Something Jaguars Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith said on Thursday is appropriate in analyzing this Sunday's matchup between the Jaguars and Panthers. "It's all about players," Smith said. "When you have good players, you have a chance to be a good football coach."
Panthers coach John Fox has good football players. Steve Smith and Julius Peppers are star-quality players, which means Fox has two of something Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio has none. So why are the Panthers 5-7 and the Jaguars 8-4? The answer is simple: Del Rio has an emerging quarterback who is playing at a near-star level, while Fox spends his energy attempting to mitigate the effects of having a 44-year-old quarterback at the helm of his offense.
That's the difference in Sunday's two teams. The Jaguars have David Garrard. The Panthers have Vinny Testaverde.
The quarterback position defines a team. When the season began, the Panthers had a good one in Jake Delhomme. Then, he was injured and lost for the season, and the situation in Carolina became so desperate that Fox had to bring Testaverde out of retirement.
None of this is meant to be a knock on Testaverde. What he's done this season is truly amazing. A guy his age is supposed to be on the golf course and in the grill room, which is where he may have been when the Panthers called.
So Fox is left to fight for his job and whatever outside chance at a playoff berth his team has, with a quarterback who is the same age as the opponents' head coach. Yeah, Testaverde and Del Rio were born the same year. Amazing!
Meanwhile, Del Rio's team is headed for the playoffs with a quarterback whose game seems to improve weekly; a quarterback who is gaining in national acclaim to the point that some media are calling the Jaguars a postseason darkhorse team.
It's the difference one player can make. Quarterbacks make the coach.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars need to do to beat the Panthers.
- Stop the run—It's the strength of the Panthers' offense.
- Deny big plays—The Jaguars are the worst in the league at it and that has to change because allowing big plays will catch up with you eventually.
- Be efficient on offense—Run it a little, throw it a little and convert on third down. That almost always works. It should've worked last week in Indianapolis.
- Keep your eye on Smith—The Panthers are using their star player in a multitude of ways. The offense seems to be drawing energy from Smith's new role and it's almost certain the Panthers will have surprises in store for the Jaguars.
- Block—Peppers and Kris Jenkins are talented defensive linemen who can take control of the game. They must be blocked.
- Know what this means—A win at home on Sunday would leave the Jaguars a win away from 10 wins, which has always been a magic number for making the playoffs.
- Improve the pass-defense—Because if you can't do that against a 44-year-old quarterback, how you gonna do it against Tom Brady and Peyton Manning?
- Improve the pass-rush—Because the best pass-defense is a good pass-rush.
- Blitz—Because that's what you have to do when you don't have a good pass-rush.
- Just win, baby—Style points mean nothing at this time of the year. It's all about getting to the tournament.