Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars: Not Getting Better Soon

With an announced 59, 695 tickets distributed for the Jaguars/Colts game today it’s a shame that so much of the Jaguars performance was sub-standard. While the offense didn’t produce the defense had so many lapses on long yardage situations that it made it easy for Indianapolis.

Blaine Gabbert appeared early in the game to be playing with the “freedom” Gus Bradley encouraged him to play with this week but after a couple of drops by Cecil Shorts and one run back for a TD, Gabbert reverted to the Gabbert we’re all too familiar with.

It’s clear the Jaguars are outmanned on both sides of the ball, but the mental mistakes, the penalties on a veteran like Jason Babin and the flat out missed coverages are too glaring to overlook. Some players need to pay a bigger price for their mistakes. I know Bradley is trying to keep the culture upbeat but there are too many times guys look like they don’t know what they’re doing.

So where do they start?

While panicking doesn’t help anybody, I think the team needs a little shake up. Maybe not this week but certainly Bradley needs to send a message that this kind of play, and the lack of focus and mental errors will not be tolerated.

Cut Jason Babin.

Even thought Bradley said it’s not time to start cutting anybody.

Cut Babin.

I know he’s a veteran and has talent on a team that doesn’t have any to spare but Bradley needs to grab the team by it’s shirt and shake it a bit. At the very least a heavy fine or a benching sends a message to the rest of the team.

Next week Justin Blackmon returns and while you can’t put a lot of hope in him changing what happens on offense, it’s at least what your offense is supposed to look like. Marcedes Lewis played about a series in the Colts game so it’s clear he’s not right and you can’t count on him perhaps for the entire year. So I guess you can’t actually judge Gabbert on what has happened early this year but looking at his body of work over three years it’s hard to project him as a starting quarterback with a future of production in the NFL.

“We like his traits,” is how Bradley justified their confidence in putting Gabbert back in the game this week but Gabbert just doesn’t seem to “get it.” Instead of stepping up in the pocket, he’s trying to run around. His decision-making in crucial situations tends to allow the other team to grab the advantage instead of moving the Jaguars forward.

Do you make a change there?

I’d be in favor of that but it probably won’t happen until the full complement of the offense is together for a couple of games. I don’t think that’ll make a difference but the Jaguars want to make absolutely sure this is the right move. “I’m standing strong with Blaine,” Bradley said when asked in his post-game press conference. So we’ll see more of #11 at least for the foreseeable future.

It’s painful to watch right now because Bradley is upbeat about the effort and the positive message but seems to realize after four weeks of the regular season that his team isn’t getting that message in the right way. It’s one thing to compete, and it’s one thing to be in position to make the play. But it’s a whole other thing, and a professional expectation that you’ll execute that play. That’s what you’re getting paid for. To make plays.

It appears the Jaguars as a whole are playing not to make mistakes and without the confidence to compete against other NFL players and teams. Fifty-fifty balls are going to the opposition consistently. All the breaks are going against the Jaguars because in that league you make your own breaks.

If their stated goal is to put the best players on the field, it’s hard not to think that this team wouldn’t be better with Daryl Smith, Montel Owens and even Derrick Cox on the roster.

So Jaguars fans can only hope that Bradley and Caldwell know what they’re doing.

Because this isn’t getting any better anytime soon.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars in London: Fun and Frustration:Equal Parts of Both

Walking to Wembley Stadium to attend the Jaguars/Niners game was much like walking to a Super Bowl venue. “Next to the Super Bowl, this is the biggest production we have,” one NFL insider told me.

From the badging around the stadium featuring the Jacksonville skyline and Jaguars players to the pregame show by recording star Neo, this game felt like something special.

“What a great atmosphere,” Jeremy Mincey told me in the locker room after the game. “This was really fantastic. Lots of Jags fans. It hurts me when we disappoint them like that.”

And that seemed to be the prevailing thought among the players after falling to muster much competition for the 49ers in a 42-10 loss.

“We’re just not making those plays,” Head Coach Gus Bradley said when I asked him if some opportunities were there early in the game. “We’re missing some things. I don’t think it’s because the players are tight, we want them to play freely. But they need to get to their technique and execute and right now we’re not doing that.”

Consistently the Jaguars make enough mistakes to beat themselves in 2013, thus leading to the most one-sided scores not only in franchise but also in league history.

“We missed a lot of opportunities today,” Maurice Jones Drew said when I inquired about another slow start. “That’s kind of been our MO throughout the season. It just seems like we have chance to do things. It is on all 11 of us.”

Too often the Jaguars will play well for a few plays but then give up a big gain or drop a crucial third down throw.

