In fact, the last taste of regular season action for the Jaguars saw their vaunted defense that finished the season with the number two ranking give up 35 points in a loss to a Kansas City team that went on to score just eight points a week later against the NFL’s worst run defense in Indianapolis.
So how can the Jaguars be taken seriously as a realistic Super Bowl contender? Let me show you:
1. Run the ball, stop the run.
The Jaguars can do both, and do both very well. Jacksonville finished ‘06 with the fourth-ranked rushing defense in the NFL, as well as the third-ranked rushing offense. The great run defense was even more impressive considering the team was without the services of Marcus Stroud, Reggie Hayward, Mike Peterson, and Donovin Darius for large chunks of the season. This year the team returns each of the players mentioned above, with the exception of Darius. The Jaguars rushing offense should be as good or better in ‘07, being that they have the same personnel, with the additions of Tony Pashos at right tackle (upgrade over Maurice Williams), and the return of Greg Jones.
2. Passing attack returns.
Assuming quarterback Byron Leftwich can stay healthy, the Jaguars will have some assemblance of a passing attack, which is something that they were without for much of the ‘06 season. Leftwich can scan the field and deliver the football, it’s now up to the offensive line to give him more time and the receivers to get open quicker.
3. Upgrade at wide receiver.
The Jaguars wide receiving corps has been much maligned over the past few years, and rightfully so. It is unclear how much the additions of Dennis Northcutt, Mike Walker, and John Broussard will help the passing game, but they certainly can’t hurt. With Leftwich last season and without Northcutt, Walker, and Broussard, the Jaguars passing game was average. Those guys can only help Leftwich.
4. Special teams can be special again.
Special teams, along with the passing game, were the Jaguars two biggest weaknesses in ‘06. The front office recognized this and there were wholesale changes. In is a new special teams coordinator in Joe DeCamillis, and a new punter in Adam Podlesh. To give the team some explosiveness, the Jaguars signed Dennis Northcutt, who has home-run ability in the return game. The Jaguars had one of the worst special teams units across the board in ‘06, it can only improve in ‘07.
Over the past few years, the Jaguars could easily be described as immature. They play up or down to opponents, and have had mental breakdowns at big times, in big games. The team had the unfortunate pleasure of watching the Indianapolis Colts, a team which was embarrassed in Jacksonville in December, win the Super Bowl. Anyone who watched the two games between the teams in ‘06 could tell that the Jaguars were clearly the better team. The Jaguars will use that as motivation to reach their ultimate goal in ‘07.
If these five points play out as they should, the Jaguars have the talent to play with anyone in the league, even New England.
Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of JagNation.com, and a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports.com and Sportsillustated.com. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. Feel free to contact Charlie HERE