This afternoon, the Jets face the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team who - at 2-10 - are regarded as one of the NFL's weaker teams. As Bassett's post the other day showed, they rank near the bottom in virtually every category on offense and defense. However, they are a team that beat the Colts in week three and almost took down the Texans three weeks ago, following that up with a win over the Titans, so if the Jets turn in another disappointing performance, they could definitely come unstuck. After the jump, I break down the positional groupings (BGA-style!) to try and highlight what the Jets do need to look out for.
The Jags offense right now obviously doesn't really resemble what Jacksonville fans envisaged during the offseason. With quarterback Blaine Gabbert and workhorse running back Maurice Jones-Drew out for the season, they're now relying on Chad Henne's arm. Henne, who Jets fans know well from his time in Miami, made some headlines when he threw for 354 yards and four touchdowns in that loss to the Texans. However, he actually completed less than 50% of his passes in that game and last week's game, so he's not exactly lighting it up. Henne has played against the Jets four times and while he has a bit of a reputation as a Jet killer due to his 3-1 record against them, he basically had two great games and two awful ones. While Henne does represent an upgrade over the developing Gabbert at this stage of his career, they'll have to rely on him more than they would have liked, due to an injury crisis at the running back position.
With Jones-Drew already out, the Jaguars lost Rashad Jennings and Jalen Parmele over the last couple of weeks and now look set to start special teams demon Montell Owens. Owens is a 220-pounder in his seventh year and has never rushed for more than 50 yards in any one season. He was operating primarily as a backup fullback over the last couple of months. Richard Murphy - who SEC fans might remember as one of LSU's running back committee a couple of years back - will likely back him up. Greg Jones II has a thigh injury, but should play at fullback. If not, Will Ta'ufo'ou would step in.
Another injury blow for the Jags this week saw Cecil Shorts III ruled out. Shorts has been Jacksonville's best receiver this year, but his absence means that rookie Justin Blackmon will be the number one. Blackmon hasn't been great this year, catching less than 48% of his targets, although he has been coming on strong with three touchdowns in the last five games. The Jags signed former Bengals receiver Jordan Shipley two weeks ago and his playing time increased significantly last week, so he will probably get a lot of playing time in the slot.
At tight end, Marcedes Lewis is the team's most experienced and productive target. After a Pro Bowl season in 2010, he had an awful 2011 season with no touchdowns and a 51% catch rate. However, he's having a much better year in 2012. Expect Lewis to operate out of the slot at times. Backup Zach Potter is a blocking specialist.
At left tackle, Eugene Monroe grades out as one of the better pass protecting tackles in the league. However, I do wonder if that's affected by the fact that weaknesses elsewhere on the line may lead to his numbers looking better than they should because someone else gets to the quarterback before his man can. On the opposite side, Cameron Bradfield (an undrafted free agent last year) beat out Guy Whimper, who led the league in sacks surrendered in 2011, and has proved to be a slight upgrade, although he did struggle over the last couple of weeks. Veterans Uche Nwaneri (RG) and Brad Meester (C) are reliable enough, but they've had the worst situation in the league at left guard for two years now. Eben Britton should get the call this week. He started four games earlier in the year and really struggled in pass protection. Undrafted rookie Mike Brewster, who had been starting without much more success, injured his hand last week and is out.
The Jaguars use Whimper in the same way that the Jets use Jason Smith and he's been relatively reliable in that role. He'll often stay in to pass protect - perhaps along with a back - so that Lewis is freed up to run routes.
Jacksonville runs a conventional 4-3 scheme and don't blitz much or do anything that unconventional. However, their worst-in-the-NFL pass rush received a boost two weeks ago when they claimed Jason Babin off waivers from the Eagles. Babin had a big game against the Jets last December and while his 2012 season hasn't lived up to his outstanding 2011, he had a couple of pressures in his first game with Jacksonville last week. Jeremy Mincey will usually play the majority of the snaps at right defensive end. He's not that dynamic, but has developed into a solid veteran who can still make impact plays.
On the inside, Jets fans will be familiar with CJ Moseley who was a backup lineman in 2008. Since leaving the Jets, Moseley had become a reliable run stuffer. The Jags famously over-reached for Tyson Alualu a couple of years ago, but he's not bad against the run either.
The Jags have some interesting backups, most of whom get the majority of their reps on passing downs, although that could change now that they've added Babin. Rookie Andre Branch hasn't made much of an impact, but watch out for John Chick who is a situational rusher that generated pressure at a decent rate last year and has just returned to the lineup after missing the first half of the season. The Jags also have Terrence Knighton to back up on the inside. Knighton lost weight during the offseason, but still boasts one of the NFL's best nicknames: Potroast.
(EDIT: Chick is on the inactive list, perhaps indicating that Babin will get more playing time this week on passing downs).
The Jaguars' linebacking corps took a major hit earlier this year when Daryl Smith was injured. Smith is one of the league's best kept secrets and I'd consider him to be one of the best all-round linebackers in the league when healthy. Under the new injured reserve rules, he is eligible to be activated next week, but for the Jets game, they'll have to continue to rely on Paul Posluszny and Russell Allen to pick up the slack. Although Posluszny is the better known of the two, Allen has actually been more statistically productive so far this year. With Smith in the lineup, that's not a bad three man group, but moving everyone down a spot hurts them. Julian Stanford and Kyle Bosworth have been taking it in turns to man the third spot, but that player would come out of the game on passing downs anyway.
Another familiar face mans the deep center field for the Jags - Dwight Lowery. He's having a pretty good season, mostly playing deep, although he does put his cornerback experience to good use at times to pick up receivers in the slot. Alongside Lowery is Dawan Landry - LaRon's brother and a guy Rex Ryan coached in Baltimore. Chris Prosinski will enter as the third safety on some passing downs.
Kevin Rutland became the sixth different cornerback to start a game for the Jaguars on Sunday, as that's another position that's been in flux. Aaron Ross, who had started seven games in a row, is out this week, but Derek Cox - who I would rate as their best corner - looks set to make his return. Former starter Rashean Mathis - now 32 - has been bothered by injuries recently and played just eight snaps on Sunday. Mike Harris might be their best slot corner, although he was also getting reps on the outside over the last few games. In view of Mark Sanchez's issues with blitz recognition, watch out for Harris blitzing from the slot, because he did that eight times against Tennessee, collecting a sack and two pressure.
As often seems to be the case with struggling teams, the Jags' kicking game is really good. Josh Scobee has made 20 of 21 field goals and Bryan Anger is in the top ten for most punting categories. Unsurprisingly, with all the injuries, the Jags have had a series of different kick returners. Shipley's college teammate, Quan Cosby returned punts and kicks last week.
I'll be back tomorrow to recap the game!