NFL Nation: Paul Posluszny

New coach means new culture in NFL

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20
9:00
AM ET
Ken WhisenhuntFrederick Breedon/Getty ImagesTennessee Titans players can expect to see changes on and off the field under coach Ken Whisenhunt.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Mike Munchak's sloganeering reminder was in big, bold letters on the wall near the door from the Tennessee Titans' locker room to the practice field.

“BE A PRO.”

Ken Whisenhunt certainly wants his players to be pros. But as the Titans' new coach sets a culture change in motion, even cosmetic alterations are underway just a month into his tenure.

The hallway sign is gone.

“Culture change” is a buzz phrase that bounces off the walls at every team facility where a new head coach takes control. It's about the coach's message and themes, setting new expectations, outlining how the coach expects the team to achieve its goals and getting players to buy in.

And it trickles all the way down to things like what's written on the walls.

“There are certain things that you do because you want the players to know when they come in, it's different -- when you get a chance with them and you're on the field and your routine changes and you make it clear it's different,” Whisenhunt said. “But there are things you do in the building that hopefully will get their attention. You put thought into it. ...

“You do want the players to know it is different. Because expectations are going to be different, at least from our coaching staff and how we put that message across to our players. Hopefully that'll show up on the field.”

After the parameters are outlined, the biggest element of NFL culture change is about the people.

Ryan Grigson is heading into his third season as general manager of the Colts. He was NFL executive of the year in 2012, when he helped craft a roster that turned a 2-14 team into an 11-5 playoff entrant.

Posluszny Guys want a positive presence and they want consistency.

-- Jaguars LB Paul Posluszny
As he and coach Chuck Pagano revamped Indianapolis -- a job made far easier by hitting the Andrew Luck jackpot -- they considered personality as much as play in some evaluations.

“I think in order to change it, you first and foremost need to identify who is and who isn't all-in,” Grigson said. “That's everyone in the building. To stay true to the message you're implementing, you may be forced to cut ties with some guys you really wish you didn't have to, because they may have the talent you are in dire need of. But in the big picture, it just doesn't pay to have cancers around to hinder or slow your overall progress. You need guys to buy in from top to bottom.”

As they assessed their roster, the Colts were wary of “independent contractors” and the sort of message that can create them. Players don't follow hollow talk, Grigson said, and have good sensors for what's genuine.

That certainly was the case last season in Jacksonville.

Coach Gus Bradley inherited a 2-14 team. His energy was contagious and his message was consistent. He didn't talk about winning; he talked about competition and improvement. If his team and each guy on it could just get a little bit better every day, they would be on track for long-term success.

It sounds simple and cliché. But middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said it worked. Even when the Jaguars got to the midpoint of their season at 0-8, they weren't drifting or doubting Bradley's message.

Posluszny has been part of four culture-changing situations. He was with the Bills when Perry Fewell became interim coach during the 2009 season and when Chan Gailey took over in 2010. He was in Jacksonville when Mel Tucker took over for Jack Del Rio in 2011, for Mike Mularkey's entrance in 2012 and for the start of Bradley's term in 2013.

“What guys have responded to the best that I've been around, Coach Bradley has, and that's just a very positive message,” Posluszny said. “He comes out and he's very truthful and he says, ‘I want to maximize the potential of everybody in this room. I want to do my best to have everybody play at their best possible level.’ He doesn't vary from that. He doesn't change. When we started off awful and we're 0-8, there was no variation from that.

“Guys want a positive presence and they want consistency.”

If they don't get it and the results aren't showing up, there is nothing to fall back on. Guys start to question the leadership and things can come apart quickly. Under other coaches, Posluszny remembers locker room talk that included lines like, “I don't know where the head man is coming from” and “The message is not getting across.”

How much different can one changed culture be from the next?

Posluszny said that with the Bills, Gailey consistently talked of sacks and turnovers for both sides of the ball. Good results in those departments would correlate to winning. The Bills were reminded of the team's stats in those categories and where they ranked.

In Jacksonville, Bradley hasn't talked about a single number, stat or rank.

“Never,” Posluszny said.

[+] EnlargeMichael Griffin
AP Photo/Wade PayneTitans safety Michael Griffin: "Everybody is a little shook up and I think that's a good thing. Because that's going to probably get the best out of everybody."
Whisenhunt and his staff can tell a lot about their players from film and they've already done a lot of evaluating. They will get an additional layer of information when they are able to get a sense of players' personalities.

After weeks holed up at the team facility, the coaches have now emerged to observe workouts and talk to players at the NFL scouting combine.

Odds are, as they talk to prospects, they'll be asking the same question Grigson considers as part of his evaluations.

“With so much turnover every year, you're not only trying to find scheme fits but also trying to determine with your head coach, Is this guy one of us?” Grigson said. “You may love him off the film. But on the free-agent visit or the combine interview you may be completely turned off.”

Whisenhunt doesn't intend for his culture change to include ruling by fear.

But every player on the Titans feels some degree of uncertainty right now. The offseason program doesn't start until April 7. They may stop by to meet their new bosses and get some sense of how things will be. They may read everything the team is saying.

Until they get playbooks and until they get on the grass for OTAs and training camp, however, there is a lot they simply can't know.

“You're always uncomfortable with the unknown,” Whisenhunt said. “A big part of this game is about routines and knowing what it's going to be like. Knowing what practice is going to be like, knowing what the expectations are going to be like. When that changes, it is uncomfortable a little bit, but that's a good thing.”

Everyone gets a fresh start, everyone has to compete and everyone will know, Whisenhunt said, that if he doesn't buy in, he won't be on the team or he won't play.

Free safety Michael Griffin has visited with Whisenhunt and some of the staff. Brief hellos and chitchat can't answer all the questions he and his teammates will have.

