O-Zone: "Struggling"

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Joe from St. Augustine, FL:
In regards to the officiating at Jags games, I don't think it's an agenda against the Jags so much as a "CYA" for the refs. People argue last year that some Jags wins only came due to the referees (Bills and Ravens come to mind), and they [the referees] don't want to be seen as the reason why an underdog team that shouldn't have won won. It's not something only we are experiencing, but it sure is frustrating.
John: Methinks you and many others are overthinking this a bit. Your theory assumes officials enter games wanting one team or the other to win – or that they spend their weeks analyzing what teams are "good" in the NFL and what teams supposedly "aren't good" – then make calls one way or the other based on that assessment. It's not realistic to think it works that way. The Jaguars have had a bunch of calls go against them this season and they've had more than a few go their way. Wide receiver Allen Robinson in particular seems to not yet have the respect of officials needed to get some interference calls. I think some of the issue with Robinson is officials generally don't want to call all interference calls and will lean the other way if possible. Maybe I'm right on that or maybe not. Either way, it's just not realistic to think officials are conspiring against certain teams. They simply have no incentive to do so. Such a thing also would require a league mandate, and if you think a mandate against the Jaguars is likely … c'mon. If such a thing occurred it would threaten the entire league. Why in the world would the most popular sports league in the country do such a thing? Just to hurt a team that has been under .500 for more than half a decade? Toward what end?
Sam from Jacksonville:
Blake says, "I believe we can do this." Do what? Extend his record of futility as the greatest quarterback in NFL history … at having more pick-sixes than career wins?? He is a joke, O. This organization has no hope with him as the quarterback. He is so bad that it defies my vocabulary to describe his ineptitude. I look forward to his release. I'll probably throw a family party. I might even pick up the phone and buy season tickets. I've had two seats since 1998. I am not going to renew them as long as the turnover factory is our quarterback.
John: OK.
Brian from Gainesville, FL:
Big O, Tashaun Gipson has played well enough that we are no longer constantly lamenting about the need to fill the hole at free safety. He's a keeper, for sure. Interceptions aren't everything. Having said that, do you think he'll have a way better shot at intercepting once the Jaguars' defense develops a beastly pass rush?
John: You're correct about Gipson, and there's little question he has upgraded the free safety position this season. While he hasn't been without lapses, he for the most part has been good against the run and has helped the secondary reduce the number of explosive passes allowed. As far the benefits of a beastly pass rush, Gipson is far from alone on that front. The Jaguars' cornerbacks have yet to have an interception this season. That's an eye-catching statistic. Some of it has to do with the defense's focus on not giving up explosive plays, but the reason is mostly that the Jaguars haven't been great at pressuring the passer with four down linemen. If the front is not disrupting the quarterback and causing errant throws and tipped balls, etc., interceptions usually are going to be relatively few and far between. Once the Jaguars develop a "beastly" pass rush, it will benefit not only Gipson but the entire secondary.
Dave from Duval:
Don't get me wrong: Blake needs be replaced ASAP. But even if he were playing better this team still finds ways to lose, and would be a badly coached team by any measure.
John: Quarterback is an important enough position in the NFL that I'm not sure your statement is as inarguable as you might think. That's particularly true of the first part of your statement.
Jacob from North Carolina:
Our defense looks a lot better. Is it mainly due to our offensive woes (opposing offenses can play a lot more conservatively) or are they that much better? Thanks.
John: All of the above. There's little question there have been times this season when opposing offenses have been able to play more conservatively on the assumption that the Jaguars' offense would not be capable of scoring enough to win the game. At the same time, the defense is much improved from last season. It's still not a lock-down pass-rushing defense and I wouldn't make the argument that it's a Top 5 defense, but it has pushed its way into the top half of the league and that's a major step forward compared to last season.
Landon from Jacksonville:
HOLD ON!!! How does Gus get any credit for the defense? The last three years it was complete and total garbage and now it is not. I give Gus zero credit for that. It is clear that we have talent that can make up for his terrible coaching. It's that simple.
John: It's always coaching in the NFL.
Ed from Ponte Vedra, FL:
What irritates me more than a 2-10 record is looking back at the Jaguars' ex-coaches: Coughlin gets fired, he then wins two Super Bowls. Del Rio gets fired, he turns the Raiders into contenders; Mularkey turns the Titans into division contenders and now everyone thinks Bradley's days are over. Something is wrong with that picture but I cannot figure it out.
John: It's always coaching in the NFL.
Scott from Daytona Beach, FL:
Guess we'll probably be coaching the Senior Bowl again!
John: Nah.
Joe from San Antonio, TX:
Let's say for the sake of argument the Jags need to put another quarterback in the game. Do they play Chad Henne, or do they see what they have in Brandon Allen?
John: Allen has yet to be active this season and Henne has been active as the backup quarterback in all 12 games. Unless that changes – and I have no reason to think it will – Henne will play if the Jaguars change quarterbacks. Which I don't expect they will do barring injury.
Bob from Fernandina Beach, FL:
I have been watching NFL football for over 40 years and I no longer know what pass interference is. Maybe you can shed some light.
John: Defensive pass interference is supposed to be contact with a receiver attempting to catch a pass – with incidental contact not to be penalized. The exception is when the defender has turned his head to attempt to intercept. It is in the exception and incidental contact that the gray areas have arisen. Basically, a receiver is supposed to be able to attempt to make a reception without contact from the defender before the pass arrives hindering from doing so. It seems defenders are allowed to get away with more now because most officials instinctively don't want to call "too many" penalties. That's good on one hand because it keeps games from dragging on and on. It's not good if defenses take advantage of the situation to unfairly impede the offense outside of the spirit of the rules.
Jeff from Anaheim, CA:
What is your favorite Jimmy Smith story? Seems as an appropriate time as any to share given Sunday's festivities and there's nothing better to talk about, so let's be nostalgic!
John: I have many fond memories of Smith. I covered him from 1995-2000 while covering the Jaguars for the Florida Times-Union, and perhaps my favorite memory is my first interview with him. This was in April of 1995 – shortly after I had moved from the University of Florida beat to the Jaguars beat and only months after Smith had signed with the Jaguars. I knew little about Smith's story before working on that story, and his NFL story at the time of course had really just begun. He had spent two seasons with Dallas and had been out of football for a year after being released by the Cowboys and Eagles. He also already had been through one life-threatening illness while with Dallas, but neither I – nor anyone else – in April 1995 had any idea he would go on to be the player he became. It actually wasn't for another year and a half or so that that Smith would begin to blossom into a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver, but once he did he was as good as any receiver I ever have covered (I'd put Smith, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne at the top of the list and have a difficult time ranking them in order.) I also remember writing a story about Smith midway through the 1999 season. I believe Smith had a dropped pass around that time– perhaps against New Orleans, though my memory is sketchy. I was assigned by an editor to write a story about Smith "struggling." I argued that I wasn't sure Smith was struggling all that much, and that it didn't seem like a legitimate angle. I lost the argument and wrote the story. Considering Smith caught 116 passes for 1,636 yards that season, statistics do support my memory that whatever struggles Smith was having were short-lived.

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