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Don't be misled by rankings

Join senior editor Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions.

Lane from Lake Mary, FL:
Who do you like in the playoffs and who's your Super Bowl winner?

Vic: I'm going to stick with my picks from the preseason: New England and Philadelphia. If I don't do that, then why bother making preseason picks? When I picked those two teams, however, I was embarrassed by my lack of creativity. New England vs. Philadelphia? Now there's two off-the-wall picks, huh? But who should I have picked? Indianapolis? That wouldn't have been any more creative. Looking back on it, who can honestly say they saw Pittsburgh and San Diego reaching the heights they have? I didn't.

Bob from Fernandina Beach, FL:
You gave the stats for 2003 and 2004, which showed that we slipped in offense and defense in '04, yet, we had a better record. How do you explain that?

Vic: The league offense and defense rankings are based solely on total yards, so, they often do not tell the tale. For example, Atlanta was the number one rushing team in the league in '04, but that is largely the result of Michael Vick having rushed for 902 yards. Do you really consider that legitimate rushing yardage? After all, Vick first dropped back to pass before he ran. When he ran, he was running against a defense that was in the process of playing pass. See what I mean? In the case of the Jaguars' rankings having fallen, I don't think it's an indictment against the performance of the team in '04 as much as it is a case of the '03 rankings being misleading. The '03 offense and defense rankings are not indicative of a 5-11 team. So what happened? Well, I don't wanna go back and do a hard study of the '03 team, but I can tell you a lot of yardage was gained by the opposition in the return game, which is yardage the defense didn't have to defend and which also allowed the offense to get the ball back sooner. The 2004 rankings are much more in-line and indicative of a 9-7 team. In my opinion, toss out the '03 rankings and focus on '04. When you look at the Jaguars' final stats, they support the team's record. The major problem with those stats, however, is that they took a major dip in the final two games of the season. In my mind, that's the real issue: Why did this team play so poorly with the playoffs on the line?

Jon from Jacksonville: posted its All-Rookie team and at linebacker Jonathan Vilma, D.J. Williams and Teddy Lehman were there but Daryl Smith was not. Would Daryl Smith be on your All-Rookie team?

Vic: No; Daryl Smith was on his way to a real good year before he suffered a knee injury in Houston on Oct. 31. Just as Jack Del Rio said that Byron Leftwich was never quite the same after injuring his knee in that same game, in my opinion Smith wasn't either. The Jaguars' overall linebacker play in the second half of the season declined.

Kyle from Jacksonville:
What would you attribute to the drop in offensive production from the 2003 season? Did it play a major impact in the 9-7 record?

Vic: Again, I think the 2003 stats are misleading, but I'll acknowledge that the 2004 Jaguars' rankings were not as good as we expected they would be. As far as the running game is concerned, the drop-off is directly attributable to a lack of emphasis in the first half of the season. During the bye week Jack Del Rio promised a return to the running game and over the next three weeks the Jaguars ran the ball for more yards than all but three teams. Just when the Jaguars' running game had reached peak performance, however, Fred Taylor was lost for the final two games. I think that explains the fall-off in rushing. As far as the passing game is concerned, I think a lack of production can be attributed to Byron Leftwich's midseason knee injury and the failure of a wide receiver other than Jimmy Smith to emerge as a big-play target. The one thing we know is that Leftwich can throw touchdown passes to Smith. So why can't Leftwich throw touchdown passes to the other wide receivers, who caught six touchdown passes combined? That's 12 touchdown catches by all wide receivers and that's not good. I don't know who gets the blame but I think it's accurate to say that's the problem.

Seth from Jacksonville:
You mentioned that you are satisfied with Byron Letfwich's improvement in '04, but his stats rank him in the lower half of NFL quarterbacks. What does he have to do in your mind to get to the next level?

Vic: Throw touchdown passes. That'll do it. That'll do it for any quarterback. You have to throw touchdown passes and Byron Leftwich just didn't throw enough of them. His 2004 stats are significantly better than his '03 stats in most categories, but there was no gain in touchdown passes, which is one of the four main criterions used in calculating a quarterback's passer rating, which is how quarterbacks are ranked. Leftwich threw 16 touchdown passes in '03 and 15 in '04. Neither is good enough, especially on a team that had only nine rushing touchdowns in '04. If Leftwich had significantly improved his touchdown passes total in '04, his passer rating would've fit among the top quarterbacks in the AFC. He needs to throw more touchdown passes. I don't know if that's an indictment against him or his receivers. All I know is that there have to be more scores.