“Right now I think a lot of players are uncomfortable,” Griffin said. “This coaching staff has nothing to do with the old coaching staff. ... It's kind of scary, it's a shake-up and everybody is kind of curious and wondering what's going to happen. ...

“Everybody is a little shook up and I think that's a good thing. Because that's going to probably get the best out of everybody. You've got to prove yourself all over again.”
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan created a bit of a stir among fans when he said it’s no mystery that the team would draft a quarterback in May -- and possibly even two.

Notably absent from his comments, however, was the phrase "in the first round."

The Jaguars have the No. 3 overall selection and will have a shot at Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles. For months I’ve been on the Bridgewater bandwagon. I believe he’s the most polished, NFL-ready quarterback in the draft. Manziel wouldn’t be a bad option either because he’s such a dynamic player and will certainly make the Jaguars instantly relevant nationally.

The Jaguars, though, should pass on a quarterback with their first-round pick. They should do the same in the second round, too.

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney, Dak Prescott
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesUsing the No. 3 overall pick on an elite defender like South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, 7, could appeal to Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley.
That certainly won’t be a popular opinion among fans, who desperately want the team to move on from Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne. But it’s the best decision for general manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley as they continue their rebuild of the franchise. Fix and bolster the defense first, especially the pass rush and the secondary, then make quarterback a priority.

Two reasons:

Defense is more important to winning championships than most people realize.

Young, inexperienced quarterbacks, provided they have the pieces in place around them, can make it to and win Super Bowls.

Seattle won the Super Bowl last Sunday because of its stifling defense, which led the NFL in yards allowed per game, passing yards allowed and scoring, and finished tied for seventh in rushing yards allowed. The Seahawks absolutely throttled Denver’s record-setting offense and badgered Denver quarterback Peyton Manning in a 43-8 victory.

But don’t believe that what the Seahawks did signifies a changing philosophy or the start of a new trend in the NFL in which defense -- and not elite quarterbacks -- win championships. Defense has been winning Super Bowls for years, but people overlook that because of the elite quarterbacks.

Six of the past 10 Super Bowl winners had a defense that ranked in the top 11 in the NFL in three of the four major statistical categories (total defense, rush defense, pass defense and scoring defense): Seattle, Green Bay (2011), Pittsburgh (2009, 2006), New York Giants (2008), and New England (2005). Each of those teams -- with the exception of the Seahawks because it’s too early to tell how good Russell Wilson will be -- also had elite quarterbacks.

The Green Bay team that thrived on Aaron Rodgers' right arm? The Packers' defense ranked second in scoring and fifth in passing and total defense. Pittsburgh’s 2009 Super Bowl title team led the league in total defense, pass defense and scoring defense.

The last time New England won the Super Bowl was 2005. That was Tom Brady's third title in four years, but the Patriots' defense was one of the league’s best that season, ranking second in scoring, sixth in rushing and ninth in total defense.

The four other Super Bowl champs of the past decade won because of their quarterbacks (Baltimore in 2013, New York Giants in 2012, New Orleans in 2010 and Indianapolis in 2007), but the Giants wouldn't have won without their pass rush, and the Saints might not have won without cornerback Tracy Porter's fourth-quarter interception return for a touchdown.

The Jaguars’ defense has some solid building blocks -- tackle Sen'Derrick Marks, linebacker Paul Posluszny, safety Johnathan Cyprien and cornerback Dwayne Gratz -- but Caldwell and Bradley need to bolster the pass rush, get more depth on the defensive line and add help at outside linebacker. They should address those areas in the first two rounds, especially if they can nab defensive end Jadeveon Clowney with the No. 3 pick.

Bradley is surely in favor of taking that approach. It’s the way Seattle did it during his four years as the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator, and we just saw how well it worked. The team was built around its defense, and everything was in place for a Super Bowl run once Wilson was added to the mix.

Wilson is clearly not an elite quarterback right now. He wasn’t even in the Seahawks’ plans two years ago when they drafted him in the third round, because Pete Carroll had traded for Matt Flynn in the offseason and gave Flynn the starting job. Wilson beat out Flynn and has played solid but not spectacular football, winning a Super Bowl ring in his second season.

More proof that young quarterbacks aren’t a hindrance to success: Colin Kaepernick led San Francisco to the Super Bowl in his second season in the league; Andrew Luck has led Indianapolis to the playoffs in his first two seasons; Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers to the AFC Championship Game as a rookie; and Brady won a Super Bowl in his first season as a starter, which was his second season in the NFL.

Taking a quarterback with the No. 3 pick won’t guarantee that the Jaguars will be ready for a playoff run in 2014 or 2015, especially if, as some inside the building believe, none of the quarterbacks available in this draft are ready to contribute right away. There is no guarantee that Bridgewater, Manziel or Bortles will turn out to be a better quarterback than Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger or Jimmy Garoppolo, anyway, and those latter three are players the Jaguars could land in the third round or later.

The Jaguars need immediate impact players, which is why taking Clowney or another elite pass-rusher in the first two rounds is the better -- albeit not popular -- option.

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 29
Preseason Power Ranking: 29

Biggest surprise: When the Jaguars signed defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks to a one-year, $1.5 million contract last April, they thought he’d be a good fit in coach Gus Bradley’s system. Turns out he was a perfect fit. Marks plays the three-technique, which means he lines up on the guard’s outside shoulder, and that position is supposed to provide interior pass rush. Marks finished with four sacks, nine quarterback pressures and eight pass breakups -- all numbers that equaled or surpassed the totals from his first four seasons. He seemed to make at least one impactful play every game and he accounted for two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. His play earned him a four-year contract extension as one of the building blocks of the defense.

