Byron Leftwich is a better quarterback than he was a year ago and the Jaguars have a significantly better roster than what they put out on the field in 2003, but improvement overall is difficult to detect because the Jaguars have been unable to satisfy the three major needs with which they ended last season.
When they capped a 5-11 season with a 4-4 record in the second half of the 2003 season, most people agreed the Jaguars had three distinct needs: wide receiver, defensive end and cornerback. Well, they lost a veteran cornerback of moderate skills (Fernando Bryant) and replaced him with a veteran cornerback of moderate skills (Dewayne Washington), the Jaguars were unable to address their need at defensive end, and the fix at wide receiver is young and not yet able to be that impact player the team sought at the position.
As a result of those developments, much of the Jaguars' true improvement is being camouflaged. For example, the need at defensive end is causing teams to avoid the middle of the Jaguars defense, where the Jaguars have a triangle of strength in Marcus Stroud, John Henderson and Mike Peterson, and run at the perimeters. So, what appears to be a trouble spot may, in fact, only be a player away from being fixed for a long time.
At cornerback, Rashean Mathis is a player of star quality for the long-term future, and teams are seeing that so they react by directing their passes away from him. So, what appears to be a trouble spot may, in fact, only be a player away from being fixed for a long time.
On offense, Leftwich is showing major gains, but until a legitimate number two receiver emerges, Jimmy Smith will continue to get double-covered and the big play will continue to be absent from the Jaguars' arsenal. So, what appears to be … well, you get the idea.
Just don't think improvement isn't occurring. Leftwich is better. The roster is better. There are young players of distinct quality on this team. Development is happening, it's just that hard evidence of it is being suppressed by a few remaining but critical needs.
Yes, this team will require another offseason of acquisition to permanently satisfy those remaining positions of need, but there are 11 games left to be played this season and the chance still exists that this team can fix itself sufficiently enough to be a playoff contender.
Now, here are 10 things the Jaguars have to do to beat the Chiefs:
1. Control time of possession—It doesn't matter how the Jaguars do it – run it or pass it – just so they do it. Keep the powerful Kansas City offense on the sideline. The Jaguars need to execute long, time-consuming drives.
2. Convert short-yardage—The Jaguars are three of six on third-and-one. That's not good enough. Priest Holmes is an impressive four-for-four on third-and-one.
3. Stick with the run—Each week has provided a new excuse for not giving Fred Taylor the ball. So far, Taylor only has one game in which he had 20 or more carries. No excuses; give him the ball.
4. Cover Tony Gonzalez—If Antonio Gates can catch eight passes for 93 yards and two touchdowns, it's frightening to think what Gonzalez might do to the Jags. Whatever they did against Gates, they should do something else against Gonzalez.
5. Be what you used to be—In the final 15 games of last season, no one, including Jamal Lewis, rushed for a hundred yards against the Jags. It's time to be that kind of a defense again. Stop Holmes.
6. Do something sudden—Return something; a kick, a punt, a fumble, an interception. Football doesn't have to be played by the numbers.
7. Rally around Lefty—Leftwich is beginning to assert his personality and leadership skills. You can see it happening. All right, we have a leader. Let him lead.
8. Kick it out of bounds—What's the purpose of risking a Dante Hall return by trying to pick up another 10 yards of field position? The Chiefs could get there in a couple of plays anyhow.
9. Just win, baby, win—This game isn't about style points. It's just about a win this team desperately needs to keep its hopes and morale high heading into next week's showdown in Indianapolis.
10. Get some energy—Who doesn't believe the Jaguars were flat for last Sunday's game? This week, they better come out smokin'.