3TFO: Jaguars @ Broncos, Week 6
Yes, there is some kind of record-breaking spread in place as the Jacksonville Jaguars visit Denver and the streaking Broncos, and — given the directions the teams are headed — most will see it simply as a chalk-it-up-and-watch-something-else win for Denver. I, on the other hand, will tell you there are reasons to tune in.
If you know where to look, you’ll find a few matchups and tucked-away nuggets of interest deserving of attention… and not necessarily just of the rubber-necking a roadside accident kind. Denver’s last performance suggested a growing vulnerability on the defensive side, and if it’s going to happen to them anywhere along the way, this is the kind of game that might get overlooked — a date in Indy with Peyton’s old boys on the horizon.
However it shakes out, here are three aspects of the game that may pique your interest.
Goodbye Eugene Monroe and Luke Joeckel, hello Cameron Bradfield and Austin Pasztor. There was a bit of a stir created when the Jaguars opted to take a tackle with the draft’s second pick back in April, especially one they projected to initially fit in on the right side. Basing some of their decision on the thought that right tackles were just as important in the grand scheme of pass protection as their left-sided brothers (as PFF’s Steve Palazzolo espoused during the offseason), Joeckel came aboard to form the second half of a pairing with incumbent left tackle Eugene Monroe and to provide a future option should Monroe move on.
A few months later, with the season going nowhere and Monroe scheduled to hit free agency once it ended, Jacksonville got in front of the situation and dealt him to Baltimore, shifting Joeckel to the left for their Week 5 matchup with St. Louis. Just 12 snaps into the new arrangement, Joeckel’s season was ended by a broken ankle and, in the space of a few days, Jacksonville’s offensive tackle position had changed completely. Stepping in to take over were Bradfield (-6.2) at LT and Pasztor (+0.8) on the right, each logging 54 snaps in that contest.
Thrust into the lineup, the new duo will face a Bronco edge rush featuring 4-3 ends Robert Ayers and Shaun Phillips who each currently rank among the Top 15 at their position in our Pass Rushing Productivity rating, having produced 36 total pressures between them. Charged with allowing three QB hits and a pair of hurries on 34 pass-blocking snaps against the Rams last week, the Bradfield-Pasztor combo should expect a heavier workload as the Jags will almost assuredly be spending a good chunk of their day seeing Chad Henne throw the ball in an effort to keep up or catch up.
As with any team facing the Broncos this season, a strategy to stop – or slow – Peyton Manning (+22.0) and the Denver passing game tops the list of defensive must-do’s. Problem is, the solution hasn’t been found through the season’s first five weeks. As PFF’s Mike Renner pointed out on Thursday, Manning sits atop our Accuracy Percentage Signature Stat with a quite ridiculous 85.6% of aimed passes completed (a number that would blow away the best we’ve seen since 2008). Not only that, but Manning is getting rid of the ball in 2.32 seconds (faster than all other QBs, bar Matthew Stafford), getting pressured less often than any (18.7% of drop-backs), and has a 77.4% Acc% when he does face pressure (second only to Philip Rivers’ 77.5%).
The idea might strike that a team could take away his top option and shunt his efforts toward less-desirable targets, but a look at the PFF WR Ratings for his stable shows Demaryius Thomas checking in at No. 2 in the league with a 141.3, Wes Welker at 134.4, and even ‘third guy’ Eric Decker a not-so-shunt-worthy 107.9. His tight end of choice, Julius Thomas, sits behind only Jimmy Graham with a Yards per Route Run figure of 2.44 – certainly not where you’d want the ball going if you were the defense.
So, with the Jacksonville D-line generating little in the way of pass rush (outside of a decent showing by Sen’Derrick Marks in the middle, 15th DT with a PRP of 7.8), and that being likely little distraction anyway, their hopes may rest on the cover men. Cornerback Alan Ball’s 0.61 Yards per Cover Snap on 142 plays in coverage is a Top-8 mark among 105 qualifying corners — knotted with Darrelle Revis, in fact — and positions him in the ‘throw away from him’ spot. Opposite Ball, then, is where the weight of this confrontation may sit — Will Blackmon’s 1.21 is 50th and primary slot guy, Mike Harris, is at No. 90 with a 1.73 (1.83 when over the slot receiver).
Was last week’s defensive display in Dallas a sign of things to come for the Broncos, or a blip attributable to the frenzied pace of the game? Tony Romo hit on 12 of 20 passes targeted more than 10 yards downfield and watched as his receivers took them for 351 yards, three going for scores. Now, I’m not here to compare Chad Henne to Romo — Henne’s 13 of 27 mark this year on passes in the same range is not of the same ilk — but perhaps there is some vulnerability to exploit should the game take on a similarly wild nature.
That said, the three balls Romo hit on that traveled more than 20 yards in the air is just one fewer than the total of four that Jaguar QBs have completed this year, and the combination of Justin Blackmon (4 of 20 in 2012) and Cecil Shorts (1 of 10 in 2013) on such attempts has not lit the deep-passing world on fire. So, there may be a self-imposed cap as to where damage can be done, but the Denver D may offer a sweet spot, nonetheless.
Follow Rick on Twitter: @PFF_Rick