Paul Posluszny said the Jaguars got to the situations they wanted, but couldn’t continue to execute when it counted. “We felt like if we could get them to third and a favorable (yardage) for us, we would have the highest success rate. “Kaepernick scrambled for some first downs where normally we would get off the field in those situations.”

Posluszny brought it down to its essence when I pointed out some busted coverages and guys not making a play. “That’s what it comes down to. At the end of the day, technique and fundamentals. This league is about playmakers. You have to have a guy or a group of guys that are able to make a big play when you need it the most. We are struggling with that right now.

Jones Drew agreed. “”We have to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations. It takes time to do that, but we’re working toward that. Mike Brewster and Mike Brown stepped up. We have to continue to build off that.”

Bradley’s thankful for little things like that right now.

“Mike Brown made that catch. We have to like that, things like that. He was open, he saw him, he caught it and, touchdown.”

This has been such a different year to cover the Jaguars. When a team doesn’t get the job done because of poor execution or no passion, it’s easy to be hard on the players or the coaching staff or both. But this team is just overmatched and out-manned.

You can see it at the snap of the ball when the line of scrimmage moves in the Jaguars direction and not the other way. You can see it when the opposing QB drops back and is able to survey the field without rushing. And you can see it when no matter who is at quarterback for the Jaguars, their time to throw is very limited.

When asked earlier in the week at a fan forum in London about what the difference between the early expansion teams he played on and what’s happening now with the Jaguars, Tony Boselli said, “It’s about good players. We had a lot of good players on those teams. Now we’re trying to get back to that.”

The game against the 49ers spotlighted the difference between the two. San Francisco was in the Super Bowl last year and looked like a team that can go back. The Jaguars looked like a team trying to figure out who can play and who can’t .

Niner’s All Pro Linebacker Patrick Willis remembers when the Niners were a struggling team, much like the Jaguars. “We know what that’s like. You have to build on that,” he said after shutting down the Jaguars offense most of the night. “We like where we are, we don’t want to go back. ”

Hopefully we’ll hear that from a Jaguars player after a game at Wembley Stadium sometime in the not-too-distant future.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Results Not Unexpected

I liked the effort.

Outside of that, there were too many deficiencies in the Jaguars lineup to overcome a very talented Seattle Seahawks team.

Early on you could tell the Jaguars were a bit overwhelmed by just about everything Seattle came up with on offense and defense. A mobile quarterback like Russell Wilson creates difficulty for just about every defense and when you combine his talent with the Jaguars inexperience, bad things can happen if you’re in teal and black.

It’s not hard to look past just flat out getting beat. Seattle might go to the Super Bowl and at times against the Jaguars they looked like that team. They covered Jaguars receivers, they harassed Chad Henne and took advantage of every opportunity. What bothers me is when there’s illegal procedure in punt formation or other silly penalties.

If you’re deficient when it comes to talent, you have to be disciplined and focused in every situation. You can’t have hands to the face. You can’t have illegal formations and you can’t back yourself up at anytime. Gus Bradley says the teams has to “clean those things up” but it’s got to be more than that.

It’s too easy to fall into a culture of losing where you figure you’ll take a short cut here and there and hope to get buy. But there is no shortcut to getting better and that has to be the Jaguars goal every week. Get better to the point where winning will be one of the options every week.

They’ll look at this game and see some improvement over what happened in week one and two.

A solid defensive play on a tipped ball lead to the first TD for the Jaguars. The Chad Henne/Cecil Shorts combination moved the ball pretty consistently when called on late in the game. Occasionally the defense was pretty stout against the run but the tackling sometimes was so horrendous it was hard to watch.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Jaguars fan base treats the team as they return this week from their two-week road trip. Will they get behind the guys and show some support for the effort or will they write off the season as a lost cause and head to the beach or other pursuits that are calling.

There are other teams in the league that are winless. Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Washington, the New York Giants. The Jaguars were expected to struggle so it’s no surprise that they’re 0-3. Are they better or worse off than those other teams at 0-3? The Jaguars can identify their problems. And they are many.

“We’ll get some of these things resolved and get this thing turned around, ” Cecil Shorts said after the game.

Hopefully he’s right.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Ups and Downs

Leaning on the perspective of history you learn that it’s never as bad as it seems or as good as it looks when it comes to the NFL. That’s why watching Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley after the 19-9 loss to Oakland was a study in how “team building” is part of his philosophy as a young head coach. He told us when he was hired that he was excited to now lead the whole team instead of just the defense and he’s putting that theory into play.

And he’s been tested early.

