In his quest to find a cure to his team's early-season woes, Jack Del Rio can point to at least one major failing: The Jaguars have only five explosive plays through two games.
The Jaguars define an explosive play as a run of 10 or more yards and a pass of 20 or more yards. Fred Taylor had runs of 12 and 13 yards in Sunday's 20-16 loss to visiting Buffalo. Meanwhile, the Jaguars' longest pass-completion of the afternoon was a 15-yard gainer from David Garrard to running back Maurice Jones-Drew.
"We have not been explosive at all this season. We do need to make people pay for being so aggressive in the box," Del Rio told reporters at the Jaguars coach's Monday press conference.
The Bills crowded the line of scrimmage in concentrating their efforts on stopping Taylor, Jones-Drew and the Jaguars running game, obviously of the belief their defensive backs could cover the Jaguars receivers man to man. The strategy has been a recurring theme since last year's postseason when, all of a sudden, the Jaguars running game went dead.
"It's a bottom line business. You gotta win," Del Rio said, refusing to offer excuses for his team's 0-2 start. "We're gonna coach better, we're gonna play better."
Del Rio told reporters that, after looking at tape of the game, he found no fault with his team's effort.
"There's no doubt in my mind that the level of energy, the determination is all good. Guys played hard, played tough; just didn't do enough to earn a victory. The big question is what are you going to do now? The answer is we're going to stay the course," Del Rio said.
It sure would help if the Jaguars could regain the services of wide receiver Jerry Porter, who the team signed in free agency to be the big-play receiver the team is currently lacking. Porter would seem to be near the point of recovery from his July hamstring surgery. He practiced the previous two weeks and may make his Jaguars debut this Sunday in Indianapolis.
The Bills displayed the latest in creative ways of loading the "box" against the run, deploying middle linebacker Paul Posluszny as a fifth down lineman on running downs. Until the Jaguars persuade opponents to drop more defenders into pass-coverage and out of run-support, Taylor and Jones-Drew will continue to find the rushing lanes clogged.
"We can't be two of 11 on third down and get Fred and Maurice involved in the run game the way we need to," Del Rio said.
Third-down conversions are another big problem for the Jaguars. Through two games, the Jaguars have converted just seven of 25 third-down attempts, which ranks 24th in the league heading into tonight's action.
All of the Jaguars' rankings are dramatically down from last season. The Jags are 29th in total offense (28th in rushing and 22nd in passing) and 13th in total defense (18th against the run and 17th against the pass).
David Garrard finds himself near the bottom of the passer ratings with a 65.6 rating, nearly 40 points lower than the passer rating with which he finished last season.
Why? That question would seem to fit so many facets of the team's play. Only one aspect of the team's performance is above last year's ranking: Special teams is currently playing at the highest level in the league. The Jaguars' kickoff coverage team is number one in the league and punt-return and kickoff-return are each number three. The Jaguars also successfully executed an onside kick on Sunday that appeared as though it would be the big play in the game.
It's too much, of course, to expect special teams to carry the Jaguars to victory. Against the Colts in Lucas Oil Stadium this Sunday, the Jaguars are going to need more production from offense and defense.
"Losses are bad, wins are good," Del Rio said.
Is the season on the line this week, Del Rio was asked?
"No, this is week three," he answered.
With each passing week, however, the question becomes more appropriate. The Jaguars desperately need to answer it with a win.