There's a statistical chart that was called to my attention this week and it doesn't require much more than a quick glance to know that something has to change this week for the Jaguars to have a reasonable chance of winning.
The chart ranks NFL quarterbacks according to pass attempts that were in the air for 21 or more yards. Denver quarterback Jay Cutler is tied with New Orleans' Drew Brees and Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb for having attempted the most passes that covered 21 or more air yards. Cutler has completed 10 of 25 such passes for 359 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions and a 93.8 passer rating.
What does that mean? It means Cutler has the arm and the receivers to burn an opponent deep down the field. It means that if you're playing the Broncos, you must respect the deep-third of the field.
Now comes the shocking part. I couldn't believe it when I saw it.
Jaguars quarterback David Garrard is tied for 31st in the league with Minnesota's Tarvaris Jackson and Kansas City's Tyler Thigpen with a mere six pass attempts of 21 or more air yards. Garrard has completed just one of those six passes for 32 yards, one interception and a 9.7 passer rating. In comparison, the Jaguars were seventh in the league in such pass attempts last season, completing 15 of 61 for 600 yards, six touchdowns, four interceptions and a 73.5 passer rating.
What does it all mean? It means the Jaguars aren't likely to make an opponent respect the deep third of the field right now, and that's going to make it more difficult to run the ball and throw short. In other words, the field is shrinking and it's beginning to strangle the Jaguars.
Why has it happened? That's the big question.
"When you have devastating injuries in your offensive line, it doesn't allow your coaches to be comfortable because you have to sit in the pocket longer. I have to do a better job of throwing the ball downfield more when I have chances and not second-guess it. We just haven't had the explosive plays like we had last year," Garrard said.
"We have to be more confident with the longer routes and in the pocket. We have to take more shots; take more chances," he added.
This would not seem to be a Garrard issue. He may not throw the best deep ball in the league, but he throws a beautiful deep-seam pass and, with the Jaguars' bevy of tall receivers, that should be a pass Garrard should routinely complete. Hey, it was the particular pass for which tight end Marcedes Lewis was drafted.
"That's something we have to do better," Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter said of throwing the ball deeper down the field. "We have to create more opportunities downfield."
The big problem Koetter has faced is the failure to get the down and distance situations favorable to throwing the ball downfield. Second and nine is not good for throwing deep because defenses are likely to be in a "cover two" coverage. Second and four, for example, is what you want. Now you pose the threat of running the ball and that means the defense is likely to commit a safety to the line of scrimmage, meaning you're likely to get a single-high safety look, which is perfect to attack deep.
In other words, the Jags need to run the ball better on first down. They need to win on first down and force the defense to play run on second down, too.
There's another ingredient to the Jaguars' deep-ball failures: wide receiver Jerry Porter's hamstring surgery. It has caused Porter, a player on whom the Jaguars spent $10 million to be this team's deep receiver, to have just one catch for six yards through five games of this season.
Is this the week the Jaguars go deep? The Broncos are 25th in the league against the run and Porter may be nearing the point of full recovery.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars have to do to beat the Broncos.
- Run the ball—For the reasons stated above.
- Throw deep—For the reasons stated above.
- Play better on defense—Don't expect domination, but is improvement asking too much?
- Be like the Bucs—The Broncos were making big plays in bunches until the Bucs showed everyone what to do.
- Sack the quarterback—You can't win if you can't do this. It's that simple.
- Find Champ Bailey—He's the Broncos' best defensive player. Avoid him.
- Win special teams—Eddie Royal is a punt-return threat. He must be targeted.
- Know what this game means—Because this game immediately precedes the Jaguars' bye week, a win is two weeks of fun, a loss is two weeks of misery.
- Know what else this game means—This is an AFC game and the Jaguars are currently 2-3 in such games. Another AFC loss this early in the season would severely damage the Jaguars' wild-card tiebreakers.
- Find an identity—The Jaguars are swimming in a pool of uncertainty. What is this team? Who is this team? It's time to find out.