ReFo: Jaguars @ Titans, Week 17
This game was almost a microcosm of the Jaguars’ season — glimmering with hope initially, faltering badly before half way, and descending into disaster by the end. Just like their year, in among the carnage some players did well (without performing to superstar levels) and can form a bridge to the next era. Unfortunately, there are far too many others who look to be gone, the result of poor drafting, and we will see shortly Shad Khan’s blueprint for the future.
The Titans are in a slightly better position. They look to have more positional groups working well and more players who look like upcoming stars. However, there are still significant issues and the way they have imploded on occasions has to be a coaching issue.
Regardless, let’s leave the debate about the front office for the time being and concentrate on the key players who might return, and those who could be moving on.
Jacksonville – Three Performances of Note
If the Jaguars were looking for help in the form of a statement game from Chad Henne (-4.0) they got one — just not the one Henne had hoped to deliver. It started well, as he drove his team 81 and 66 yards for two touchdowns, although even then there were warning signs. A drive-sustaining catch bounced out of Akeem Ayers arms to Marcedes Lewis and, by the game’s end, Henne’s three interceptions could easily have been six. Only the second by Zach Brown could be deemed unlucky, as he made one poor decision after another, with the random heave to Michael Griffin being one of the worst I’ve seen all year. Drafting a punter with Russell Wilson on the board will likely be the final word on this regime’s epitaph.
One Step Forward, Two Back
On the face of it, making the move to pick up Jason Babin (-1.4) seemed reasonable. While he wasn’t having as great a season in Philadelphia as he had in 2012, he was still generating pressure and playing the run slightly better to boot. It was a clear case of the Eagles wanting to get potential superstar Brandon Graham more playing time. However, why then did Jacksonville mess about with his position? In Philly Babin rushed the passer only 7 of 281 times from right end, but here he’s playing more than 50% of the time on the right. We’ve seen with Ray Edwards what can happen when teams underestimate how much impact changing a player’s position has, and in this game, for whatever the reason, Babin got zero pressure although he did make a nice plays against the run — from the left.
So where are those building blocks for 2013? Well, one is certainly left tackle, Eugene Monroe (+3.2) who, despite being paired during the year with a combination of some of the worst left guards in living memory, has still shone through. Playing all 1,082 offensive snaps, he’s been by far the best and most consistent performer on the team, and also one of the top left tackles in the NFL.
Here he allowed a delayed garbage-time sack and a hit, but on 52 drop-backs (and hell breaking loose around you) that’s a good display. So we know who will be protecting the QB, we just don’t know who that will be.
Tennessee – Three Performances of Note
Calm in the Storm
With the rest of the offensive line crumbling to injury, Michael Roos (+4.4) has played about as well as humanly possible. Only he and Fernando Velasco are left of the original starters, and Velasco is now in a new position at left guard. We all know Roos as an excellent pass blocker, but here, although he was perfect in his 21 snaps of pass protection, it was his run blocking that stood out. His work getting out on the linebackers was superb, and if you want a demonstration of how to completely take an MLB out of a play watch with 2:40 left in the third where Roos gets up to the second level and eradicates Paul Posluszny from the play.
Value for Money
I was asked on our Wednesday podcast last week (check out the right side of our front page) if I felt the Titans should keep Chris Johnson (-1.0), and I didn’t hesitate in saying no. A price tag of $12M next year for any running back not named Adrian Peterson is ridiculous, and for Johnson it’s far worse than that. This is a runner who, more than most, doesn’t get yards after contact (his 2.0 yards per run post contact is 50th among 58 qualifying halfbacks) and doesn’t make people miss (tackles evaded per attempt is 37th out of 58). When you add to this Johnson’s significant under production, his fumbling problem as a receiver, and recent issues as a pass blocker, this is perhaps the most overpaid player in the NFL.
Here it was more of same, as he generated little beyond what he was given, caught a single pass, and got beaten by Daryl Smith on the blitz.
One thing that always seems to function well for the Titans is their return game, and having a player like Darius Reynaud (+1.8) takes it to another level. Twice he returned punts for touchdowns to take the game well beyond the Jaguars, and also ensured he’ll get a lot of looks as the All-Pro returner when the selectors cast their votes today. To cap it off, he also had the good sense to deliberately bat a live ball out of bounds on a kick return which drew a penalty — with the alternative being far worse.
The second touchdown, where he reversed his field and left rookie Brandon Marshall grasping air that had previously been a body, was particularly exciting.
— Jacksonville’s initial success running the ball wasn’t so much a testament to the quality of the right side of their o-line, but more because Henne realized putting one linebacker, and Tommie Campbell, in the box to stop their rushing attack was insulting.
— Zach Brown’s performance in coverage (two picks returned for scores) will wrongly win him defensive rookie of the week, during which I suspect they won’t mention his failure to make a single tackle, while missing three.
The real star of the Titans’ pass rushing display was one of the few players not to get a sack (or a half one in the NFL’s stupid system). Mike Martin picked up two hits and three hurries on 26 rushes.
Darius Reynaud took the game away from Jacksonville and wouldn’t give it back.
Follow Neil on Twitter @PFF_Neil