AFC South: Todd Sauerbrun
December, 19, 2013
USA Today SportsPaul Posluszny and the Jags are aiming for a season sweep of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tennessee.JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Maybe Delanie Walker shouldn’t feel so bad now.
The Titans tight end said he was embarrassed after the Jaguars won 29-27 in Nashville on Nov. 10 to pick up their first victory. Since then, the Jaguars are 3-2 with victories over Houston (twice) and Cleveland. The Titans are 1-4 with a victory over Oakland.
There seems to be much more stability in Jacksonville, too, because of the uncertain status surrounding Tennessee coach Mike Munchak.
Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco and Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky break down Sunday’s matchup at EverBank Field.
DiRocco: Some Titans players were pretty vocal about being embarrassed due to becoming the first team to lose to the Jaguars. Is that something that still stings, and how have they rebounded from that loss?
Kuharsky: It definitely left a mark. They are only 1-4 since then. It kind of set a bar for how bad they can be and re-established their propensity to lose to teams that are really struggling. The Jaguars are on an upswing since that game, and the Titans are on a downward spiral. If Tennessee losses to the Jaguars again, the Titans will be in line to finish in third place in an awful division, which is well short of their goals and expectations. The Titans are a better team than they were last year. But losing closer isn’t a really big difference in the really big picture.
Let’s turn that around. How has life changed for the Jaguars since that Nov. 10 breakthrough?
DiRocco: I could go into a lot of stats that show how much better the Jaguars are playing, but that's not what's really important. The past six games have been more about the validation of the process, establishing the foundation of the franchise's rebuild, and confidence in the new regime. Coach Gus Bradley never wavered from the plan that he and general manager David Caldwell established. His message stayed the same throughout the eight-game losing streak to start the season: trust in the process, work hard, and focus on improving and not victories, and the victories will eventually come. Because that has happened, the players appear to have completely bought into what Bradley and Caldwell want to do, and there's a confidence in the locker room that the franchise is headed in the right direction.
We talked about Jake Locker the last time these teams met, but that was before he suffered a season-ending injury to his foot. How does that change the Titans' outlook on him and are they in the market for a quarterback in the offseason, too?
Kuharsky: Locker is certain to be on the 2014 Titans. His fourth year isn’t that costly and it’s guaranteed. But they can’t execute a spring option for his fifth year that would line him up for over $13 million. A lot of his fate depends on whether Munchak is back as the head coach. It’s possible they go forward with Locker, Ryan Fitzpatrick and just-signed Tyler Wilson as their quarterbacks. It’s also possible they’d draft a new guy, and depending on how high of a pick he could land in competition to start. I think it’s less likely they chase a free agent like Jay Cutler if he comes free, but they have to assess all the possibilities. How can they completely commit to Locker based on his injury history?
One side effect of the Jaguars' surge is they aren’t going to be in position to draft the first quarterback taken. What’s your sense of what Bradley and Caldwell want in a quarterback and do you expect one to arrive in the first round?
DiRocco: Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said something interesting last week. He said he wants his QB to scramble around, take off running to get yards and take some chances throwing the football. To me, that sounds like a pretty accurate description of Johnny Manziel. I'm not sure how that reconciles with the ideas of his bosses. Bradley comes from Seattle, which has the mobile Russell Wilson. Caldwell comes from Atlanta, which has the considerably less mobile Matt Ryan. My sense is that Bradley and Caldwell probably lean more toward the Wilson end of the spectrum. People think that eliminates Teddy Bridgewater, but that's not the case. He's not a runner but he can run if needed. If he's around, I'd expect them to take him. If not, then I would still expect them to go quarterback. It's their most glaring need.
You mentioned Munchak's job status. What's your take on whether he will be back next season -- and should he be?
Kuharsky: He’s shepherded improvement, but his team lacks an ability to finish. He’s 0-4 in the worst division in football, 1-9 in the past two years. His teams have lost to the previously winless Jags in 2013 and the previously winless Colts in 2011. He’s 4-18 against teams with winning records when the Titans played them and 2-19 against teams that finished the season with a winning record. To me, three years is a sufficient sample size to know what you’ve got and those numbers are the most telling thing on his resume. Keep him and they deal with all the limitations connected to a lame duck coach. I don’t know what Tommy Smith, the head of the new ownership, will do. But the fan base overwhelmingly wants change, if that’s worth anything. People still pay for tickets because they’ve got investments in personal seat licenses they do not want to throw away. But a lot of people are staying home on Sundays now.
Cecil Shorts is done and Maurice Jones-Drew is uncertain. How can the Jaguars threaten on offense without their two best weapons?
