There is no spin for this game. There is no drama to be injected into the storyline of Sunday’s game by even the most imaginative of journalists. No inspiration to be mined from another sordid performance at Everbank Field. Even the few players that managed to play soundly yesterday are truthfully no longer fueled by any kind of inspiration, but a distanced and robotic dedication to their craft – Paul Posluszny, Jeremy Mincey, Maurice Jones-Drew, Daryl Smith – the vital cogs of the Jaguars who have survived the rash of injuries plaguing the roster in recent weeks and still show up day in and day out. Despite the Houston Texans showing up in Jacksonville with their starting quarterback on IR and only Matt Leinart (who only lasted one half and is now likely to head to IR, as well) and a rookie QB no on had heard of before yesterday to lead their offense, the Jaguars still showed no second gear with the smell of blood in the water. The only feeling to describe Sunday’s loss was complete numbness.
"Sometimes it still hurts. You know how it is, man. It’s like, you wake up every day and it hurts a little bit less, and then you wake up one day and it doesn’t hurt at all. And the funny thing is, is that, this is kinda weird, but it’s like, it’s like you almost miss that pain. – Rob Livingston, Swingers"
It’s become apparent that things are only going to get worse before they get better and if there’s any doubt in your mind about Jack Del Rio’s job security, there certainly shouldn’t be after his squad delivered snoozefest far more potent than the Thanksgiving tryptophan, at home and against a division rival, no less. As I said in last week’s BOOK IT, there are certainly mitigating factors, but at a certain point, your head coach’s perception by the fanbase does come into play and after nine years and still no tangible results to trump the perennial disappointment, it’s time for the axe to fall. Jack knows it too – Jacksonville is buzzing with the gossip that he’s sold his house and is renting a place at the beach with no furniture and his son is supposedly not enrolled at Episcopal High School next semester.
In spite of the emptiness this season has left us all feeling, I’m not going to pretend that I believe better days aren’t ahead. Writing about that now just feels forced and punchless. You can’t say enough about the absurd performance Maurice Jones-Drew has delivered this season – his effort has never wavered and he continues to put up numbers and move the chains when the ball is in his hands, despite defenses knowing that he’s the only thing this offense has going. The defense has improved dramatically and without their borderline-elite play, this season would be far uglier and with much few close contests. They’ve had their challenges (the lack of Aaron Kampman, both short-term and season-ending injuries to many key players), but have managed to carry on and keep stifling opposing offenses. So that leaves the passing game that has really brought the 2011 season to its disappointing crossroads.
Blaine Gabbert was never supposed to play this season, but he hasn’t pulled out any pleasant surprises, either. Starting Guy Whimper at right tackle is a big dropoff from a healthy and hungry Eben Britton, but Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Ben Roethlisberger have had bigger protection issues for the past few years than the entire cast of 16 and Pregnant and still managed to have elite-level production. Our receivers are arguably (maybe not anymore) the league’s worst, but Tom Brady played much of his career with complete no-names at wide receiver and before the Randy Moss and Wes Welker acquisitions in 2007, was relying on Reche Caldwell, Troy Brown, Doug Gabriel, and Chad Jackson as his “top” targets. I don’t even think Marcedes Lewis is suffering from “I Got Paid” syndrome anymore; this guy just has the yips worse than anyone I’ve ever seen. I thought the yips were reserved for baseball and golf, but this guy is crapping his pants when the ball’s in the air worse than Troy Williamson did. Every season has challenges and no football team will ever be injury free and without holes in its roster, but when faced with adversity, you’re supposed to adapt the best you can. When I look at the Jaguars, I don’t see adaptation in the passing game. I don’t see execution of the game plan. I don’t see individual improvement. I see a collective unit (from the top down) that keeps banging its head against the wall, expecting better results.
I’m not an insider in the Jaguars organization, so I do not have the organic knowledge to know why the strategy isn’t adapting, why the plan isn’t being executed, and why the individuals aren’t improving. All I know is that every week I turn the game on TV or watch from my seat at Everbank Field and see the same damn thing that I saw the week before. Is it Jack Del Rio’s fault? Is it Dirk Koetter’s fault? Is it QB coach Mike Sheppard or WR coach Johnny Cox’s fault? Does the WR corps need the same treatment that our defensive backs got this offseason? Could this all be solved by a full offseason of development for Blaine Gabbert?
The passing game is paramount in modern football and we’re experiencing first-hand how little the rest of a team can do to overcome an overwhelming deficiency in the area that has become essential to NFL success. This team has come too far and is performing too well in the running game and on defense to not have this issue solved next year. Wayne Weaver has to determine the route causes of the passing game failures and take decisive corrective action as soon as the book is shut on the 2011 regular season.
No one wants to see what the Jaguars brought to Everbank yesterday.
– Andrew Hofheimer