When Jacksonville arrived at Wembley for their International Series match against a strong San Francisco 49ers side, the franchise was in a pretty poor position in terms of results. Having beaten comprehensively beaten, they returned to the US with an 0-8 record and left many openly debating whether an 0-16 final record was a genuine possibility. The turn around that was witnessed in the second half of the season says a great deal about the trust and faith that the owners and players have in their Head Coach Gus Bradley. Bradley stuck to his principles in difficult circumstances and was rewarded with a 4-4 return over the second half of the campaign. Although it finished with three straight defeats, more improvement from 4-12 is expected in 2014.
Offensively, the Jaguars’ main problems stemmed from the quarterback position, like may of the teams with the worst records. Blaine Gabbert started the season, but was soon benched after 7 picks lead o a passer rating of just 36. Chad Henne managed a rating of 76.5 on the back of 3241 yards, 13 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. There is no doubt that Jacksonville will be looking to improve this area in the offseason. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew significantly underperformed, managing just 803 yards at 3.4 yards per carry. The receivers did not fare much better. Former first round pick Justin Blackmon was suspended again by the league (having already missed the first four games of the year) on November 1st and his long term future must be in serious doubt. Youngsters Cecil Shorts (66 catches for 777 yards) and Ace Sanders (51 for 484 yards) were the best that the Jaguars could offer. To stand any chance of improving significantly in 2014, Bradley needs to find a way of improving the league’s 31st ranked offensive unit.
Defensively the Jaguars did not fare much better. Ranked 27th overall, they conceded on average 28.1 points and 379.4 yards per game. Linebacker Paul Posluszny was the standout performer, accounting for 161 tackles (121 solo), 3 sacks and 2 interceptions. Quarterback pressure came primarily through Jason Babin (7.5 sacks) and Andre Branch (6 sacks). The run defence was particularly poor, with opposing teams racking up 2108 yards against their defensive line. 4187 yards were also given up through the air, which does not exactly suggest they were focussing on the pass. The statistics did improve marginally in the second half of the year, with only the Colts in week 17 posting 30 points in the last eight games. The Jaguars will need to continue this step into next season.
Kicker Josh Scobee was one Jaguar who did excel, connecting on 92% of his Field Goal attempts. He was perfect from under 40 yards. There was not a single kick or punt return in games involving Jacksonville in 2013; returner Jordan Todman averaged a respectable 27.4 yards on 26 kick off returns.
The Jaguars find themselves in an unusual position in the fact that they have a returning Head Coach, despite finishing with the third worst record in the NFL.
Gus Bradley impressed during his first season with the Jaguars by sticking to his guns during the first eight losses and being rewarded with an improved showing after their bye week. He will now be under pressure to continue this development into 2014 and start to give signs that he is the man to lead this franchise back towards the playoff reckoning. The offseason will be crucial in terms of continuing to build that momentum.
DRAFT/FREE AGENCY NEEDS
It is difficult to suggest one single area to focus on; the Jaguars need help across the board. With center Brad Meester set to retire and Jones-Drew, Henne and cornerback Will Blackmon all potential Free Agents the roster could look very different at the start of next season. If Jones-Drew departs (as is looking more likely) then a new running back will be needed, although the major building block required is at quarterback. The Jaguars have a history of picking the best value player when they are on the clock, but even so it would be a surprise if they were not seriously considering a new signal caller with their first round pick. Help with the pass rush in terms of an explosive defensive end may lead them to select Jadeveon Clowney (if he is still available), or another pass rusher further down the draft. With Jared Allen possibly leaving the Vikings, the Jaguars could make a string case for him to join them. Another area that needs strengthening is the offensive line; both to protect the new quarterback and to open up some holes for whoever starts in the running game.