NFL 32: On The Clock – Jacksonville Jaguars

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.

OFFENCE

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.

DEFENCE

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.

SPECIAL TEAMS

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.

COACHING

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.

NFL 32: On The Clock – Washington Redskins

After all the promise of Robert Griffin III’s debut season in Washington, the 2013 campaign will go down as a disaster. Having reached the playoffs thanks to a 10-6 record in 2012, the Redskins slipped to 3-13 this time around. Much of their offseason and preparation for the year centred around RGIII’s rehabilitation from a serious knee injury at the end of the previous campaign. Although declared fit to start the season, his mobility was hampered and early season struggles set the tone for a poor season.

OFFENCE

When your offensive scheme is based around the read option and a mobile quarterback, the most important part of that scheme is a fully fit signal caller. It was clear from very early in week one that RGIII’s mobility was severely limited, The heavy knee brace he wore on that knee served only to give added impetus to opposition defences. He managed a respectable 3203 yards, 16 touchdowns and a rating of 82.2. Chief target Pierre Garcon hauled in 113 passes for 1346 yards, but received little in the way of regular support from other receivers. On the ground, Alfred Morris backed up a fine rookie season in 2012 with 1275 yards this time around, although that marked a drop of nearly 400 yards of production. With his mobility impaired, RGIII’s own rushing production fell from 815 yards and seven scores in 2012 to just 489 yards and no touchdowns in 2013. The Redskins need to realise that their quarterback may not be as mobile now as the player they drafted and adapt offensive schemes accordingly for 2014.

DEFENCE

Defensively the Redskins were not great, as you would expect from a team that finished the year 3-13! Teams will not win many games by giving up, on average, 29.9 points per game along with 354.1 yards. Brian Orakpo (with 10) and Ryan Kerrigan (8.5) combined for 18.5 sacks, whilst Perry Riley (115) and the retiring veteran London Fletcher (111) led the team on tackles. DeAngelo Hall’s four picks were a team high, but the 4134 yards and 29 scores given up through the air suggest a team that struggles against the pass more than the run. This area will need to be addressed in the offseason.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The returning game was unspectacular throughout the year. A combination of players, led by Niles Paul, managed to average just 20 yards on kick returns and Santana Moss managed an average of just 7.2 on 18 punt returns. By contrast, the Redskins allowed a kickoff and three punts to be returned for scores. Kai Forbath hit 81.8% of his Filed Goals, with three of is four misses being from over 40 yards out.

COACHING

Having hung on by his finger nails for the last few weeks of the regular season, Head Coach Mike Shanahan was relieved of is duties as soon as it finished. The image of a virtually empty stadium during an embarrassing home defeat to the Chiefs would have been difficult to overcome at any stage, but in the midst of an eight game losing streak to end the year it proved the straw that broke the camel’s back. Subsequently, his decision to rest his star quarterback for the last games of the regular season did not go down well with owner or player, thus sealing his fate. The Redskins moved quickly to appoint Bengals’ Offensive Co-ordinator Jay Gruden to fill their vacancy; his ability to build a strong working relationship with RGIII and build an offense around his developing abilities will be the key to a successful tenure in DC.

DRAFT/FREE AGENCY NEEDS

Unlike the other teams who experienced significant losses in 2013, the Redskins do not even have the luxury of a high first round pick as a consolation. Washington gave up their 2014 first round draft pick to St Louis in the RGIII trade, meaning that they will need to try and be creative as they look to improve the roster for 2014. Back-up quarterback Kirk Cousins could play a role here.

The Redskins may be tempted to part with him if another team offers them a chance to add significantly to their draft picks this summer. Departing linebacker Fletcher leaves a large hole to fill and the new coaching team will be anxious to secure Orakpo’s future quickly.

In trying to improve, expect the Redksins to look to shore up the offensive line and try to better protect their big investment. Defensive improvements are also key, with the pass rush and secondary (especially safety) areas that should be addressed. How much they can do in the draft may well rest with the future dealings surrounding Cousins.

NFL 32: On The Clock – Houston Texans

The Houston Texans were undoubtedly one of the surprise teams of 2013 season; unfortunately for them it was for all the wrong reasons. Tipped as potential Super Bowl candidates prior to the season (following a 12-4 record in 2012), the Texans imploded to finish 2013 at 2-14 on the back of a 14 game losing streak. 2013 will not be remembered fondly in Houston.

OFFENCE

Houston’s main problems came on the offensive side of the ball and stemmed from their play at quarterback and injury limiting the participation of star running back Arian Foster. Although Ben Tate (771 yards at 4.3 yards per carry) stepped up to deputise adequately for Foster, the rotation at quarterback was not an effective strategy this year. Matt Schaub started the season as the man in possession and proceeded to set an NFL record of four consecutive games with an interception returned for a touchdown. When he was injured in week 5, replacement TJ Yates continued the trend with a ‘pick 6’ of his own. Undrafted Case Keenum then took over the starting job from Schaub, showing promise in patches yet ultimately unable to pull off a much needed victory. Schaub threw for 2310 yards, 10 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and a rating of 73.0 during the season. Keenum contributed 1760 yards, nine touchdowns, 6 picks and a rating of 78.2. At wide receiver, Andre Johnson (109 catches for 1407 yards) and rookie DeAndre Hopkins (52 catches for 802 yards) were the main threats, yet Johnson’s team leading five scores tells the story of the Texans’ season.

DEFENCE

The Texans ranked seventh in the NFL on defence in terms of yards allowed per game, averaging just 317.6. They were not so string in terms of points allowed per game, yet some of this must be put in the hands of Schaub and his string of pick 6s! Although falling short of 2012’s heroics, JJ Watt managed to rack up 10.5 sacks and was ranked among the top Defensive Ends in the league. The loss of linebacker Brain Cushing to a second serious knee injury against the Chiefs in week 7 impacted heavily on their effectiveness and with just seven interceptions and four fumbles recovered, there is room for improvement in terms of the turnover differential in 2014.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Keshawn Martin had one punt return for a touchdown and averaged 26.3 on kick off returns. The Texans allowed just one punt return against them all season. Kicker Randy Bullock’s Field Goal success rate of 74.3% could leave him looking for alternative employment in the off season.

COACHING

The Texans moved early to try to rectify the problems of 2013, sacking coach Gary Kubiak after their 11th successive loss in week 14 (to Jacksonville). Former Penn State Head Coach and New England Patriots Offensive Co-ordinator Bill O’Brien was the first new appointment for the 2014 season and has inherited a roster that, with some smart moves in the draft and Free Agency, has the potential to be turned around quickly. Foster, Johnson, Hopkins and Tight End Owen Daniels are all significant weapons on offence and any defence that can call on the talents of Watt and a (hopefully) rehabilitated Cushing can cause other teams problems. Don’t be surprised to see O’Brien have the Texans challenging again next year.

DRAFT/FREE AGENCY NEEDS

Houston are in the enviable position of holding the first overall pick for the 2104 draft. Much of what they do here depends on how O’Brien views the quarterback position in both the short and long term. If he feels that Schaub or Keenum are the answer then the Texans could chose to trade down and pick up a host of picks in exchange for their first selection. A more likely scenario would see Schaub being cut/traded and a new signal caller selected, most probably Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville. Beyond the quarterback position, help on the offensive line (especially at Tackle) and in the secondary are areas that need strengthening. Defensive Lineman Antonio Smith and running back Tate could be two of the more high profile Free Agency departures. Much of the shape of the 2014 draft will depend on how Houston decide to proceed with their first pick. Watch this space!