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Third down is the key


The Jaguars may only be one down away from being a complete football team.

Third down has become the Jaguars' single-greatest problem. They are ranked last in the league in third-down efficiency on offense, and are tied for 20th in the league for third-down defense.

This isn't something new to the Jaguars, who struggled with third-down problems on defense all of last season, finishing the year 31st in the league in that department. This year, it's offense that's been the big problem.

"We're just not converting third downs. I think when we begin to convert third downs, a lot of things will look a whole lot better," coach Jack Del Rio told reporters this week.

The Jaguars have converted only three of 23 third-down attempts this year. That's a grotesque 13 percent conversion average, compared to their opponents' 41.9 percent average.

Amazingly, the Jaguars have been able to overcome that disadvantage, winning each of their first two games, but that's not a trend Del Rio wants to rely on continuing.

"You can look around to point blame somewhere. I can tell you that I'm not going to get involved in that. I think we have guys working hard toward a common goal and giving me the effort and energy we need. We'll narrow the focus and we'll get better results soon," Del Rio said of his offense, which is also ranked last in the league in total yards.

The two would seem to go hand in hand; third-down conversions and total yards. Surely, it has affected star running back Fred Taylor, who has rushed for just 115 yards. Taylor has only carried the ball 33 times and that's a direct reflection on the Jaguars' third-down failures. The Jaguars have only run 101 plays, 36 fewer than their opponents.

Will that change this Sunday in Tennessee, where the Jaguars face a Titans team that is fourth in the league in time of possession? It may be important to note this: Taylor has rushed for more yards, 627, against Tennessee than he has against any other team in the league.

"That team just brings out the best in me," Taylor said.

Certainly, it would help the Jaguars' third-down rate and possession time average if Taylor had a big game on Sunday. He would seem to be a key figure in this game. The Jaguars need a spark on offense and Taylor has usually been the player who has supplied it.

The other key player for the Jaguars is quarterback Byron Leftwich, who has completed only six of 18 third-down passes.

"It's tough to get first downs on third-and-long. We're getting into those situations because of penalties. We have to get better on first and second downs because you will not make a living in this league trying to convert third-and-long," Leftwich said.

A lot of fans blame conservative play-calling for the Jaguars' failures, but Del Rio discounted that theory. "Do we have shackles on the offense? No. We're just not converting third downs," he said.

Though that may be a result of failures on first and second downs, the fact remains that if the Jaguars don't do a better job of converting on third down, they will have a very difficult time winning in Tennessee.

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