The "Great Debate" rages. This time, the words were even stronger.
Three weeks ago, the Jaguars defense allowed the Titans to drive 59 yards in 10 plays for the game-winning touchdown with just 44 seconds to play. The following day, defensive tackle Gary Walker insinuated the defensive scheme was to blame for the collapse. Walker offered somewhat confusing dialogue that led reporters to believe the Jaguars' defensive strategy was too soft.
This Sunday, following another collapse by the Jaguars defense, Walker's teammate, cornerback Aaron Beasley, calmly criticized that same scheme. But there was nothing confusing about Beasley's dialogue. His words got right to the point.
"If he has time, he's going to find somebody," Beasley said of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Elvis Grbac, who directed the Ravens 74 yards in nine plays to score the winning touchdown with nine seconds to play. The drive began with 1:32 to play and the Jaguars holding a 21-17 lead.
The Jaguars' final-stand defensive strategy utilize three rushers and eight defenders in a zone-coverage scheme. Was it a mistake?
"I would have to say so," Beasley said. "You heard it from the linemen. They know how it is three on five. The game plan was to get heat on (Grbac)."
But the game plan was significantly altered with 1:32 to play.
Beasley stood in front of his locker and entertained reporters' questions with the courage of a player who cares. What other players may have wanted to say, Beasley did. If a fine was required to effect change, Beasley was willing to pay it. He believed deeply what he was saying was the absolute truth.
He was also supported by the opinion of his head coach. "If I had to do it over would I do something different?" Coughlin said to a reporter, who waited for the answer that would tell all. "Yeah," Coughlin said.
With that, the debate was ended. When the coach says it was a mistake, it is fact. Defensive coordinator Gary Moeller will bear the blame for this collapse. He has no choice. The head coach said the scheme was wrong.
"They're going to get downfield. They're going to find holes in the zone," Beasley said.
The Ravens certainly did find holes and there was no pressure on Grbac, even though the Jaguars threw in a couple of blitzes that didn't get home. In that game-winning drive, the embattled and beleaguered Grbac completed five passes, two of which went to tight end Shannon Sharpe, including the three-yard game-winner.
Why do coaches around the league persist in this soft scheme? "You get the lead and you play not to lose. The key is to play to win," Beasley said.
The pace of the questions quickened. After all, it marked the fifth time this season a late-game defensive collapse was the reason for defeat. It's a sickening thought that if this team had been able to protect its lead in all five of those games, it would be tied with the Steelers for the AFC Central lead today. That it happened twice against the Ravens this season is even more disheartening. Actually, this trend goes back to week two last season, in Baltimore, when Sharpe caught the game-winner from Tony Banks with 41 seconds to play.
Have Jaguars defensive players voiced their opinion on the matter of this soft-zone scheme?
"We can express ourselves, but at the same time the coach is going to call his defense," Beasley answered. "Hopefully, we'll see we need a four-man rush and we need Tony (Brackens) to go one-on-one."
Ironically, the strategy on game-winning play was the result of a complete departure from the Jaguars' soft-zone scheme. From the three-yard line on third-and-goal, the Ravens showed an empty-backfield formation that caused Jaguars coaches scrambling to call a timeout to re-order the strategy, but they were unsuccessful at gaining their players' attention.
"We didn't have any checks if it was empty. You can't blame us for not calling timeout because we're playing what's called and it's the heat of the moment," Beasley said.
So, on the third-and-goal play, the Jaguars blitzed the "house," leaving undersized safety Ainsley Battles overmatched in one-on-one coverage against Sharpe. It was an easy throw for Grbac, who just lobbed the ball over the line and into Sharpe's soft hands.
"We sent everybody and we had one man on Shannon. Everybody knew the ball was going there," Beasley said.
That's what makes this all so confusing.