There wasn’t much good to go on in the opening day loss to Kansas City and Bradley admitted that adding, “We competed like crazy, but sometimes the wrong way.” And while that was harsh on the ears at first, it made sense that a young, inexperienced team was having difficulty just doing their job, following their training and talent and going out and playing.

He could have spent some time calling guys out, singling players out for their mistakes, but instead called on the players as a whole to “buy in” and the coaching staff to re-evaluate how they were trying to teach.

Following the Oakland loss, Bradley said there were “small victories” and if you look at the glass “half-full” it’s easy to see some of them. The Raiders scored one touchdown against the Jaguars defense, and that was on a short field created by special teams. The rest of Oakland’s points came from Sebastian Janikowski’s foot.

Bradley singled out Chad Henne from a statistical standpoint and said that the running backs did a decent job after Maurice Jones Drew left the game. He acknowledged that Luke Joeckel was anxious during the two-minute drill and jumped early twice, and was critical of his team’s mental errors causing penalties, noting that a “hands to the face penalty kept a drive going. We have to clean that up.”

I’ll admit that Bradley is an easy guy to like. Good listener, honest, not a bunch of baloney coming from him when you ask him a question whether it’s hard or a softball. And his ability to direct his team to “take the next step” without crushing either their enthusiasm or their motivation has showed up at important times.

It would be easy to fall into a culture of losing where the players start doing their own thing, figuring they’re going to be on the wrong end of the scoreboard no matter what.

And that’s where Bradley’s challenge gets a little steeper.

How do you keep veterans like Jones Drew, Monroe, Lewis, Babin and others engaged in the process of getting better when in the short term they might not have much success in beating opponents on the field?

In his acceptance of a complete rebuild, Jaguars Owner Shad Khan said it made him think “Why didn’t I start this a year sooner” leaving him with the understanding that it’s going to take some time to build a consistent winner. Because of some bad decisions made by Wayne Weaver, Gene Smith, James Harris and Jack Del Rio the Jaguars missed their “cyclical uptick” about 3 or four years ago.

They beat Pittsburgh in the playoffs and were one win away from the AFC Championship game but got off track in the off-season and got lost. That means they’ve been in the losing doldrums for an inordinate amount of time by NFL standards. That doesn’t make the fans happy and rightfully so.

But I’ve never understood that segment of fans that say “they’re not winning so why don’t they just move?” If that were the case in the last hundred years of watching sports the Cubs would be out of Chicago, the Red Sox could easily be in south Florida and the Lions would have left Detroit decades ago. They haven’t won in ages.

No, it’s a process with peaks and valleys and right now the Jaguars and their fans probably feel like they’re in the Marianas Trench of losing.

Does Bradley know how to get the most out of his guys? Is Dave Caldwell the personnel whiz that most people in the league think he is?

We’ll know the answers to those questions soon enough when you measure it against the NFL’s timetable. It wasn’t that long ago in “NFL time” that San Francisco, New Orleans, Baltimore and even New England were lowly bottom feeders in the league. As Shad Khan sees it, this group of his football management has some time to build a winner.

As I’ve said before.

Not lots of time.

But some.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Not What They Were Expecting

Full of hope and enthusiasm, the Jaguars opened the 2013 season how they wanted to early against the Chiefs. Decent stops on defense and then a great special teams play leading to a blocked punt and a safety and a 2-0 lead. From there, the team looked like it slipped into their 2012 persona with dropped passes, not much pressure on defense and good field position for the Chiefs thanks to spotty special teams play.

Head Coach Gus Bradley was afraid of guys trying too hard instead of letting their talent and their training guide them through each situation. “We had some of the older guys talk to the young guys last night about doing your job. Some guys think they need to do something different than what they’re trained to do,” the Head Coach said in his post game press conference. “We need to settle down as a team. The defense started to do that, but we need that for the whole team.”

That’s what the offense looked like early. Without much rhythm, they were mechanical, not flowing and subsequently had dropped passes, bad reads and not many first downs. On defense it looked the same, with not much pressure on the quarterback by the front four and tackles that weren’t quite competed that allowed Kansas City to move the ball downfield and execute their offensive game plan. Of course, the Chiefs didn’t have to be great because they had great field position starting almost every drive on offense in the first half.

What was disappointing is how it appeared the defensive line was being pushed around in the running game, giving the Chiefs good down-and-distance opportunities as they marched towards the end zone.

Meanwhile the Jaguars running game looked anemic and the passing game mistake-prone. “We didn’t play as a team,” Gabbert said afterwards in his standard locker room comments. “We were never in sync. Some of that’s on me, I can’t throw the ball there,” he added when asked about the two easy interceptions the Chiefs came up with.

