I’ve been off for a couple days over the last two weeks. First to entertain friends in town and then to play in a golf tournament. I’ve also been out of town visiting for a day, so I’ve been outside of my normal route between work, home and the gym. Everywhere I went, I was asked the same question a couple of hundred times, “What’s wrong with the Jaguars?”
I’ve heard about Brunell’s problems, the offensive line, the defensive line, Fred Taylor, the crowd, Coughlin, just about everything.
After hearing most everything, I’ve settled on a theory of my own about what’s the matter with the Jaguars. It’s the same thing that can cause good teams to go south in every sport: fear. Not fear of hitting somebody or cowardice in anyway but fear defined by the classic Greek word phobos.
In Steven Pressfield’s book Gates of Fire, he describes the Spartan warriors as the ultimate fighting force. A full unit, confident in their comrades and their equipment, reverential of their leaders and trained to perfection. The phobos that infects their opponents doesn’t make them run away, but rather lose their discipline, react wildly and break down any semblance a coordinated defense or attack. That phobos has infected the Jaguars, making them afraid to react as football players, rather than mechanical robots carrying out an assignment. It infects baseball teams when they stop hitting. You’ve heard the expression “hitting is contagious,” and the opposite is true. An entire team can go in a collective slump, leaving the manager and the players bewildered at the cause. They’re all trying to win the game with one swing, instead of just going to the plate and hitting the ball hard, somewhere.
Rick Ankiel was a successful pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals during the regular season. In the post-season, Ankiel set records for wild pitches in an inning that might never be touched. Did he all of the sudden forget how to pitch? Kind of. Instead of a discipline of mechanics and athletic control, Ankiel was trying anything to throw a strike. It almost becomes a physical affliction.
Ever see somebody with the yips? Why wouldn’t somebody who’s able to smash a golf ball 300 yards off the tee barely be able to take the putter back and through with any kind of consistency? The fear, the phobos.
How can one basketball team go six minutes at the end of the game and not score a single point?
When the Raven’s kicker popped up the kickoff in the Sunday night game against the Jaguars, you could see the Jaguar players run to their positions on the field, doing their jobs as told. Some saw the football, others didn’t, but none reacted as football players, pouncing on the football and making a play. Instead they were bound up by the phobos that comes from playing tight, playing more afraid to make a mistake rather than just playing the game.
People have theories and I’ve heard dozens, some that make sense, others that came right out of Joe Theisman’s mouth. Theisman really harped on the Mark-Brunell-is-the-loneliest-guy-in-the-world theory during the Sunday night broadcast. Brunell and Coughlin don’t have the chummiest relationship, certainly not Walsh/Montana or Holmgren/Favre but Brunell does have people to go to. Bob Petrino is the quarterbacks coach and he’s on the sidelines during the game. Petrino also works on the offensive game plan during the week so he hears input from the players constantly. Do the Jaguars need an offensive coordinator? Actually they already have one in Petrino, but giving him the title might empower the players a bit and bring them out from under Coughlin’s thumb.
The Jaguars defense shed themselves of that fear last week, playing instinctively, and limiting the Ravens to just 193 total yards. Dom Capers deserves some of the credit for that, taking the cuffs off his defense and just letting them go play. The players lobbied for that move, and got it. The rest of the team needs to grab that feeling, starting with Coughlin, through Brunell and the wins will follow.
As I’ve said all along, four wins by the break after the Dallas game gives the Jaguars a chance at the playoffs. Less than that, and they’ll be making holiday plans off the field.