Kamal from Novi, MI:
Looking at the rankings that you provided for both offense and defense, the Jaguars got worse in all six of them. Do you think the only difference between the last two seasons was that this team was able to win the close games this year due to our young team maturing?

Vic: That's a good reason. There are others, of course, but I think maturity is a good one.

Chris from Jacksonville:
What was the Jags' record against teams with losing records and against teams with winning records?

Vic: The Jaguars were 4-3 against teams with winning records. They were 5-4 against teams that were .500 or worse.

Chris from Pass Christian, MS:
Everyone is griping about the 8-8 NFC teams. What is your take? In 2003 the Dolphins didn't get in at 10-6 and everyone wanted more spots. Does the NFC have too many? Do you like the eight highest-record spots?

Vic: I like the system just the way it is. I think it's the best system for deciding a champion in all of professional sports. The system, however, isn't all about deciding a league champion. It's also about providing for division champions and the fan interest that accompanies those individual division races. In my opinion, there is no team that didn't make the playoffs that would qualify as a legitimate Super Bowl contender. I don't think anyone was unfairly snubbed.

Calvin from Moore, OK:
I was wondering who we might try to get or in your personal opinion who you would go for as an offensive coordinator.

Vic: I don't have any special knowledge of a specific guy. I imagine it'll be the likely suspects. What he is, however, is more important than who he is. In my opinion, the new offensive coordinator has to be someone who embraces the philosophy: You throw to score, you run to win. I think that philosophy represents the kind of offense Jack Del Rio wants for his team. The new guy has to be someone who wants to throw the ball down the field, instead of nibbling on the wings, and he also has to be someone who will establish a strong running game and the physical presence that accompanies it.

Ben from Jacksonville:
I'm a huge fan of your talk shows. My dad and I listen to you every night. My dad said the Jags have a ton of cap room. Could we possibly get one, two or three big free agents?

Vic: Define the word big? Do you mean expensive? I'm all for big, but I don't like expensive. Maybe I'm being unrealistic, though. Maybe they're one in the same. Yeah, the Jags will have a lot of salary cap room when free agency begins, and I expect the Jags to be a major player in free agency, but I'd be lying if I didn't say that scares me a little.

Vincent from Jacksonville:
Do you really think Bill Musgrave was the problem on offense? I don't think he was the one dropping passes and fumbling the ball. He wasn't the one who couldn't make a one-yard score. I think in the NFL the quick way out is fire the coach.

Vic: You're absolutely right, but all of these coaches understand that their jobs are directly tied to the performance of their players. That's why they live and die with the weekly rankings. It's not very fair, is it? These coaches are outstanding instructors of the game of football. I am humbled by their knowledge of the game. I also find them to be very likeable guys and it hurts me when they get fired. Bill Musgrave has talent for what he does and I hope he hooks up with a team with whom he can have success. Mike Haluchak is someone with whom I exchanged hellos every morning as we walked into the building. He's a veteran football man. He's the kind of guy I admire the most; the kind who keeps his mouth shut and does his job. Steve Shafer is one of the most unassuming people I have ever observed. I always had the feeling something big was going on inside his head, and apparently that was true in Baltimore in 2000, when Shafer was the defensive backs coach on a Ravens defense that established itself as one of the best defenses in NFL history. I respect all three of them and I hope our paths will cross again.

Mike from Mill Valley, CA:
Will a new offensive coordinator help Reggie Williams make an impact?

Vic: I think that's one of the demands the new offensive coordinator is going to face: Get Reggie Williams involved in the offense.

John from Orange Park, FL:
I have read the Jags will have $30 million in cap room.

Vic: That number is not correct. It fails to include tenders the Jaguars will have to make. When all is said and done, the Jaguars will go into free agency with about $20-$22 million in salary cap room.

Howard from Jacksonville, FL:
I believe you have mentioned many times that the Jaguars are on an upward trend. How much of a setback, if any, will having to adopt to a new offensive coordinator be?

Vic: It didn't seem to hurt Pittsburgh.

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