Dirk Koetter is willing to accept the blame for the Jaguars' 1-2 start, but he believes better days are ahead and, in time, the Jaguars' passing game will begin making big plays.
"No one is satisfied with how we're playing on offense. If we had played better on offense, we would easily be 3-0 right now. We're not getting it done in the red zone. We know it," the Jaguars' offensive coordinator said at a press conference on Thursday.
Koetter joined head coach Jack Del Rio's staff last year, ostensibly to reclaim quarterback Byron Leftwich's career. It didn't, however, turn out that way. Instead of reclaiming Leftwich's career, Koetter helped give birth to a new starting quarterback, David Garrard.
Expectations were running high when training camp began. Garrard was one of the game's new stars and Koetter talked about the offense having one year of a new system under its belt and how that should allow for a higher level of performance in '08.
"We all thought we were going to pick up where we left off last year," Koetter said. "We're dealt what we're dealt."
The Jaguars were dealt a double blow in the season opener, losing starting guards Mo Williams and Vince Manuwai for the season to injury. Starting center Brad Meester had already been lost in training camp until midseason. As a result, Garrard was sacked nine times in the first two games.
"We got off to a rough start with the protection part," Koetter said. "I am a big believer that if you have enough time to find (the receivers) and the quarterback can make the throw, eventually someone is going to get open."
Wide receiver Jerry Porter was supposed to be that someone. The Jaguars signed him in expensive free agency and he satisfied expectations in early-spring practices, until a seemingly innocuous hamstring injury sidelined him for the rest of the spring.
"I got that visual image of Jerry Porter. He's not that guy today. When that guy gets back, you're going to like what you see," Koetter said.
Porter is still battling to recover from hamstring surgery in July. He's back to practice but he has yet to play a down for his new team.
"I got the call when I was on vacation that Jerry was going to have hamstring surgery. I've never seen it before so I don't know how long it takes," Koetter said.
"I saw a smooth, powerful, explosive, sure-handed, tough receiver," Koetter added of the player he saw on tape. "I know when I've seen him 100 percent that he's that guy."
Koetter and the Jaguars continue to hold out hope that Porter will return soon and be the big-play "guy" for which he was signed. Until then, it would seem Matt Jones is the guy on whom Garrard has focused.
"We had Matt behind the defense on one play in Indy, but Dave had to re-set his feet and by the time he did, he had to throw the ball away," Koetter said. "Matt has a much greater sense of urgency; much greater attention to detail in the classroom. Matt is acting like he cares and he's applying himself."
Jones leads the Jaguars with 16 receptions for 173 yards. He also leads the Jaguars in the big-play reception category with a 33-yarder, one of only two receptions by a Jaguars wide receiver that has gone for 20 or more yards. Jones also has the other one.
"We have to continue to find better ways to use Matt," Koetter said.
It's thought more big plays in the passing game will help spread the field for running backs Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, but Koetter said that's not true.
"The field is not going to spread out. It didn't all last year because our two most explosive players are Maurice and Fred," Koetter said.
Koetter did agree that it was the Steelers in the postseason last year that provided a blueprint for defensing the Jaguars' running game. The Steelers loaded the box in the first game between the two teams and "they loaded it even more" in the playoff game, Koetter said. "They took (Troy) Polamalu and he split the gap. I'll bet we see it next week (Oct. 5)."
Garrard's passer rating is down nearly 35 points from last season, the result of four interceptions through three games – he threw three all last season – but Koetter said "for the most part David is doing what we want him to do.
"David had a fantastic year as far as that interception thing last year, but we were lucky a few times. We'll never get David to make plays if we talk him out of it," Koetter said.
"Our passing game is coming around," he added. "We're going to play better offensively. We have to or we're going to lose some games."