In an effort to learn more about their offensive line, I put on some tape of Jacksonville this week. It didn’t take long to know that I was watching a terrible group, especially when it comes to run blocking. It’s making the work of RB Maurice Jones-Drew much, much harder.
They’re slightly better against the pass, but their quarterbacks - Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne - aren’t playing well. I don’t have any qualms about saying that the Broncos are likely to run roughshod over this OL.
Gabbert played hurt early in the season, but then gave in to a hamstring injury, leaving the team’s leadership to Henne; he isn't the answer either. Both QBs played in the Week 5 loss at St. Louis, with Gabbert leaving after he felt the hamstring ‘pop’. Henne will start tomorrow against the Broncos.
The offensive line's woes began in earnest with the recent trade of left tackle Eugene Monroe, whom they'd drafted eighth overall in 2009. The Jags also drafted Eben Britton as their right tackle that year - he suffered a torn labrum in 2010 and hasn’t been the same player since. He’s trying his luck in Chicago this year.
As far as the 2009 Draft busts go, some sources rate Monroe just beneath Aaron Curry, who, if you recall, was the can’t-miss linebacker who tanked in Seattle before serving some time in Oakland. I didn’t think that Monroe was in his class - he’s a not-bad NFL player who came into Jacksonville with Ryan Clady-level rookie credentials.
Last October, some claimed that Monroe was ‘right on schedule’. At the least, he was a decent tackle (PFF had him down for a terrific +21.0 overall grade for last year), but with Britton tanking, the Jaguars needed him to be more. Failing that, the Jags seemed to believe that the drafting of Luke Joeckel this past April made Monroe obsolete - which is an odd theory, since you still need two good tackles. In reality, Monroe is an experienced tackle who wasn’t as good as they expected, and who started 2013 slowly, giving up two penalties and 12 QB pressures in the first 3 games.
Monroe would have been a free agent after this season, and the Jags weren’t going to re-sign him anyway, so two weeks ago, they dealt him to the Ravens in exchange for fourth- and fifth-rounders in 2014.
Later that week, their new first-round tackle Joeckel had someone roll up on his leg, leaving him with a high ankle fracture that ended his season. The Jaguars' already-weak line became even more porous. Gabbert and Henne had to be hearing hoofbeats.
Cameron Bradfield filled in at left tackle last game and is predicted by most to be on the menu there tomorrow for the Broncos. Bradfield has played in three games so far this year - he only had one snap in Week 3, and three more in Week 4, but then he played 54 of 60 snaps at LT in Week 5 against St. Louis. While filling in for Joeckel, he allowed two hits and two hurries, and ended with a woeful PFF rating of -6.2.
However you slice it, that’s an invitation to Denver dominating the quarterback. Robert Ayers likely won't play, but Shaun Phillips and Malik Jackson are already gazing on with interest. Whoever Denver has on the field, it’s time to tune up the sack totals.
Jacksonville’s best offensive lineman at this point is right guard Uche Nwaneri, although he's a far better pass blocker than run blocker. Come to think of it, the Jaguars don’t even have a good run blocker. Nwaneri should keep Henne’s jersey somewhat cleaner over the course of the game, though.
Nwaneri’s opposite, left guard Will Rackley, is also on the other end of the ‘quality of play’ scale. He’s played 302 snaps and has a blocked-sushi-restaurant-sewer bad rating of negative-14.7, the worst among Jacksonville linemen. He’s poor at both pass and run blocking: PFF has him rated at 69th of 72 guards in the league.
Adding this problem to the chaos that’s going on at left tackle, I look for the Broncos to attack the left side of the line consistently. Jacksonville will almost certainly consistently double-team Derek Wolfe, just as Dallas did. To be honest though, the Jags aren’t the Cowboys. Dallas has very good offensive linemen, and they love to run block. You’ll see few successful teams whose line doesn’t love to run block - it’s a matter of attitude. Too often, Jacksonville just doesn’t have it. And, double-teaming Wolfe just frees up Phillips and Jackson.
Center Brad Meester is a veteran of 14 seasons who is on a one-year, $1.075 million contract. His backup is Ohio State’s Mike Brewster, who’s 24 and was a college free agent in 2012. Brewster is expected to step into the job next year; he’s 20 lb heavier than Meester, and they’re hoping he’ll provide some power and drive up the middle, but that’s hopefully not a question for this year.
Right tackle is a conundrum for the Jags. They used 2012 CFA Austin Pasztor to fill the right tackle role against St. Louis - he gave up only one QB hit, with no penalties, sacks, or hurries. As you’d expect in Jacksonville, he’s not much of a run blocker. But he’s a talented warm body who knows the position and is willing to fight for it. Right now, that looks pretty good to Jacksonville.
Tackle DeMarcus Love was promoted from the practice squad earlier in the week; guard Jacques McClendon, who has now played for four teams in four years, was also signed.
The Jags are going with an admitted ‘rebuilding’ stage - either rebuilding again, or still, you can take your pick. When a team is losing, you call it rebuilding. Neither Chad Henne nor Blaine Gabbert looks like a winner, the lines are poor, and their best trade bait is their running back.
Yet, John Elway faced similar problems and created the decimating monster that is the 2013 Broncos in just two years.
I think about the records that the Broncos are setting, and I realize that just two years ago, there weren’t that many differences between the two franchises.
This game is dangerous only in that it’s expected to be a laugher. John Fox, Elway, Champ Bailey, and Peyton Manning all know that expecting an easy game is a good way to lose. Focus will decide the outcome - I’m going with Denver, 42-13.
They could also need a mercy rule and send out the backups.