What we saw: Jacksonville Jaguars 27, Houston Texans 20

The Houston Texans took one step closer towards the number one overall draft pick in the 2014 NFL draft with another crushing loss—this time to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Let’s take a look at what we learned last night.

  • Case Keenum isn’t the answer for the Texans. Neither is Matt Schaub, but that was something we knew much earlier this season. While a lot of people were frustrated by the move to Schaub Thursday night, they might be overlooking the fact that Keenum has been struggling. He wasn’t handling the blitz well, struggled making his reads and generally looked overwhelmed. It’s safe to say that Houston will be looking at quarterbacks for their first pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
  • Maybe the Jaguars aren’t quite as far off the rails as we thought. Bear with us here and keep in mind we’re not saying this is going to be the 2014 version of the Kansas City Chiefs. There are holes, but there is also a ton of talent. Their biggest holes are defensive end and quarterback (or quarterback, quarterback, quarterback and defensive end). But there’s a solid foundation here. And as much as you don’t want to overestimate two wins over the Texans, winning three games straight and four out of five after losing eight straight is worthy of note. It won’t be a short road, but maybe it’s not as long as we thought.
  • Andre Johnson doesn’t get as much love as Calvin Johnson or Dez Bryant—rightfully so—but he needs to get more praise. Consider how bad his quarterback play has been this year—and how inconsistent over the course of his career—and it puts into perspective just how good he’s been. Health has been a factor at times, but when healthy he needs to be considered as one of the best in the NFL.
  • It makes sense to me for the Jaguars to let Maurice Jones-Drew go. It’s not that Jones-Drew is a bad back—far from it. But he’s likely to want a contract not unlike the current 5 yr/$31.1 million one he has now. The Jaguars aren’t likely to want to drop that on a back who will be turning 29 next year and is already showing signs of age. The Jaguars need to focus on other things and while Jones-Drew is a very good back, he’s not one to build a franchise around.

That’s what stood out to me. What stood out to you? Let me know in the comments.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

 

3 Questions about: Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars

While this may not be one of Thursday Night Football’s better matchups, there are still some interesting angles to it.

The Houston Texans may be a shocking 2-10 this season, but they have talent—talent enough to perhaps turn the team around quickly if they have the right quarterback and, perhaps, a new coach.

Meanwhile the Jacksonville Jaguars seem like they have a lot more ground to cover in order to compete in the AFC South, much less the NFL as a whole. At 3-9, they aren’t much better off than the Texans and they share a common need—quarterback—in a draft which appears to be heavy with talent.

This game may not seem like much on the surface, but the outcome could have a big impact on what each team’s offseason looks like.

  • Let’s be blunt—Texans head coach Gary Kubiak is coaching for his job. This season was a disaster from very early on and while he has had two straight successful seasons his 61-62 coaching record with the Texans points to a mediocre, at best, job. He hung onto quarterback Matt Schaub too long, has failed to make the most of talented players like Andre Johnson, J.J. Watt and Ben Tate and has not been able to find a way to make the 2013 Texans look less like the 2010 Texans and more like the 2011 or 2012 Texans. The Jaguars may not be the worst team in the NFL, but they represent what should be a win for the Texans. The team lost last time at home—losing to the Jaguars again could be the last straw.
  • What future is there for Maurice Jones-Drew on this team? There aren’t a lot of offensive building blocks here. A passable offensive line, Cecil Shorts and, if he can get back in the NFL, Justin Blackmon—but not much else. Is this a team which can afford to lose Jones-Drew even if the back is on the downside of a career? And would it have been wiser to trade him and get some value? If he walks now, the Jaguars just gain another offensive hole. Jones-Drew can make a case in a game like this for sticking around and the matchup lends itself to success for him tonight.

Is Case Keenum potentially a starting NFL quarterback? After some great early games he has slid backwards and struggled. Still, for an undrafted free agent, he has acquitted himself well overall and against some good teams. It’s likely he will never be more than a backup, but he could build a strong case for at least a chance if he can close the season on a high note.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

Chalkboard: Josh Gordon’s 95-yard Touchdown vs. Jacksonville’s Cover-2

titleSuffice to say that when a wide receiver drops 261 yards and a pair of touchdowns on your head, a secondary had better take a close look at the film to see what went wrong whether their team won or not.

