With Sunday's big game between the Dolphins and Jaguars fast approaching, it's time learn more about this Jaguars team. To do so, we welcome in Chris Streetman of Big Cat Country. Below you will find his responses to my five questions. You can also head over to BCC on Friday to check out my responses to his Dolphin-related questions.
Matt: The Jaguars, like the Dolphins, got off to a rocky start. But they've seemingly turned things around and have won four of their last five. What do you attribute this turnaround to?
Chris: The reason for the turnaround is twofold. First, the coaching staff has been nothing short of spectacular this season. Del Rio's seems to get more out of younger players, Mel Tucker has been as good as advertised at improving DB's, and Andy Heck has Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton progressing nicely.
Secondly, our drafting has improved dramatically. Under James Harris, the Jaguars were position drafters, focusing on getting the best player at any given position. Now, Gene Smith has instituted a BAP philosophy that has our first four draft picks starting and making major contributions.
Matt: Just quickly glancing at Jacksonville's schedule, I noticed that the team has been a little schizophrenic in 2009. Yes, they've won seven games. But they've also lost to teams like Seattle (by 41) and San Francisco (by 17). What's that about?
Chris: The Jaguars seem to have a problem traveling to the West-Coast. The combined scores of the San Fran game and the Seattle game is 61-3, favoring the Jaguars' opponents. There is no other reason for the team's inexplicably poor play other than that. They seem to become turnover machines when they travel, and the fact that the next two games are at home bodes well for the team's playoff hopes. These Jaguars are NOT "road warriors."
Matt: David Garrard got off to a rough start but has since turned his season around. In his last five, Garrard is averaging 249 yards through the air and has a 5:1 touchdown to interception ratio. Is this a product of playing against average defenses? Is it a sign that Jacksonville's young receivers and tight ends are really starting to come around? Or is it something else altogether?
Chris: It's all about the tight-ends and WR's. Last year we didn't have a quality player at either position, as Marcedes Lewis looked pedestrian in 2008. Now, we've got Lewis playing at a pro-bowl level, Mike Sims-Walker as a legit #1, Mike Thomas as a true slot player, and Torry Holt as ole reliable. Our back-up TE's have been doing great, too. Wilford had a TD last week, and Zach Miller had huge YAC numbers.
Matt: The Jaguars haven't played well defensively - allowing 345 yards per game (19th in NFL) and 22.8 points per game (22nd). What's been their biggest issue defensively and are you worried about the Dolphins exploiting that weakness on Sunday?
Chris: The biggest issue is the pass defense. We've got Tyron Brackenride likely to start over Mathis again, and that means our best defensive player is out. We seem to get beaten deep at least once every game, as our Safeties have left something to be desired. Former first-round pick Reggie Nelson, has looked every bit replaceable, and Sean Considine and Gerald Alexander are both cast-offs from other teams (Lions and Eagles).
Our run-defense is stout, and our allowed yards against the rush are skewed by a 300 yard game that CJ of the Titans had against us while we still operated out of the 3-4. Since switching to the 4-3, our run defense has become extremely stingy. John Henderson and Terrence "Pot Roast" Knighton shut down the middle of the line. Only one of our DE's can play the run (Harvey), and as a result, you will see a lot of blitzes come from the other DE's (Groves) side to compensate for his inability to hold the point against the run.
Matt: Sunday's game is a huge one for obvious reasons. So tell us all your take. Who wins and why? And what Jaguar player will Dolphin fans learn a lot about on Sunday that we might not be too familiar with right now?
Chris: Sunday's game is huge, you're right about that. Despite how poorly the Jags have played away from home, they've managed to notch a 5-1 record at "The Jack". The player you will likely learn a lot about on defense is going to be Derek Cox or Terrance Knighton. These two rookies are outplaying many of the team's veterans, and both will be major contributors on Sunday. Offensively, you'll learn about Mike Thomas. He'll be catching short passes and making people miss. He may also return kicks, but a fumble last week on a punt may lead to Witherspoon getting the nod. We always keep games close, and have actually allowed more points than we've scored. It will be a close, run-the-ball and stop-the-run kind of game. My score... Jacksonville 16, Miami 13.