty ridiculous (9th highest among OLBs). While pass coverage is not the sole responsibility of an outside linebacker, the Jags were constantly beat by tight ends due to poor linebacking play. For a defense coming off ranking 8th against the pass in 2011, having Allen and Bosworth/Stanford contributing in pass coverage was a major factor for defensive shortcomings.
Fortunately Allen was much more prolific in his tackling than his counterparts. Allen finished the season second the team with 129 tackles, he was frequently out of position and was making the tackles after the opponent had already picked up a significant amount of yardage. Allen was able to show that his energy and ability to “be everywhere” (eventually) was not the same as making plays. At least he was better than Stanford and Bosworth who combined accounted for just 44 tackles.
The linebacking positions failures on the outside resulted in increased pressure on middle linebacker Paul Posluszny. Poz is generally considered a good linebacker and had a great year in 2011. This season he led the team in tackles (139), had three interceptions, two fumbles forced, and finished fourth on the team with two sacks. With a good supporting cast that isn’t too bad. With a bad supporting cast it just isn’t enough. Poz couldn’t make enough plays from his position as the “captain of the defense” to matter in 2012. I greatly admire the heart that he showed in each game, but the 2012 season was beyond his ability to fix. This may be most telling in his ability to limit quarterbacks (or maybe they had better places to throw it) to just a 77.8 QB rating when throwing into his coverage. For a linebacker who is not known for being great in coverage, that’s pretty good (they threw 92.7 on him in 2011).
The Jaguar linebacking unit was unprepared this season. Too much trust was put on unproven talent and not enough was done at the position to help lead 2011′s sixth ranked defense back to the top. Rather than improving the defense, the Jaguars failed to address a critical hole at OLB that only widened without Smith in the lineup. That hole proved fatal.
Allen showed that he could continue to be decent depth, Poz showed that he can still be a good middle linebacker in a good defense, and the rest showed that linebacker needs a complete overhaul.
Understanding how the Jags got to 2-14 has a lot to do with personnel failure. Ex-GM Gene Smith’s oversight may be most well seen at linebacker. Good riddance.
Next we’ll look at the cornerbacks.
- Luke N. Sims
You can also find me on Twitter @LukeNSims