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O-Zone: Chili pepper

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it …

Jim from Jax

What is with fans' obsession of whether we play a 3-4 or a 4-3 defense? What does it matter if you don't win or if all you do is win?

The Jaguars this week hired Ryan Nielsen as defensive coordinator, and one of the prevailing questions about the hiring indeed is whether Nielsen will run a three-linebacker, four-lineman scheme or a four-linebacker, three-lineman scheme. Nielsen during his one season as the Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator ran a scheme that was more often 4-3-based than 3-4-based. That last sentence is phrased that way because Nielsen when speaking about the scheme talked more in terms of being "multiple" than specific formations. This is the norm for most NFL coordinators these days for a couple of reasons. One is that teams these days indeed play enough different fronts that the idea of 4-3 or 3-4 is more of a starting point than a play-to-play reality. Another is that teams are in their "nickel" defense with an extra defensive back far more often than not, which means whether the base defense is three-four or four-three doesn't matter all that much. Why are fans obsessed with the scheme? Because it's something to talk about during the offseason as much as anything, I suppose. Scheme matters, certainly. Does it matter as much as we tend to believe in forums such as this? Perhaps not.

Mike from Omaha

Hi, John. Like many of the people who write you, I have been a Jags fan since Day One. Being disappointed just comes with the territory, almost a badge of honor. This season's collapse seems way harder to take. I don't remember the same disappointment in 2018, where there were also high expectations. Why do you think this season is so much more disappointing than perhaps any other season in Jags history, or is it just me? Thank you.

This past season was disappointing for Jaguars fans, just as the 2018 season was disappointing. My sense is the two seasons were different with different timing more than a case of one being more disappointing than the other. Jaguars fans felt optimistic in 2018 following an AFC South title in 2017, optimism that grew after an impressive early-season home victory over the New England Patriots. But any hoped essentially seemed lost after subsequent back-to-back losses to the Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys, and the rest of the season just sort of fizzled. The optimism felt this past season after a 2022 AFC South title felt justified when the Jaguars started 8-3 and appeared all-but assured of a second consecutive AFC South title. Five losses in the last six games in retrospect came more "out of nowhere" than did the 2018 slide – and it perhaps therefore hit with more of a punch. But was one more disappointing than the other? Who knows? Both sucked. Which sucked worse just depended on your perspective, I suppose.

Bradley from Sparks, NV

The championship games are intriguing this year. The NFC features the cerebral (San Francisco 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan) vs. the anti-cerebral (Detroit Lions Head Coach Dan Campbell) while the AFC has the Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes) vs. the anti-Mahomes (Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson). I know you're loathe to make predictions but who ya got?

I'll go with the 49ers because of home field and the Chiefs because of Mahomes.

Daniel from Johnston, IA

I know historically players haven't loved the franchise tag. Do you have a sense that Jaguars outside linebacker Josh Allen might be inclined to sit out if he doesn't get a long-term deal?

I expect he would think about it. I expect he would consider it. Players typically don't do this because sitting out a season because of the franchise tag means not getting paid for that season. NFL careers are short, so sacrificing a year's salary is sacrificing significant money you never get back.

Chevin from Jacksonville

The Jaguars appear positioned to have at least two compensatory draft picks in 2024. This, we know, is due to the personnel department having passed on signing any significant free agents during the 2023 offseason. The franchise now seems poised to be in a position to start obtaining compensatory selections moving forward. Do you get any sense at all that part of the reason they stood pat last offseason was to get this ball rolling?

No. I think the Jaguars' personnel department minimized free agent signings in 2023 because the Jaguars guaranteed exorbitant money in 2021 and 2022 in that market. The personnel department therefore planned for a long time to be relatively quiet in free agency in 2023 as a way to try to get the salary cap somewhat in order before moving into a 2024 offseason in which multiple young players would be eligible for contract extensions. General Manager Trent Baalke said during the 2022 offseason that this likely would be the approach. It wasn't hard to see coming.

Andrew from Halifax

I watched the Jaguars get the doors blown of the 'Bank against the 49ers live and after the game I said, "I think I just watched a team that is going to the Super Bowl."

You weren't alone.

Greg from Section 122, Jacksonville, FL

Okay so help me here, O-man. You talked about our new defensive coordinator using cool words like attack and aggression in his defensive approach. So … are we saying then that Mike Caldwell DIDN'T use those concepts? This is like having a race car team and the strategy is to GO FAST! No kidding? WOW. I guess this has some snark and sarcasm but seriously I would love to know what is better about Nielsen than Caldwell except he is the new flavor of the season? From reading articles about a lot of the coaching changes, you see the same words used. The only proof is in the W-L column.

I confess that I don't yet know what is better about new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen than former defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell. I suspect we all might have a better feel for this when Head Coach Doug Pederson and/or Nielsen discuss the move publicly. Nielsen has a good reputation from his season as Falcons defensive coordinator. I have been told good things by people who worked with him in Atlanta. All reports is that he is a fine hire and that he absolutely has a very good chance to be a successful NFL coordinator. But I get your point about trying to decipher what to expect about coaching changes from reading articles. Most say the same things and there usually is excitement over the new and a feeling of good riddance regarding the bad. Was it a good move or a bad move? Saying time will tell is a dissatisfying answer, but in this case it's the only answer.

Joe from Orange Park, FL

Evan Engram is one of the best tight end receivers in the league. When the tight end is used as a receiver as much as we do, how does that affect the pass protection?

The Jaguars use Engram almost exclusively as a receiver. This is not uncommon in the NFL these days. It affects pass protection in the sense that that tight end position isn't left in in protection, but most teams use at least one tight end almost exclusively as a receiver. It's how the game has evolved.

DIK Glass from Jax

As a season-ticket holder, I expected us to at least make the divisionals. My answer to the question about what is wrong with Jaguars: Simple red-zone management. We do not complete red zone touchdowns. As a quarterback who is entering his fourth NFL season, Trevor Lawrence is basically a B minus C+ quarterback, he needs to get some serious coaching help and understand plays. I believe the Jaguars need a new offensive coordinator. Trevor Lawrence has an arm should be used and is not. He has the ability to throw long bombs, but it doesn't get done. My last question would be if the town and Shad Kahn are going to invest in a huge new stadium. They better get their coaching staff organ better.

Wow. A few thoughts on those many thoughts. A lot of people thought the Jaguars would make the Divisional Playoff, myself included; to not do so was disappointing. The Jaguars indeed struggled in the red zone this past season; it was identifiable as needing to improve much of the season. I don't know what "B-minus quarterback" means, but Lawrence has a lot of coaches; the Jaguars aren't changing offensive coordinators this offseason. Lawrence indeed has an arm. I don't think the Jaguars are going to reorganize much about their coaching staff beyond changing the defensive coordinator.

Don from Marshall, NC

If the play calling wasn't important, then why do we have all these offensive coordinators bouncing around like a hot chili pepper?

I often wonder the same thing.