Biggest disappointment: The Jaguars’ inability to consistently run the ball, especially early in the season, was vexing. The Jaguars switched from a predominantly man-blocking scheme to a zone-blocking scheme, and the offensive line had trouble with the transition. Four of the five starters at the beginning of the season also started in 2011, when Maurice Jones-Drew led the NFL in rushing. The Jaguars mixed in more man-blocking schemes as the season progressed and things got better, but the problem wasn’t “fixed.” In addition, Jones-Drew clearly was not the same player he was two years ago. He missed all but six games last season with a Lisfranc injury and also battled ankle, knee and hamstring issues this season.

Biggest need: The Jaguars have a pretty long list of needs, but two stand out above all others: quarterback and pass-rusher. Quarterback is the top need because former first-round pick Blaine Gabbert isn’t the answer and neither is Chad Henne, who will be a free agent but wants to return to Jacksonville in 2014. The Jaguars haven’t had a bona fide threat at quarterback since coach Jack Del Rio put Mark Brunell on the bench for Byron Leftwich in 2003. New general manager David Caldwell and Bradley need a player around which to build the franchise, and the Jaguars will have the opportunity to possibly find one when they pick third overall in May’s draft.

Team MVP: The first impulse is to go with middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, whose 161 tackles ranked second in the NFL. He was clearly the team’s best defensive player and arguably the best overall player. However, what Henne did to stabilize the offense earns him MVP honors. Gabbert had played terribly in the first part of the season (seven INTs, one TD) and Henne stepped in and played the most consistent football of his career. He didn’t always light it up and he made some poor decisions and mistakes, but he kept the Jaguars in games in the second half of the season and made enough plays to go 4-4 after the bye. He threw nine touchdown passes -- including the game winner against Cleveland with 40 seconds to play -- and five interceptions over the final five games.

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The Jaguars may not have had anyone voted to the Pro Bowl, but the team is pretty well represented on the All-AFC South team.

Linebacker Paul Posluszny, defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks, linebacker Geno Hayes, kicker Josh Scobee, and kick returner Jordan Todman made the team, which was chosen by the reporters covering the four teams.

Posluszny finished second in the NFL with 161 tackles (Cincinnati’s Vontaze Burfict had 171) to go along with 3 sacks, 10 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles, 6 quarterback pressures and 2 interceptions. He clearly was the Jaguars’ best defensive player and arguably was the team’s best overall player.

He was the lone Jaguars player who should have earned Pro Bowl honors, but he was hurt by playing for a small-market team that finished 4-12.

Marks posted a career year in his first season with the Jaguars, making 34 tackles, breaking up eight passes, forcing two fumbles, and recovering three fumbles to go along with four sacks and nine quarterback pressures. He had 3 sacks, 8 passes defensed, 3 forced fumbles and no fumble recoveries in his first four seasons with Tennessee.

The team was so pleased with his performance that last week they signed him to a four-year contract extension reportedly worth up to $22 million.

Hayes played through a right knee injury much of the season and made 78 tackles, intercepted one pass, and broke up three others. The injury got progressively worse but he missed just one game, the season finale against Indianapolis, and will undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair cartilage damage and remove some loose particles in his knee.

Scobee made 23 of 25 field goal attempts this season. His only miss came from 60 yards and he had a 49-yard attempt blocked. Scobee was 15-for-15 from 39 yards and in. Todman averaged 27.4 yards per kickoff return, seventh-best in the NFL. That was the best mark in the division. Houston’s Keshawn Martin finished eighth in the league (26.3 yards per return.)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It’s obvious that the Jacksonville Jaguars made significant progress in the second half of the 2013 season.

But it is just as obvious that they still have a long way to go to be competitive in the AFC South.

It was painfully evident in Sunday’s 30-10 loss at Indianapolis. The Jaguars were not dominated as much as they were in a 37-3 loss to the Colts in Jacksonville in Week 4, but it was ugly, especially early. They were down 17-0 and the game was essentially over after the first quarter.

[+] EnlargeMaurice Jones-Drew
AP Photo/AJ MastMaurice Jones-Drew fumbled on the Jaguars' first drive, setting up Indianapolis for a touchdown.
"I just didn’t think that we executed very well today," coach Gus Bradley said. "We missed some opportunities, we missed some reads, we missed some wild combinations, we missed tackles, some assignments. I don’t want to make it sound like it was just a complete disaster. It wasn’t. But it wasn’t up to our standard. It wasn’t the consistency that we’re looking for."

It’s going to take a lot more than just another draft and a couple of free-agent signings before they can compete with the Colts, who are clearly the class of the division. Granted, the Jaguars have been banged-up in the final month -- especially on defense, where they were without four starters -- but so are the Colts. They were missing 15 players who were placed on IR this season, including receiver Reggie Wayne. That means injuries cannot be used to explain away Sunday’s rout.

Jaguars general manager David Caldwell and Bradley have gotten off to a good start in revamping the roster, but there are still major holes to fill. There are some building blocks in place on defense, especially in the secondary with safety Johnathan Cyprien and Dwayne Gratz. Defensive tackles Sen’Derrick Marks and Roy Miller and middle linebacker Paul Posluszny give the Jaguars a solid foundation up the middle, too. But the Jaguars have to add a pass-rusher, find another cornerback and get help at outside linebacker.

It’s on offense where more work needs to be done, though. Rookie left tackle Luke Joeckel showed promise before he suffered a fractured ankle in Week 5 and was lost for the season, but he still has to prove himself capable of being an elite player. The staff likes right tackle Austin Pasztor, but is he the answer there?

The interior of the offensive line needs an upgrade, too, especially at center now that Brad Meester has retired.