I’ve said all along Gabbert is a very “seductive” player when you watch him in practice. He makes all the throws, he has an unbelievable arm and he is a commanding presence in and out of the huddle. But of course there’s nobody chasing him with bad intentions in practice, which might be why he has difficulty translating that performance onto the field for game day.

Maybe missing Marcedes Lewis and Justin Blackmon made a big difference for Gabbert and the rest of the offense. But it appears none of the offensive woes will change until Gabbert becomes a more polished and complete player. He doesn’t have the internal clock that most quarterbacks have when it comes to understanding when to eat it and when to not. While he has good speed and mobility, he doesn’t always know how to use it to a quarterback’s full advantage. He’ll shuffle in the pocket, but then take a sack for holding it too long. He’ll run out of the pocket, only to miss the open guy downfield he just bought himself time to read since he didn’t even see him. And then he’ll decide where he’s throwing it before reading what’s there, sometimes putting the team in danger of a crucial turnover.

I’ll take Bradley at his word that if this team plays in games how it performs on the practice field, we’ll see a better performance with better results. I’ll also buy into the defense playing better if they build on their nine consecutive stops at the end of the game. And I’ll agree that playing within themselves is possible and that too will improve their chances at victory.

But Gabbert’s still the key. If he can’t play better consistently, he won’t get a chance to play much at all.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Give Reason For Hope

When Shad Khan decided to make a change at the top of his football operation last year, it wasn’t because the team went 2-14. It was because the advice he received about how the Jaguars were going to win games didn’t pan out. So he put Dave Caldwell and Gus Bradley in charge and changed his timeline for the Jaguars to win. That’s why Caldwell and Bradley have the luxury of not winning this year and maybe not next year either. Sure, they’ll have to show improvement, but being a contender in three years is the timeline for Bradley and Caldwell’s plan to take effect.

So what’s that mean for 2013?

There’s no question they’ve upgraded the roster, if only by a bit. Taking players like Ace Sanders and Denard Robinson from big schools who have played on the big stage gives the roster an uptick almost immediately. And they have some speed. Even on the practice squad, the Jaguars are faster, which makes a difference in the NFL.

“I don’t think Sunday will show just who we are,” Bradley said this week. “We’re a work in progress, looking to get better every week.”

That’s what almost every coach should say, and kudos to Bradley for admitting it. He is one of those guys who appears very straightforward. You see what you get without a lot of deceit. Honest answers and engaging personality. You can’t ask for much more as a reporter when it comes to dealing with the people in charge.

The one thing the team doesn’t have is depth. They need to stay healthy among the first team in order to stay competitive. Last year’s injury to Maurice Jones Drew had a domino effect on the team, and not only at his position. MJD’s health is important for the whole team. He’s what sets up the whole offense and without him, there’s not much the team will accomplish. He looks the same in training camp as in previous years, which is a good thing. Although they’ve gotten better behind him, none of the rest of the running backs on the roster present the same threat that MJD does.

They’re better at wide receiver, even with Justin Blackmon missing the first four games. And can you trust him to be a part of the team each week? Another violation and he’s suspended for a year. Nonetheless, Sanders, Cecil Shorts, Mike Brown and the rest should make them better this year catching the football.

Of course, it’s all about the quarterback in the end and Bradley and his staff have chosen Blaine Gabbert as the starter. He has a thumb injury but it hasn’t seemed to hamper him mechanically in practice. A thumb injury is slow to heal and it hurts. But you can play with it.

Gabbert seems to have bought into the offensive philosophy that Jedd Fisch has brought as the offensive coordinator. If his first read is open, throw it to him. Sounds simple but Gabbert, and in turn Chad Henne always seemed last year to pass up somebody open while they looked downfield. If they’re going to play an up tempo offense, you have to take small chunks and “move the chains.”

Maybe the best, and maybe the funniest thing said in training camp was from Eugene Monroe, the Jaguars offensive tackle and a Pro Bowl type player. “The best thing is that on third down, the same guy is in front of me,” he said when I asked about his conditioning and this offense. “We stay on the field and that means they have to as well. No situational substitutions. And that’s good,” he said with a smile.

On defense it all comes down to pass rush. It looks a little better in the preseason, but it’s hard to tell until the regular season starts. I’m still not sure why they didn’t re-sign Daryl Smith because between Smith, Paul Posluzny and Geno Hayes the linebacking corps would be fairly formidable and something you could build on. The defensive backfield is young but talented and will be picked on. The only way to change that is with a pass rush.

I generally like what they’re doing but don’t have any idea whether they’ll win or not. I do know they have a couple of years to get to be a contender and if they don’t, like they’re predecessors, they’ll be leaving on the same day. Let’s hope that’s way down the road and of their own choice.