Division Winner? Not even close. Despite playing in a weak division, the Jaguars were one of the primary reasons why it was weak. Their 1-7 record at home, coupled with a ruinous 0-8 first half, saw them out of contention for anything other than high draft priority (they ended up with the 3rd overall pick). While the division is far from elite, the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans were clearly better teams in 2013, and the Houston Texans may have simply laid a massive egg because, man to man, they have to be seen as the more talented team, at least.
Milestones Of 2013: They’re hard to find, but new head coach Gus Bradley (pictured above) certainly began to put his stamp on this team. Despite their horrid offensive numbers, the defense managed to hold up slightly better, improving minimally (but still improving) on their 2012 numbers. They also managed to win twice as many games as they did in 2012, which is improvement despite the unsatisfactory results. New GM David Caldwell has begun to outline a blueprint for the Jaguars, along with new owner Shad Khan, that involves building through the draft and being cautious in free agency. This offseason will tell much more about where this team is headed than their 2013 campaign did.
As far as the product on the field went, 2013 revealed more negatives than positives, but some of the perceived ‘bad’ is actually beneficial in the long run. Maurice Jones-Drew, one of the few (if only) Jaguars with league-wide recognition for his skills, is perhaps past the age and mileage mark of a starting NFL running back, and it would be a surprise if he ends up in Jacksonville next year. Chad Henne proved to be a capable starter when called upon, but neither him nor Blaine Gabbert (who, like Jones-Drew, has proven he is beyond repair, albeit for different reasons altogether) are the team’s long-term answer at QB.
Despite many players not stepping up, the team got a glimpse at some of their raw, young talent. Cecil Shorts III and Ace Sanders look like quality components to the passing game at WR, as does Justin Blackmon, but his story is one of much confusion and a serious decision on his future as a Jaguar must be made by Caldwell and the upper brass this offseason. Defensively, Paul Posluszny and Jason Babin proved to be key contributors, but Babin is slated to be a free agent, and his 7.5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles might not be worth his asking price.
The Season In Review
Things were quite shaky from the start, as serious doubts about the starting QB and the early suspension of Blackmon had the Jaguars starting well behind the line. In a month, the team managed a combined 31 points of offense, losing to outstanding opponents (Kansas City, Seattle, Indianapolis) and one less-than-outstanding team (Oakland). The next four games would be much of the same, although the offense began to produce at a slightly higher level. Despite that, they were blown out of almost every single game during their 0-8 stretch, never losing by less than 10 points and losing by at least 20 points 5 times.
After a much-needed bye week, the Jaguars were able to pull out a nailbiter against the Titans, 29-27. With that monkey on their back, the team managed to win 3 of their next four, including a sweep of the Houston Texans. Perhaps a sign of their improved outlook and comfort in Bradley’s system, the team lost their final three games by far less than they were losing games early in the season. But they did lose their final three, and their 2013 campaign can easily be summed up as a learning experience for ownership, management, coaches and players alike.
The Jaguars need help at almost every single position, none more important than QB, where many expect them to take one of the big-name college passers entering the draft this year. Bringing back Chad Henne as a stop-gap solution would benefit the team as well. Elsewhere, they must decide what to do with Jones-Drew, and see if anyone behind him has what it takes to step into his shoes. Expect a by-committee approach and perhaps an early draft pick dedicated to the position. Finding a replacement for longtime center Brad Meester (retired) is also vital.
The defense is similarly set (or not set), with major holes along the defensive line and secondary. The team needs pass rushing help, run blocking help…they need help. Free agency looks like a solid route to take in that department this year, as the team spent a fair amount of their 2013 draft on their defense, where safety John Cyprien looks like the real deal. Bradley’s forte is defense, and I expect him to push hard to either bring in fresh faces, or further the on-the-field results of those already under his wing.
QB – D+
RB – C-
WR – B-
TE – D
OL – C+
DL – D+
LB – C+
CB – D-
FS/SS – C+
K/P – B+
KR/PR – C
Team MVP – Paul Posluszny, MLB
Offensive MVP – Cecil Shorts III, WR
Defensive MVP – Posluszny
Rookie Of The Year – John Cyprien, SS
Biggest Disapppointment – The whimper that marked the end of the Blaine Gabbert era.
Very Early 2014 Projection – 5-11, No Postseason Berth