But it’s at the skill positions where the Jaguars really need work, starting at quarterback. Chad Henne had a solid season as a starter, and his 331 yards passing against the Colts made him the first Jaguars quarterback to surpass 3,000 yards since David Garrard in 2009. Henne’s a caretaker, not a franchise quarterback, and there’s no guarantee he’ll be back next year anyway because he’s an unrestricted free agent. Even if he re-signs, the Jaguars have to address that position in the draft.

The situation at running back also is unclear because of Maurice Jones-Drew’s situation. His contract is set to expire, and while he says he wants to return, it’s likely that he wants to test the free-agent market to see what kind of offers he can generate. Jordan Todman has proven capable of being a complementary back but not a feature back.

The Jaguars have a solid No. 2 receiver in Cecil Shorts, who missed the last three games because of a groin injury, but no No. 1 with Justin Blackmon suspended indefinitely for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Ace Sanders, Mike Brown and Kerry Taylor (eight catches, 75 yards, one TD against the Colts) are complementary pieces.

The Jaguars need to find a big-play -- and big -- receiver. Only one receiver who has a catch this season is taller than 6-foot, and he’s now on IR (the 6-1 Stephen Burton).

That sounds like a lot of work, and it is, but the task ahead shouldn’t overshadow the work that has already been done. The Jaguars (4-12) are a better team now than they were in September, especially when it comes to the culture in the locker room and around the facility.

"There was growth," Bradley said. "I feel like we competed the whole way through. Sometimes you have those days where it doesn’t go exactly how you had hoped, and we’ll learn from it. I asked the team to reflect on everything that we had done this year, and I think some tremendous growth has taken place. I give credit to our team and that our whole objective was to create a new standard, a new standard of excellence and they helped in that, what’s acceptable.

"We’ll take this season, we’ll grow from it and we’ll add to it."
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Not surprisingly, there were no Jacksonville Jaguars voted to the Pro Bowl.

But that doesn't mean there wasn't one who deserved to be honored. Linebacker Paul Posluszny has had a Pro Bowl-caliber season and should have made the list.

Posluszny is second in the NFL with 152 tackles, five behind Cincinnati's Vontaze Burfict. Posluszny's 115 solo tackles are the most in the league. He also has 11 pass breakups and two interceptions. He had a 59-yard interception return for a touchdown against Denver -- the first touchdown of his career -- and this is his sixth consecutive season of 100-plus tackles.

Burfict, San Francisco's NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis, and Carolina's Luke Kuechly were the Pro Bowl linebackers.

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.
Keenum-BabinGetty ImagesAre Case Keenum's Texans and Jason Babin's Jaguars on different paths as they near season's end?

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The streaks the Jaguars and Texans are on entering tonight's game are ones that would have been hard to believe after the first two weeks of the season.

The Jaguars started 0-2 and played so poorly it looked like they would go down as one of the worst teams in NFL history. The Texans started 2-0, and while those victories were shaky, it looked like they'd be able to right the ship and be one of the top playoff seeds in the AFC.

Three months later, the Jaguars (3-9) are 3-1 since their bye and have won back-to-back games for the first time since 2010. The Texans (2-10) have dropped a franchise-record 10 consecutive games, including a 13-6 loss to the Jaguars in Houston on Nov. 24.

Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli break down the matchup:

DiRocco: Tania, the Texans felt like they were at rock bottom after losing to the Jaguars on Nov. 24. What's their state of mind heading into Thursday's game?

Ganguli: They were up for Sunday’s game against the Patriots. It was a big one for the Texans after the way the Patriots blew them out twice last season, and that was apparent in the game. The Texans' offense played what might have been its best game with Case Keenum at quarterback, moving the ball from start to finish. There were some positives in that game, but ultimately the loss officially knocked the Texans out of playoff contention. Now they’re playing for pride. They can still avoid the league’s cellar when the season ends. And while there’s a section of fans that cares about the No. 1 overall pick above all else, a win would mean a lot to the team.

The last time the Texans played the Jaguars, the Texans fell to 2-9 and the Jaguars rose to 2-9, causing the Texans to join the Jaguars with the worst record in the NFL. Now the Texans are there alone and the Jaguars have won three out of their past four games. Is that indicative of a turnaround, or of poor play by their opponents?

DiRocco: It's a little of both, but I'd say more that the Jaguars have improved. In the four games since the bye, they're much better against the run (68 yards per game allowed vs. 162), have recorded nine of their 20 sacks, and are plus-3 in turnover ratio. The offensive line has been more consistent and receiver Ace Sanders has begun to emerge as a reliable option. So they are playing much better than the first eight games, which they lost by double digits. But the Jaguars haven't exactly played against the league's elite: The four teams are a combined 18-30 and only one (Arizona) has a winning record. They haven't exactly had to deal with elite QBs, either: Jake Locker/Ryan Fitzpatrick, Carson Palmer, Keenum and Brandon Weeden. Still, that shouldn't take away from the fact that the Jaguars are a better team than they were a month ago and have played well enough to win three consecutive games on the road for the first time since 2007.

Ben Tate looked pretty good against the Patriots, and it's probably not a coincidence that he rushes for 102 yards and the Texans nearly win. Is he back to 100 percent and is he the key for the Texans against the Jaguars? He really struggled in the previous meeting.

Ganguli: The running game just didn’t seem to get going in these teams’ last meeting, but Tate rebounded in a big way against the Patriots last weekend. He was asked if it was the best game the offensive line had played, and he said it was definitely one of them. Tate won’t talk about it, but he’s playing for a contract, as this is his final year with the Texans. The Texans’ offense needs him to be productive, and he was on Sunday.

It feels, from the outside, like a completely different season has sprouted for the Jaguars, whose nine losses all have been by double digits. Who has been the MVP of their three recent wins?

