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O-Zone: Theoretically speaking

INDIANAPOLIS – Let's get to it . . . Fred from Naples, FL:
With mounting injuries affecting almost all 32 teams toward the end of the year this year, I would think that would put to rest any more talk of an 18-game season in the future.
John: You would think so. Then again, this really isn't a new phenomenon or a new argument. December in the NFL to varying degrees always is a story of attrition, and the postseason often plays out based on the results of that story. People who run teams and who have been around the league long have been against the idea of an 18-game season. But two extra games means significant revenue, and significant revenue often trumps all else.
Otto from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL:
I may be changing my mind on the question of pass-rusher versus quarterback. Look at three top defensive ends like Quinn in St. Louis, Watt in Houston, and Williams in Buffalo. Great pass-rushers but mediocre team records. I can see now where the Jags should draft or sign as a free agent a good quarterback. I believe having someone who keeps the O on the field will help the D get better.
John: Welcome to the NFL, Otto.
Ryan from Detroit, MI:
Jacksonville ranks last in the league in point differential (-182) through 15 games, 40 points worse than the second-worst team, the Houston Texans. What needs to improve the most for next year, the offense or the defense?
John: The easy answer is both, because everything must improve for the Jaguars to reach the level they seek. But for the sake of your question, let's say offense. The unit improved remarkably in the second half of the season, particularly considering the absence of wide receiver Justin Blackmon. The offense struggled mightily in the first four games without Blackmon and was significantly better when he was suspended for the final eight games. That's progress. At the same time, the unit obviously needs to be more explosive in both the running and passing games moving forward.
David from Durban, SA:
With both sides keen to ultimately get a deal done for Maurice Jones-Drew to return, why wouldn't the Jaguars employ a similar approach as they did with Marks to have some of the deal count against the 2013 cap? Doesn't the team have significant cap room to make this a viable option? I ask this question as they may well have to pursue Alex Mack in the offseason and he will cost a few shekels.
John: Jones-Drew's situation is more complicated. Marks is entering his sixth season and he figures to be in his prime for the duration of his contract. That makes structuring relatively simple. Jones-Drew is entering his ninth season, which for a running back could mean that a more-incentive-based deal could make more sense. Figuring out how to structure that contract and what each side can agree upon – if they can agree – isn't a no-brainer situation, and probably will come together closer to a deadline.
Nelly from Section 132:
I am definitely excited to hear about Sen'Derrick Marks' contract extension. He was a much-needed lift for the Jaguars'defense. I know the NFL is a business and transactions are unpredictable, but do you think Coach Gus and David Caldwell are going to keep the defense relatively intact?
John: I don't see the Jaguars' breaking up the defense. Jason Babin can opt to become a free agent, but the other starters on the line—Sen'Derrick Marks, Roy Miller and Tyson Alualu – are under contract and likely will return. At linebacker, I expect Paul Posluszny and Geno Hayes to be back, and probably Russell Allen, too. The starting secondary also is under contract. Now, it's absolutely likely that the Jaguars will bring in players to compete and try to improve a lot of those spots along the front seven, but this won't be a case this offseason of a ton of players being released to try to change the culture. That sort of thing is so last year.
Tom from St. Augustine, FL:
What do you think Brady would have done with the offensive talent Peyton has had? Denver was a playoff-winning team the year prior to Peyton.
John: Denver was a playoff-winning team the year prior to Manning. The Broncos also struggled to score most games that season, and they don't struggle often in that area anymore. As for Brady, yeah, if he were playing for the Broncos he would have had a really good year. Like Manning, he's really good.
Bryce from Algona, IA:
John, it would be nice to know the full scoop as to why Blaine Gabbert won't be playing for the Jags again. Is it that he has lost the confidence from the locker room, the coaches, is it due to poor play, or a combination?
John: I've gotten a few versions of this email this week, and I guess I'm a bit lost about what people mean by "full scoop" and why people believe the full story hasn't been told. It starts with poor play, but basically it just comes down to a belief that there are better options and it's time to move forward.
John from Savannah, GA:
I can't even get myself worked up over Pro Bowl snubs. Has the game completely lost its meaning - if it ever had one to begin with?
John: If you're talking about Jaguars snubbed from the Pro Bowl, I don't know that there's any that I'd get overly worried about. An argument could be made for Paul Posluszny and Josh Scobee, but in Posluszny's case, it's tough for position players without official statistics to make their first Pro Bowl from a losing team. As for Scobee, he is as good as any kicker in the league, but Justin Tucker of Baltimore and Matt Prater of Denver had monster years. As for the meaning of the game, your attitude is a good one: keep this in perspective and don't get worked up over it. It's a postseason honor and in many cases large part popularity contest. The selection process isn't perfect, but what is?
Don from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL:
The NFL needs to stop letting the fans vote for the Pro Bowl. They need to pay the players more money and make the prize to the winner something of desire to all the players – special insurance and benefits to all the players. At least one rep from each team and a roster to support that. Ever since the fans started voting it has turned it into the Hogan's Goat bowl. Either do it right or get it gone. Why waste a game of football?It should be an honor to play, not a joke. You would think the NFL would fix this mess not just go along with it.
John: It's an All-Star game. Relax. Enjoy it. If you don't enjoy it, don't watch.
Patrick from Merced, CA:
First season for Bradley & Caldwell. I'm sure they're going to do some soul-searching for next season. Either way, this is the Jaguars' last game. Please use your magical wand on the team so they can get a 'W.' It would make all the time between now and the offseason so much more worth it – well, at least for me.
John: My wand is in my other bag, but the nice thing for Jaguars followers is it's really not needed. The Jaguars have played well in the last half of the season. I expect them to play well again Sunday, although with the Jaguars' injury situation and the Colts needing this game for playoff seeding, a Jaguars victory will be will be a difficult task. Win or lose Sunday, the Jaguars have made improvement. If you're following this team, that should make the time between now and the offseason better than in past seasons.
Stosh from Ponte Vedra, FL:
In past regimes, namely the Del Rio era, there seemed to be lots of turnover in the coaching staff in each offseason; I believe we can expect as much with the players next season due to the theme of "competition," but do you hear any rumblings of our current coaches moving on to greener pastures (or replaced) in the offseason or is it too early to tell?
John: There could be a coach or two move on. That's always a possibility in the NFL. But generally speaking, I don't see Gus Bradley making staff change for change's sake.
Derek from Ponte Vedra, FL:
Hindsight is always 20/20 but would you rather have not traded up for Gabbert and kept the extra picks as well as selecting J.J. Watt with the original pick?
John: Well, sure, in retrospect it would have been better to have J.J. Watt than Gabbert. There aren't many people who would disagree. It is worth noting, though, that the Jaguars couldn't have selected Watt had they stayed at No. 16, where they originally were selecting in the 2011 NFL Draft. They traded up from No. 16 to No. 10. Watt was selected No. 11 by Houston in that draft.
Steve from Denver, CO:
If the Jags lose on Sunday by 7, we will finish with the same 4-12 record as last year. We will also have the same minus-182 point differential as last season. That's telling me if we don't have a superior draft and free-agency pickups, we've still got a long way to go to be competitive.
John: That's an awesome theory. The Jaguars finished 2-14 last season.

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