As the Jags head into the bye week, they look forward to two very winnable games. The Colts in week ten and the Browns in week eleven. If this were a normal year, the Colts would probably have 0-2 losses and would be a formidable foe requiring intense preparation and development in the off week. But this year, the Jags can focus on getting back to the basics, practicing harder and, hopefully, coming out of the bye week more refined.
Blaine Gabbert especially needs to work on his game over the bye week, and should benefit from the two weeks of prep time. Since he was drafted, Gabbert has not had a chance to work extensively with the first team, increase his reps, and just relax with the players and develop chemistry with them. His throwing mechanics need work and he needs to become more comfortable in the pocket. These are things that can be worked on. Since assuming starting duties in week three, Gabbert has has not been able to relax. The offense line has been shifted around, Deji Karim does not provide a solid change of pace for Maurice Jones-Drew, and it is grossly apparent that the wide receivers do not have a chemistry with their quarterback.
Mike Thomas had a breakout year in 2010. He and David Garrard seemed to be on the same page most every play. Despite a woefully underperforming #1(?) receiver in Mike Sims-Walker, Thomas was still able to perform at a high level. With Blaine, we have not seen the same spark from any of the receivers. Bringing back MSW was a poor attempt at increasing the talent at the receiving position. To top it off, a rookie quarterback’s greatest safety valve, the tight end (Marcedes Lewis) has apparently dropped off the map entirely.
Lewis’ dominant size, catching ability, blocking ability, and past play should have provided a perfect complement for a rookie quarterback, especially one who has such athleticism as Blaine Gabbert. Instead, Lewis has put up pedestrian numbers (15 receptions, 174 yards).
The bye week should provide a much more relaxed time for the pass catchers and the passer to bond, hopefully providing a solid foundation for offensive growth.
So, how will the Colts game continue to be a litmus test for the Jags? Last year, it was a test to see if the Jaguars were a legitimate contender in the AFC. Years before, it was a way for the NFL to see if the Colts were still the kings of the South. Before then, it was a way to see if the Jaguars were developing well. This year, it will be a litmus test to see if the Jaguars have any hope left in the season. It will be a game pitting the anemic Jacksonville offense (32nd in points, yards, and passing) against an Indianapolis defense that makes my Montana Grizzlies look pro.
If the Jaguars are able to put up higher than 11 points (their season average), get around 300 yards, and look even remotely polished, I will be more than happy with bye week progression. But, if the Jaguar receivers continue to act/play like a bunch of pansies, then I’m not counting a top ten draft pick out of the question just yet. As much as this terrible season rests on the supporting cast for Blaine Gabbert, developing a rapport with his receivers rests solely on the rookie quarterback. If there is no such rapport being developed over the bye week, then there is little to no hope left for this season.
So, Blaine, if you’re reading, get working mate, we need this.
– Luke N. Sims