DiRocco: It hasn't really been one player, which is indicative of the growth the team has made since the bye week. Against Tennessee it was linebacker Paul Posluszny, who set the tone for the defense on the game’s first offensive snap when he knocked the ball loose from Chris Johnson and recovered the fumble at the Tennessee 19-yard line. Three plays later the Jaguars took a 7-0 lead and never trailed. Against Houston it was running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who ran for a season-high 84 yards and one touchdown and had a season-high 144 total yards. Against Cleveland it was Cecil Shorts, who fought through two drops and dealing with cornerback Joe Haden. Shorts beat Haden on a double-move to catch the game-winning touchdown pass with 40 seconds to play.

The last time the teams met, the Jaguars held Andre Johnson to just two catches. What kind of game do you expect out of him on Thursday?

Ganguli: Johnson’s production in that meeting had as much to do with the shakiness of the quarterback as it did with Johnson. Keenum had a rough day with both his decision-making and accuracy. He was gun-shy, and it hurt him and his receivers. It was no surprise then that a better day for Keenum coincided with a better day for Johnson against the Patriots. He caught eight passes for 121 yards, becoming the second-fastest player in league history to reach 900 career catches. I think you’ll see something closer to that version of Johnson. I don’t see Keenum regressing to what he was 11 days ago.

To wrap up, let’s talk about Jones-Drew some more, a guy who is probably pretty happy with the events of the past week. His college team won its big rivalry game, his current team won again and he got to throw a touchdown pass. That followed a game against Houston with those 144 all-purpose yards. Do you expect similar production from him? And how thrilled was he to get to throw that touchdown pass?

DiRocco: Jones-Drew is riding a pretty good wave, isn’t he? He’s probably the most proud of the touchdown pass, which makes him the first non-quarterback to throw a TD pass in franchise history. It also makes up for his only other career pass attempt, which got intercepted. Jones-Drew’s production has increased the past several weeks because the offensive line has been more consistent and he’s more involved in the passing game. He says catching passes doesn’t result in as much pounding as running through the line of scrimmage, so he’s fresher in the fourth quarter. I expect him to get 20 touches tonight.

A review of four hot issues from the Jacksonville Jaguars' 32-28 victory against Cleveland:

[+] EnlargeDwayne Gratz
AP Photo/Tony DejakDwayne Gratz, right, and the Jacksonville secondary had its hands full with Cleveland's Josh Gordon.
Secondary issues: One week after holding Houston receiver Andre Johnson to just two catches for 36 yards, the Jaguars’ secondary was absolutely torched by Cleveland’s Josh Gordon: 10 catches for 261 yards and two touchdowns, including a 95-yarder in the fourth quarter. Cornerbacks Dwayne Gratz and Alan Ball each had their troubles with Gordon, and they got little safety help from Johnathan Cyprien and Winston Guy. Both seemed to be late getting over to help, and the one time Guy did get there in time he was penalized for hitting Gordon in the head. Guy also was the main guy to blame for the 95-yard TD because he went for the interception -- coming from behind Gordon -- instead of trying to hit Gordon and knock the ball that way or just make the tackle. Cyprien did get his first career interception on a pass thrown behind tight end Jordan Cameron.

Help needed: Rookie receiver Ace Sanders had his most productive day, and the Jaguars certainly needed it, with Cecil Shorts dealing with Browns cornerback Joe Haden (and two drops) and Mike Brown playing through a very sore shoulder. Sanders tied his season high with eight catches and set a season high with 67 yards receiving. He also carried the ball once for 4 yards on a misdirection pitch play. The biggest number, however, is six: Of his nine touches, six resulted in first downs. Shorts came up big late, but Brown had just one catch.

Improved pass rush: All the attention since the bye week has been on how much the run defense has improved, but the Jaguars’ pass rush also has been much more effective the past month. The Jaguars sacked quarterback Brandon Weeden three times on Sunday, including one by Jason Babin that resulted in a fumble that defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks recovered to set up a field goal. The Jaguars now have 20 sacks, which matches their 2012 total. They have recorded nine sacks in the four games since the bye and eight in the past three games. One thing they’re doing differently is rushing middle linebacker Paul Posluszny more often. He had a half-sack (along with Babin) against Weeden.

A Marks man: Marks had another big day: a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup. Marks’ fumble recovery and 15-yard return set up Josh Scobee's 36-yard field goal at the end of the first half. Marks has three sacks this season after recording just three in his first four seasons in the NFL. Marks, who signed a one-year deal with the Jaguars in April, has been the team’s best defensive lineman.
HOUSTON -- Safety Josh Evans sounded a lot like a real estate agent on Sunday when he was explaining how the Jaguars defended Houston receiver Andre Johnson.

Location, location, location.

Everyone needed to know exactly where Johnson was at all times, Evans said. Find him when he left the huddle, check where he lined up, keep an eye on him when he went in motion, and make sure he didn’t go anywhere unaccompanied after the snap.

[+] EnlargeHouston's Andre Johnson
AP Photo/Patric SchneiderThe Jaguars' corralled Andre Johnson all afternoon, limiting the Texans' star to just two receptions.
"The whole thing was to see where he was at on the field at all times and I think we did a good job of that," Evans said after the Jaguars' 13-6 victory at Reliant Stadium. "We know that he was their main threat and their main guy they wanted to go to, so eliminating him just kind of made things a little easier for the defense."

The Jaguars didn’t eliminate Johnson from the game, but they came pretty darn close. Johnson caught just two passes for 36 yards: a 15-yarder on third-and-6 early in the third quarter and a 21-yarder on third-and-4 on the Texans’ final drive.

