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You gotta pass to score

4446.jpg Senior Editor Vic Ketchman is on vacation this week, so five "Ask Vic" readers were randomly selected to be "Vic For A Day." Each guest columnist was given a topic on which to write and the guest columnists' work will appear this week on Roger Bertholf of Jacksonville is today's guest columnist and his assigned topic is: If you were Jack Del Rio, what would your offense look like?

By Roger Bertholf

In 2004, the Jaguars were 4-0 in games in which they scored more than 21 points. Had they scored more than 21 points in every game, their record would have been no worse than 12-4 and they could have entertained thoughts of hosting a playoff game for the first time since 1999.

Amazingly, three of those four victories were against teams that finished in the top five in the league in scoring offense, including wins against the number one (Colts) and number two (Chiefs) scoring teams. It helped, of course, that the Jaguars defense held the Chiefs to their lowest point total of the season, and the Colts to their third-lowest.

But that was just four games. Overall, the Jaguars finished 29th in total offense last year, averaging only 16.3 points per game.

How do we get the offense to play 16 games this year like it played those four games last year?

If I'm Jack Del Rio, my goal for the offense this year is to score more than 21 points in every game. Twenty-one; blackjack!

Is that achievable? Well, the Jags have never done it. They broke the 21-point barrier 10 times in each of the 1998 and 1999 regular seasons, but haven't done it in more than seven games in any season since. Even the Colts came up short of 21 twice last year and the Chiefs failed six times to break that barrier.

Coaches like to talk about execution, turnover ratio, winning the battle at the line, third-down conversions, time of possession, etc., but for this offense it comes down to one thing: scoring points; more than 21 of them.

You don't break 21 points by running the ball. You have to put it in the air; not every time and not even most of the time, but you simply can't expect to score those kinds of points against NFL defenses unless you threaten, on every snap, to bite off 10-20 yards with a downfield pass.

In the last three drafts, Del Rio's first-round picks have been a franchise quarterback and two big, strong receivers. Ernest Wilford, a fourth-round pick last year, completes a trio of young receivers who are able to out-leap and out-muscle linebackers for the ball in the 10 to 20-yard range. If Jimmy Smith still has legs, and I think he does, then he provides the deep threat. Matt Jones also has the speed to threaten deep.

Challenge the safeties with a persistent deep threat, freeze the linebackers with receivers that can out-jump defensive backs, and give your running backs some room past the line of scrimmage. Do those things on every play and linebackers won't crowd the line of scrimmage, for fear of giving up 10 yards to a pass lobbed over their heads.

All you need, then, is a quarterback who sees the field, and I think that's one of Byron Leftwich's strengths. It's a rare talent and I suspect it was the primary reason he was drafted in the first round. Let him pick among his targets in the soft spots of the zone. Teach him to throw the ball where only a 6-4 receiver can get to it.

The passing game epitomizes risk and reward in offensive strategy: Deep passes are high-risk and high-reward; short passes to a running back two yards behind the line of scrimmage are low-risk and low-reward. But there's a middle ground about 10 yards downfield, where the risk/reward ratio is more favorable. That's where you need to attack, constantly. That's where the linebackers have to make a choice, and you should force them to do that, on every play.

I'm not a big fan of the shotgun formation because it increases the risk of a disastrous fumble, but it also gives the quarterback more time to read the coverage scheme. Leftwich should have that luxury at least half of the time, and he shouldn't telegraph a pass play, either. Use the draw from the shotgun. Snap the ball to a running back on occasion; that drives linebackers crazy. Give Leftwich the extra second or so to inventory his receivers, and let him pick a target.

If I'm Jack Del Rio, that's what I want my offense to look like: The whole field is the red zone.

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