DiRocco: They were able to put up 20 points and post their second-highest yardage total of the season, including a season-high 159 rushing, in last Sunday's loss to Buffalo. Running back Jordan Todman stepped up big time and ran for 109 yards (Jones-Drew cracked 100 only once in the first 13 games) and tight end Marcedes Lewis was more involved in the passing game than in previous weeks (four catches for 54 yards and a touchdown). But I'm not sure that is sustainable. Teams will certainly concentrate on stopping Lewis and make quarterback Chad Henne move the ball with three receivers who have a combined 75 career catches. Todman doesn't scare anyone, either. The Jaguars will have to be creative on offense (they've run gadget plays the past three weeks) and capitalize on every opportunity they get.
April, 27, 2012
By Paul Kuharsky | ESPN.com
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesUsing the 70th pick on Cal punter Bryan Anger hurts the Jaguars more than it helps them.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have been accused (occasionally by me) of not doing well enough in assessing how the rest of the league's teams value some players the Jags draft.
Some personnel people around the league say the Jaguars simply don’t care about that. In a way, I admire them for it. Don’t be overly concerned and influenced by the forces around you, by the competition. Do your own thing. Bank on your convictions.
But when it comes to taking Cal punter Bryan Anger in the third round, the Jaguars absolutely should care about league context.
I know at least one other team had him rated as a fifth-rounder.
Anger is the first punter to go in the top 100 picks since 1995, when Todd Sauerbrun went in the second round to Chicago, 56th overall.
There is a reason for that.
It’s important that you don’t punt terribly. But it’s not so important that you punt fantastically, certainly not important enough that you sacrifice the chance to improve at a position that could be on the field for three downs a game.
“I think it will be evident when you get a chance to see him punt: He’s got a strong history which I feel will transfer to this level in helping us defensively with the yardage we can gain in field position,” general manager Gene Smith said.
“… He’s the player in that round at your pick that you feel can upgrade your football team. I think that’s an easy decision for me, to get a starter in the third round.”
Calling a punter a starter is beyond a stretch.
The Jaguars' defense played 970 plays in 2011. The Jaguars' offense played 958 plays. The Jaguars punted 99 times.
“I think it’s first downs that you gain,” Smith said in a further defense of the pick. “And I feel like in the third round it’s not a round that you always get proven starters.”
In Smith’s three previous drafts, he picked four times in the third round. Guard Will Rackley, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton and cornerback Derek Cox are starters. The only nonstarter, defensive tackle D’Anthony Smith, has missed his first two seasons with injuries.
The Jaguars averaged 41.9 yards per punt last season, 31st in the NFL. They averaged 36.5 net yards per punt, 28th in the NFL. Those numbers were, in part, a testament to the team’s foolish conclusion that greybeard Matt Turk was the man to replace Adam Podlesh, who left for Chicago as a free agent.
The Jaguars cut Turk after five games, going with Nick Harris the rest of the way. Harris was 3 yards (and 5.1 net yards) better per punt than Turk had been.
A longer punt is easier to cover, so this is too simple.
Nevertheless, here is my counterproposal to drafting Anger 70th:
Jacksonville uses an average punter and boosts its net average to what was the midpoint for 2011. By my calculations, that would give the Jaguars an extra 15.5 net yards a game. Then use the 70th pick on an offensive lineman who, as part of a better scheme, could help cut the Jaguars’ sack yardage in half. That would give the team an extra 10.3 yards a game, and also help young quarterback Blaine Gabbert not worry so much about getting crunched.
The overall gain from my plan -- not just estimating the average that will come with a big leg, but actually factoring in context -- would be better.
The goal is not to punt, and you drafted a punter. That was the first thing a reporter in Jacksonville said to coach Mike Mularkey after the pick.
“And hold, hold for extra points,” Mularkey said. “If you want to write about him, he’s a really good holder for extra points and field goals, and he just so happens to be a difference-maker when it comes to punting.”
Oh, he holds, too? Well, that changes everything.
No, actually, any guy on offense with good hands, starting with your backup quarterback, should be able to function as a holder.
Maybe Anger is the league’s best punter and holder for 15 years.
Even if he is, it says here there will be at least three dozen players among the picks after Anger who have more impactful careers than he will. And that’s a modest 20 percent of the 183 guys we’re talking about. If the Jaguars missed on him by two rounds, maybe it’s 64 players. It could be more.
Are the Jaguars, coming off a 5-11 season, good enough that they can pass on such potential people? They are not. Perhaps they are expecting Gabbert to be terrible again, knowing they’ll be punting a ton and being proactive?
They need more guys who can score touchdowns or stop touchdowns. Get more guys who can get you first downs and you’ll punt less, kicking more field goals and scoring more touchdowns. Get more guys who can stop a third-down run or break up a third-down pass and you’ll be fielding punts, not covering them.
Do those things, and getting a few additional yards when you have to kick the ball away doesn’t mean so much.
Know where you have a chance to add guys who fit that bill?
With the third-round pick you just used on a punter.
Too often the Jaguars are a punching bag or a punch line.
This time, they deserve it.
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