It was his worst performance of the season, surpassing his three-catch day in the Texans’ 34-3 loss to San Francisco.

"We suck as an offense," Johnson said. "That’s pretty much it."

But the Texans didn’t stink at getting Johnson the ball this season. He entered the game second in the NFL with 72 catches and needed just 34 yards for his seventh’s 1,000-yard season. Quarterback Case Keenum targeted him once in the first quarter, once in the second, and once early in the third before the two finally hooked up for a 15-yard gain.

Johnson should have had his first catch in the second quarter on a deep in, but safety Winston Guy hammered Johnson from behind and knocked the ball loose.

"That’s one of those plays you need throughout the game," cornerback Alan Ball said. "When they get big hits like that no matter what it does to the offensive player it ignites us. That was a boost for us."

The Jaguars play almost exclusively man coverage and Ball drew Johnson most of the game. He was rarely alone, though. He had safety help over the top and a player without coverage responsibilities sliding over to help on shorter routes. Another factor was the pass rush. The Jaguars got good pressure on Keenum, sometimes using blitzes up the middle, and was able to rattle him into some errant throws.

The Jaguars sacked Keenum twice, hit him five other times, and broke up nine passes, including two at the line of scrimmage by tackle Sen'Derrick Marks. One of Marks’ deflections came on a throw to Johnson.

"Our D-line did a great job," middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "You put pressure on and that makes a world of difference. All of a sudden the quarterback can't stand in the pocket and look for No. 80 downfield. He’s got guys in his face. That makes a world of difference."

Making Johnson a non-factor was a bit surprising considering Arizona’s Carson Palmer threw for 419 yards last week and Michael Floyd caught six passes for 193 yards and a touchdown. Evans said the secondary was stung by that performance and felt that corralling Johnson would be a good way to make up for it.

But he didn’t know just how good of a job they had done.

"As the game’s going you honestly don’t even pay attention to it that much because you’re trying to work on getting off the field on third down," Evans said. "But you start noticing, ‘Hey, we’re starting to do a pretty good job on him and he hasn’t had a lot of touches.’"

Jags stop the run, but not much else

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks has said for a while that it would be pretty simple to fix the Jaguars’ porous rush defense.

Everyone just needed to do their job. Stay in their assigned gap. Quit freelancing. Just do what you’re supposed to do on each play.

Turns out he was correct.

[+] EnlargeGus Bradley
AP Photo/Stephen MortonGus Bradley and the Jaguars held the Cardinals to 14 rushing yards on Sunday, but were burned for several big plays through the air.
The Jaguars held Arizona to just 14 yards on the ground in a 27-14 loss at EverBank Field. That’s the second-lowest single-game total in franchise history, behind only the 10 yards the Jaguars yielded to Kansas City in 2007.

It also is pretty much the only positive thing you can say about the defense on Sunday.

Carson Palmer threw for 419 yards and two touchdowns, including a 91-yarder to Michael Floyd in which three players missed a tackle, and the Cardinals controlled the ball for nearly 36 minutes. But the defensive front -- which was without middle linebacker and leading tackler Paul Posluszny (concussion) -- showed up.

"Just like I’ve been saying the whole year, every time we’ve had runs get out on us, we have a guy out of a gap," Marks said. "Our thing was after the bye we had to hold everybody accountable. We’ve been doing it ever since we came off the bye week. We’ve got guys in the right gaps, and everybody is where they’re supposed to be.

"Everybody’s been accountable, and when you do that you tend to stop the run."

Rashard Mendenhall gained 14 yards on 13 carries. One of which was a 5-yard touchdown run, which means he managed just nine yards on his other 12 carries. Andre Ellington, a speedy breakaway threat, managed just 3 yards on eight carries. The Jaguars entered the game giving up an average of 153.0 yards per game rushing.

"We were aware of the run game, and we did not want that to get going," head coach Gus Bradley said. "We did a good job attacking the run and controlling Ellington."

The defense certainly felt the loss of Posluszny, who is by far the team’s best defensive player. He has two interceptions, eight pass breakups, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. Posluszny didn’t practice all week, and was finally ruled out on Saturday morning. Russell Allen, who normally starts at outside linebacker, filled in and made seven tackles, but failed to deliver a big play.

Actually, he made one but it didn’t count. He stepped in front of Palmer’s pass to Larry Fitzgerald inside the Jacksonville 20-yard line in the third quarter, but officials announced that the Cardinals had called timeout before the snap.

"I think you grow to appreciate Poz and what he’s all about, but for Russell to step in and manage the defense like he did ... then he had the interception that would have helped out," Bradley said. "He did a nice job managing the defense. If he got more reps [during the week] we would see even better."

The Jaguars were certainly better against the run than in stopping Palmer, Fitzgerald, Floyd, and whichever tight end happened to be in the game at the time. Floyd caught six passes for 193 yards, including a 91-yard catch-and-run in which Allen, safety Josh Evans, and cornerback Will Blackmon missed tackles.

Fitzgerald caught a modest six passes for 61 yards and one touchdown, but tight ends Jim Dray, Jake Ballard and Rob Housler combined to catch nine passes for 117 yards -- continuing the trend of tight ends taking advantage of the Jaguars’ rookie safeties (Evans and Johnathan Cyprien).

Things could have been even worse had cornerback Alan Ball not broken up four passes in the first half.

The Tennessee Titans had similar trouble on the ground (83 yards) and success through the air (288 yards, two TDs) last week. The biggest difference is the Jaguars forced the Titans into four turnovers. They didn’t get any against the Cardinals.

