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Defense lost its edge

Join Senior Editor Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions.

Steve from Neptune Beach, FL:
What happened to the defense Sunday, in your opinion?

Vic: Football is an edge sport. The defense lost its edge.

Christopher from Pleasantville, NY:
Well, the final game of this season was eerily similar to last year's loss in Cleveland to end the season, with our defensive line being manhandled. Did you see improvement from the defensive line this season, as we spent a great deal of last offseason attempting to fix this problem area?

Vic: Yes, I saw improvement on the defensive line this season. In fact, I thought it was the most improved area of the team, until late in the season when, as you've accurately described, it experienced failures eerily similar to that loss in Cleveland a year ago. Part of Gene Smith's evaluation process is to know how to weigh the four quarters of the season, as he described on last week's radio show. He explained that he cuts the season into quarters in his evaluation process. What weight does he assign the fourth quarter of this season? That's the critical question in evaluating this team, in my opinion. Is the fourth quarter of this season the true evaluation of this team, or did this team just run out of gas?

David from Ormond Beach, FL:
What is your best memory of this season?

Vic: Mike Thomas' Hail-Mary catch against the Texans will probably be my enduring memory. You don't see something like that happen very often; it sticks in your memory. There are other moments from this season that I'll recall. The interception in Indianapolis sealed the deal. The Jaguars appeared to be going in for the tying touchdown when David Garrard's pass for Jason Hill sailed high and was intercepted. If that hadn't occurred, I think the Jaguars might've won that game and we'd be talking about hosting a playoff game now.

Ian from Swansea, IL:
The Jaguars are 1-7 in the final eight games of the past two seasons. Is it the "rookie wall" hitting the team or do you think it's something else?

Vic: It's a wall of some sort, but it shouldn't be offered as an excuse, but rather as a criticism. Teams can't hit walls or they'll never be any good in the postseason or even make it into the postseason. To be a championship team, you have to be playing your best football at the "wall" time of the season. The 1-7 to which you are referring is the major issue confronting this team. It's a stigma that will stick with this team through the offseason and into next season. Everyone will ask why the Jags have collapsed at the end of each of the last two seasons and theories will be many. The best theory I can offer for what happened at the end of this season is that everything was on the line in Indianapolis. That was the wall.

Timothy from Riverview, FL:
Do you know what teams will be on the Jaguars schedule for 2011?

Vic: In addition to the AFC South games, the Jaguars will host the Ravens, Bengals, Saints, Bucs and Chargers, and will play at the Browns, Steelers, Falcons, Panthers and Jets.

Paul from Wildomar, CA:
What determines the draft order when teams end the season with identical records?

Vic: First of all, you separate the playoff and non-playoff teams. The playoff teams draft 21st-32nd. Ties are broken by strength of schedule, with teams having played the weakest schedules drafting ahead of the teams having played the strongest schedules. When a tie can't be broken by strength of schedule, the divisional or conference tie-breakers are applied. If that doesn't work, flip a coin.

Andy from Jacksonville:
What's it going to take to turn the defense around? I see young talent on the field, but I don't see improvement. How long do we have to wait?

Vic: Gene Smith made a point in last week's radio show of saying the defense is going to require more attention. In my opinion, the defense needs a star. It needs a Troy Polamalu-type player. A guy like that changes everything. The Steelers have a lot of good defensive players, but the Steelers are not the same when Polamalu isn't able to play. I think we've seen that with the Colts and Bob Sanders in recent years. A player of that magnitude could change everything for the Jaguars defense. When will that happen? I don't know the answer to that question.

Derek from Jacksonville:
Did the Jaguars make significant progress from last year to this year? For a few games, it sure seemed like it. Now that the season is over and you analyze it completely, where was there progress?

Vic: When they were 8-5, had won five of their last six games and were heading to Indianapolis with an opportunity to clinch the division title, there was clearly significant progress. The manner in which the Jaguars closed the season, however, especially in the final two games of the season, has clouded the progress they made this season. I think a lot of progress was made on the offensive side of the ball. Mike Thomas developed into a top-quality wide receiver. Marcedes Lewis became a star. Maurice Jones-Drew became a nationally-recognized star. Vince Manuwai resurrected his career. Zach Miller took steps forward in his career. Rashad Jennings did the same. David Garrard was a better quarterback in 2010 than he was in '09. The problem was on defense. The Jaguars allowed the most yards and points in franchise history. We knew, however, that would be the team's trouble spot. It seems like just yesterday that I penned a column heading into training camp that the progress the Jaguars made on defense would define the team's season. It did.

Jonathan from Tampa, FL:
Is kicking a confidence thing?

Vic: It's a groove thing. The best kickers get in a groove and stay there the longest. Josh Scobee was in a groove for most of the season. He's got to stay in that groove a little longer.

Kamen from Bethel, CT:
Despite an unfortunate loss, I want you to know you gave me, and I'm sure others, as well, a great laugh with your impression of the PA woman. As down as I was about the way things were going, I still managed to laugh. Thanks for that. It made everything a little brighter.

Vic: That was a run. That was a pass. That was a tackle. That was driving me nuts.

Scott from Woodbridge, VA:
Thanks for the memories, Vic. It was nice to have both games close for a little while, but is our secondary our number one problem?

Vic: The rankings all season said it is.

Joel from Atlanta, GA:
Why has the defensive line play against the run deteriorated so much in the last few weeks? Is it simply the wear and tear of a long season catching up with them?

Vic: That's one of the big questions that have to be answered in the offseason. Yeah, the Giants, Raiders and Texans are pretty good rushing teams, but what's the excuse against the Colts and Redskins? Clearly, the run-defense wore down. Why? We don't have to answer that question right away. We have a whole offseason to do it. What's most important right now is identifying the questions that need to be asked.

Kevin from Atlantic Beach, FL:
I am gracious enough to have attended every Jaguars home game and two away games this season. Although the season did not end the way I would have liked, I now join the majority of NFL fans in the excitement to watch their respective teams develop in the offseason. Below are my top three areas of concern for our Jags: 1.) season ticket sales; 2.) safety; 3.) cornerback. Where do you see the greatest need to improve?

Vic: The Jags need more run-and-cover guys in the secondary. Today's game is a passing game. You can play respectable run-defense with scheme and attitude, but you have to have guys that can run and cover to get it done in the secondary.

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