That Josh Gordon destroyed two defenses in a row at least might offer some comfort. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Pittsburgh Steelers both got torched by Gordon for 200-plus yards in back-to-back games—the first time in NFL history that has happened.

Gordon ran a variety of routes Sunday, but the one which killed Jacksonville most consistently—and the one which burned them for a 95-yard touchdown—was the simple “dig” route Gordon ran.

Virtually every time he went out on that route, not only did he catch the ball, but the catch resulted in a big chunk of yards.

The problem was that he was able to repeatedly find the open space between the cornerback and the safety. The coverage never seemed to tighten up, so Gordon and quarterback Brandon Weeden kept exploiting it.

The Cover-2 is a pretty simple zone defense. In it, the linebackers often drop back into coverage in the middle of the field (on occasion one might rush the passer, but often it is left to the four linemen), the corners spread wide and the safeties drop back—each taking one half of the field.

cover_2

If the receiver crosses out of the corner’s zone, the safety on that side will pick him up. Of course if the safety is too deep, a large open space can develop between the zones—which is what Gordon was taking advantage of.

This time out, Gordon (red highlight) and Weeden saw the Jaguar defense dropping into the Cover-2.

The “dig” is a pretty straightforward route. It’s really a straight route for anywhere from 10 to 20 yards, then the receiver crosses in (towards the ball) and moves through the middle of the field.

There are primarily three windows you can hit the receiver in (as illustrated below) although Gordon and Weeden were doing their damage in the first window pretty much all day. I don’t think I saw Weeden even bother hitting Gordon in the middle of the field or all the way across it.

digroute

Since Gordon was so open for that first window, so often, why mess with success?

The problem is, because that’s how they ran it every time, Jacksonville safety Guy Winston is pretty sure it’s coming.

He hovers, and spies on Gordon as the receiver runs his usual 15-yard route, settling at the 20 yard line, where Weeden delivers ball.

splittingthezone

Honestly it doesn’t even look like he’s subtle about where it’s going. While you can’t see Weeden’s eyes, and therefore can’t be 100 percent sure, his head never swivels off of Gordon.

Everyone knows where this is going.

Winston has two choices. He can get on Gordon and try to jar the ball loose, at best breaking the pass up, at worst tackling him immediately. Or he can try to jump the route and attempt to intercept the pass.

He chooses the second option. That aggressiveness isn’t a bad thing for a safety and if he makes the pick, he could actually take the ball back for six points.

However, he misses it and—well you can see what happens.

Yoink

Here’s where the gamble comes in when you go for the pick, not the play. There is nobody behind Winston. As the safety, he is the last line of defense. Everyone else you see trying to get Gordon is at a huge disadvantage, coming from behind and across the field.

openspaceLook at that open green space.

Nobody is catching Gordon on that play.

Not #27, Dwayne Gratz who is trailing. Not #37, rookie Johnathan Cyprien who has a bad angle coming across the field and trailing.

In this case, when Winston rolled the dice, they came up craps and wiped the table.

Gordon’s touchdown gave the lead (28-25) with under four minutes to play.

Unfortunately for the Browns, the defense couldn’t hold and Cleveland lost a tough one.

The Jaguars may have won the war, but their secondary is still wondering how Gordon single-handily won so many individual battles.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

Busting Five Myths about the Jacksonville Jaguars (at Bleacher Report)

Just posted this at B/R.

As always, here’s a taste—you can read the whole thing at Bleacher Report.

4) Small market teams can’t support an NFL franchise

This goes hand in hand with the next myth, attendance.

As of 2011, the estimated population of Jacksonville is 827,908 people—actually the 11th most populous city in the US.

Hang on, you say, that can’t be right. Because they’re a small market team, right?

True. They lack the wattage of New York City or San Francisco. However, they actually have a larger population than San Fran—and Boston, and Seattle, Denver, Washington, DC, Baltimore.

Green Bay by the way—one of the smallest market teams in the universe and ranked 10th in attendance for 2012—is ranked as the 268th city in population.

Like Jacksonville, Green Bay lacks big media hubs, giant cities and are not giant tourist destinations.

What they have, which Jacksonville does not, is a winning team.

But as for small markets, they do just fine.

Jacksonville is far from too small to support a team and not even close to the smallest or least populous city with an NFL team.

That’s one of five – check out the other four with the rest of the piece at B/R.