"We feel good about how we played against the run, and we felt like it was something we were going to be able to do going in, but unfortunately we gave up too many big plays in the passing game," Allen said. "Any time we can give our offense a short field it’s important, giving them an opportunity to put points on the board. Getting some breaks ... would have helped a lot."
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny missed his third consecutive practice with a concussion, but coach Gus Bradley said there’s still a chance Posluszny could play in Sunday’s game against Arizona.

Posluszny
Bradley also said starting left guard Will Rackley is doubtful because of a concussion. Reserve receivers Stephen Burton (concussion) and Stephen Williams (Achilles) are out.

But it’s potentially not having Posluszny that hurts the most. He is the team’s best defensive player and responsible for three of the defense’s 12 turnovers. He has a team-high 88 tackles, two interceptions, eight pass breakups, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery.

"We’ll see how Paul feels in the morning," Bradley said. "We still have tomorrow morning to evaluate it and see where he’s at."

Posluszny, who suffered the concussion in the fourth quarter of the Jaguars’ 29-27 victory against Tennessee last Sunday, did not practice all week.

Outside linebacker Russell Allen, who has started 39 games in his five seasons, will start in place of Posluszny. Allen set career highs in tackles (201) and pass breakups (eight) in 2012, and has 40 tackles and two fumble recoveries.

"Fortunately we’ve had all week of practice with Russell in there and he’s done a nice job this whole week," Bradley said. "He was thrown into a little tougher situation last week with the limited amount of reps, so at least this week he got multiple reps.

"That’s where Russell’s so important to us -- in other ways, too -- but the flexibility to play multiple positions."

Rackley missed last week’s game with a concussion suffered against San Francisco on Oct. 27. He was limited in practice on Wednesday and Thursday, but did not practice Friday.

Upon Further Review: Jaguars Week 10

November, 11, 2013
11/11/13
8:00
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A review of four hot issues from the Jacksonville Jaguars29-27 victory over the Tennessee Titans:

[+] EnlargeWill Blackmon
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesThe Jaguars went "back to basics" on defense and forced four turnovers, one of which Will Blackmon returned for a touchdown.
Simple success: Apparently, simpler is better for the Jaguars' defense. Coach Gus Bradley and defensive coordinator Bob Babich spent part of the bye week going over the defensive game plans from the first half of the season and decided that trimming the amount of coverages, blitzes and personnel groups would help. The result was the defense’s best performance of the season. The Jaguars forced four turnovers -- the most they'd had in a game in three years -- and held the Titans to just 83 yards rushing. The Jaguars were last in the NFL in rush defense (161.8 yards per game) entering the game. “We got back to basics,” linebacker Paul Posluszny said. “Early on or even the last couple weeks ... we had games we were trying to do a little too much, and we scaled our package down for this week. I think we had a really good plan going into the game, very basic, not complex. It was stuff that we knew really well and we felt like we could play really fast with.”

Special teams: Kick returner Jordan Todman nearly got benched this week after bobbling three kickoffs against San Francisco, but he responded with a huge game against the Titans. He averaged 33 yards on three returns, including a season-long 46-yarder. That came on his final return and it helped set up another big play on special teams, when LaRoy Reynolds downed Bryan Anger’s punt at the Tennessee 1-yard line. The Jaguars got a safety two plays later on a holding call in the end zone, which ended up being the winning margin. The Jaguars’ special teams have improved markedly since training camp, thanks mainly to an overhaul of the bottom of the roster and the addition of players such as J.T. Thomas and John Lotulelei.

No stupid penalties: Did the Jaguars make mistakes on Sunday? Plenty, such as Chad Henne’s terrible throw to Marcedes Lewis that got intercepted and Brad Meester’s shotgun snap that bounced off receiver Ace Sanders. But the Jaguars didn’t commit the stupid penalties that were a regular occurrence during the team’s first eight games. They were penalized four times for a season-low 19 yards. Meanwhile, the Titans did commit a couple of costly penalties: a holding call in the end zone for a safety and a roughing-the-passer flag on Bernard Pollard that extended a drive that ended with a touchdown.

Commitment to the run: The Jaguars didn’t have a lot of success on the ground, rushing for only 54 yards and averaging just 1.8 yards per carry, but offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch stayed committed to it all day. The Jaguars had only 56 offensive snaps and Fisch called 30 runs, including 21 by Maurice Jones-Drew. That’s the kind of balance Fisch wants in terms of runs and passes. Obviously the production needs to increase on the ground.

Finally a fast start for the Jaguars

November, 10, 2013
11/10/13
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Sometimes it really is about how you start.

The Jacksonville Jaguars finally got a good one on Sunday and it played a critical role in the team’s 29-27 victory against the Tennessee Titans at LP Field.

Posluszny
Linebacker Paul Posluszny knocked the ball out of running back Chris Johnson's hands and recovered it at the Tennessee 19 on the game’s first offensive snap. Three plays later, the Jaguars had a 7-0 lead.

It was the first time the Jaguars were ahead in a game since they held a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter against St. Louis in Week 5.

"It was great, wasn’t it?" coach Gus Bradley said. "We talked about the importance of finishing and that’s critical. I told you last week it would be nice to start faster once in a while. To have that come into play this week was great. It was a great confidence-builder."

The Jaguars added a 32-yard Josh Scobee field goal later in the first quarter, and Scobee hit a 44-yarder early in the second quarter for a 13-0 lead. Like the touchdown, Scobee’s second field goal was set up by a turnover: rookie cornerback Dwayne Gratz's interception and 17-yard return.

"To start the game off like that, it doesn’t get any better," Posluszny said. "It doesn’t get any better than that, so to come out, play fast from the start, [and get] three turnovers in the first half, to do that it, was an enormous jump for our defense."

The Jaguars had been pretty awful early in the first quarter through the first eight games, getting outscored 70-15. Until Sunday they hadn’t scored a touchdown in the first quarter since the St. Louis game, and had been outscored 35-0 combined in the first quarter of the past three games.

The Jaguars desperately needed something good to happen early on Sunday, and they got it when Posluszny ripped the ball out of Johnson’s hands. The defense, which entered the game worst in the NFL against the run (161.8 yards per game allowed), held the Titans to just one first down and 46 total yards in the first quarter.

Meanwhile, the offense churned out 93 yards, nearly half of its final total of 214.

"We needed a positive feeling," Posluszny said.

They got one, and it led to an even bigger one after the game.

Jaguars finally get to celebrate

November, 10, 2013
11/10/13
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videoNASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The noise coming from the Jacksonville Jaguars' locker room was muffled by the concrete block walls, but not by much.

Those standing outside couldn’t make out what was being said, but every 10-15 seconds there were shouts and claps and whistles and stomps. And finally, after four or five rounds of cheers, there was one final, rousing roar.

That is what it sounds like after a victory in the NFL, and it’s a sound the Jaguars haven’t made in nearly a year.

"There was a lot of talking," cornerback Will Blackmon said after the Jaguars held on for a 29-27 victory against the host Tennessee Titans at LP Field. "It’s been silent the past eight weeks."

The last time the Jaguars (1-8) celebrated a victory was Nov. 25, 2012, when they beat the Titans 24-19 at EverBank Field. That was 350 days ago, and since then the Jaguars had lost 13 consecutive games, including the first eight this season by double digits.

They were soundly thumped by Kansas City, Indianapolis, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle. In three games at EverBank Field they have scored a total of 11 points: three field goals and a safety.

So damn right they celebrated. They celebrated linebacker Paul Posluszny’s forced fumble and recovery on the game’s first offensive snap, which allowed the Jaguars to take a 7-0 lead – the first time they had held a lead since early in the second quarter of a Week 5 loss to St. Louis.

They celebrated rookie cornerback Dwayne Gratz’s first career interception, which led to a field goal and a 13-0 second-quarter lead.

They celebrated Bernard Pollard’s roughing the passer penalty, which nullified a third-down incompletion and extended a drive that eventually ended with Jordan Todman’s 5-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.

They celebrated the holding penalty in the end zone by Titans rookie guard Chance Warmack, which gave the Jaguars a safety and essentially provided the winning margin.

They celebrated Blackmon’s sack, strip and 21-yard fumble return for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

And they celebrated Johnathan Cyprien’s recovery of an onside kick with 38 seconds remaining.

"Just a long time coming," receiver Cecil Shorts said. "Long overdue. It was good. Everybody was excited and happy."

And a little relieved, too.

Head coach Gus Bradley had been adamant about staying true to the plan he, the coaching staff, and general manager Dave Caldwell had implemented. Keep practicing the way we’ve been practicing, keep doing things the way we want you to, keep working hard. Trust that if you do all those things, the results will come.

Well, they didn’t. It hadn’t even been close, either, until a cool, cloudless Sunday in the Music City.

"To have the ability to stay the course, stay true to who we are and come out and execute the way we did is an awesome deal and an awesome feeling for our guys," Bradley said. "I just appreciate them staying tight with it and really holding true to it."

There was something else in the locker room as well: a bit of defiance. Guard Uche Nwaneri expressed it, but he surely isn’t the only one who felt that way. Through the first eight weeks, the players patiently answered question after question about the team’s poor play. They answered questions about whether they were expecting to be traded. They answered questions about whether there was any feeling that the players were beginning to tune out Bradley as the losses continued to pile up.

Of course, they also answered questions about 0-16.

They saw the stories and tweets about how pathetic they were, about how this was one of the worst teams in NFL history. They heard the jokes and the analysts’ remarks. Each one was an attack on their pride.

So when the clock finally hit zero on Sunday afternoon, Nwaneri was finally able to vent.

"Finally validating the work we’ve put in and getting this win today, it did feel like a breath of fresh air," Nwaneri said. "It was kind of like [giving the] middle finger to all the people who want talk about the Jaguars not winning the game or being the worst 0-8 team in history.

"It’s kind of, ‘Eat this.’ That’s kind of how it feels."

It feels, he said, pretty good. Winning always does.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Observed in the locker room after the Jacksonville Jaguars' 29-27 victory over the Tennessee Titans.

Laughter: That hasn't been heard in the Jaguars locker room all season, which isn't a surprise considering the team had lost its first eight games by double digits. But there was plenty of it on Sunday. There was some good-natured ribbing, too. Cornerback Will Blackmon was talking about the defense forcing four turnovers and said it was good to see "some people holding onto interceptions." The player who did was cornerback Dwayne Gratz, who was sitting in the locker to Blackmon's right. The player who dropped an interception was cornerback Alan Ball, who was sitting in the locker to Blackmon's left.

Hayes
Stepping up: The numbers weren't eye-popping, but Mike Brown, Clay Harbor and Stephen Burton did a solid job helping to replace the production lost from the suspension of Justin Blackmon. The three combined to catch four passes for 64 yards.

Injury report: Burton and linebacker Paul Posluszny each suffered a head injury, though Posluszny seemed fine in the locker room after the game. Burton was hurt when he got hit after making a 15-yard catch in the fourth quarter. He had missed the previous five games with a concussion.

Big game for Hayes: Linebacker Geno Hayes had his most productive game of the season, leading the team with 11 tackles, knocking down one pass and forcing a fumble. The pass breakup was a leaping, one-hander that he also nearly intercepted.

Sluggish O: The Jaguars gained 93 yards in the first quarter but had just 121 yards in the final three. The 218 total yards was the third-fewest of the season, behind the 178 against Kansas City in the season opener and the 205 against Indianapolis.

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