Don’t Overlook The Jags

 

This is it, six days until real Chiefs football.

Amid all the good vibes surrounding the new Chiefs led by Head Coach Andy Reid and General Manager John Dorsey, I think most Chiefs fans are equally enthusiastic about the fact that the first real test of the new-look squad will be against the Jacksonville Jaguars – the team with which KC tied last year for the dubious honor of being the worst in professional football.

It’s very easy to make the case that the Chiefs are the most improved team since that point, and most commentators will probably pick KC on the road over Jacksonville this week. I also think the Chiefs will most likely come away with a win, but I’m here to tell you that it is by no means guaranteed. While the Chiefs were busy getting better this offseason, the Jags were fast at work themselves.

Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

He may not be a proven commodity like Reid, but new Jags HC Gus Bradley is an intriguing guy. In his college and early NFL coaching career, success followed him everywhere he went from North Dakota State to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he worked under defensive-coaching legend Monte Kiffen.

When Kiffen’s friend Jim Mora Jr. went to take over the Seattle Seahawks in 2009, Mora said Kiffen recommended Bradley to him, calling him “one of, if not, the finest football coaches I have ever worked with. He’s an A-plus. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime coach.” Bradley jumped from the Bucs’ linebacker coach to Seattle’s defensive coordinator.

But the Seahawk’s 2009 season was doomed as the franchise transitioned from the Mike (Papa Walrus) Holmgren’s era. Mora Jr. was fired after his first year, and the team brought in Pete Carroll in his stead. While Carroll jettisoned most of the coaching staff for his own, he kept Bradley, evidently seeing something in him, despite the defense’s pitiful 2009 performance.

In 2010, Seattle’s defense was even worse, ranking 27th in yardage allowed and 25th in points per game. Still, Carroll kept Bradley in as DC. In 2011, the rest of the league finally saw what Bradley’s superiors had found in him as the team ranked 9th in yardage allowed and 7th in points allowed. In 2012, Bradley improved that to 4th and 1st, respectively.

Though he seemed an obscure head-coaching candidate to take over the Jacksonville Jaguars, I wouldn’t underestimate him. If the preseason is any indication (and we all know it is a fickle measuring stick), he has already made an impact on this squad.

To get an idea of what the Chiefs will be facing, I decided to watch the Jags’ 3rd preseason game, the so-called “dress rehearsal” for the regular season where we tend to get the best look at how teams will operate once they’re playing for keeps. But, QB Blaine Gabbert, who has been named the Week 1 starter for the Jags, was held out of the third preseason game with an injury. So, I watched the first half of the 2nd game against the Jets instead.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

My overall impressions? If this game is any judge, the Jags are definitely going to give the Chiefs a run for their money. Gabbert was extremely efficient, going 13/16 for 165 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT’s with QB rating of 130.5 before banging his thumb on an opposing pass rusher and sitting out the rest of the game. By contrast, Alex Smith went 7/16 for 62 yards 0 TD’s, 0 INT’s in his 2nd preseason game (although I believe those stats in particular should be taken with a grain of salt).

Remember that new Chiefs DC Bob Sutton came over from the Jets and runs a modified 3-4 version of Jets HC Rex Ryan’s defense. On one signature Ryan/Sutton overload blitz that sent four pass-rushers charging through a single gap on the left side, Gabbert planted his feet and calmly tossed the ball over the rushers heads for a long gain.

Gabbert is consistently ranked as one of the NFL’s worst quarterbacks and the biggest knock against him since he entered the league as the 10th overall pick in 2011 is his panicked inaccuracy. With constant flux in the organization and playing behind a leaky offensive line, he was often hurried, and, when he wasn’t, he seemed to sense phantom pressure and throw crazy passes or scramble for no reason.

But, Jacksonville’s tackle situation has since been shored up similarly to KC’s – they have dependable veteran Eugene Monroe holding down the left side, with rookie future-stud Luke Joeckel learning on the right. The mix of steadier blocking and Bradley’s coaching seem to have produced a much more confident Gabbert who was sharp in this game. The Chiefs D has to make sure that Week 1 is not his coming out party.

In good times and bad, the Jags have been able to lean on the production of the invincible RB Maurice Jones-Drew,

QB/WR/RB Denard Robinson, photo by Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

and if Gabbert can be reasonably consistent, this offense will score points. The team also added speedy weapons Ace Sanders and Denard Robinson, who Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. predicts will “provide some instant offense and versatility.” Robinson, who played QB at Michigan, is particularly interesting. The Jags have him labeled simply as an “offensive weapon” and used him at QB, RB and WR in this game. The team featured a bunch of creative fronts to get the most out of these guys, and I’m sure most of their tricks remain up their sleaves. Luckily for the Chiefs, Jacksonville’s most talented wide receiver and best aerial threat Justin Blackmon will be serving a suspension for substance abuse when Reid’s troops take the field.

Still, most NFL scouts say that Jacksonville is in close competition with Oakland for the overall least talented roster in the league. That shows on defense, despite some new additions there. In this game, Bradley kept his front seven crowding the line against the run – a move I rely on in desperation when my defense can’t stop anything in Madden. Against the Jets, this had two effects – a lot of stuffed runs, and a lot of big breakaways.

If Bradley keeps up this tendency in Week 1, I think we are going to see RB Jamaal Charles go down a lot in the backfield, but he’s also sure to break away with a few big ones because if he can get past the first level; there’s literally no one else there until he encounters the safeties.

This also allowed Jets QB Mark Sanchez to look surprisingly competent in the first half, taking shots at wide-open receivers in the middle until he threw an awful interception to CB Marcus Trufant in the end zone. (The Jags cut Trufant over the weekend.)

This defense also remains a very accident-prone unit. Jacksonville committed eight penalties for 63 yards in the first half of this game alone with the starters still on the field. This included two encroachment penalties on back-to-back plays. The Chiefs, meanwhile, have played pretty clean in that respect this preseason.

There is one advantage that Jacksonville has, however, that simply cannot be overlooked. While there has been blissfully little drama in KC this offseason, this distraction is sure to get them in this game – those awful Jaguar uniforms.

Personally, I’m a fan of out-there designs like the ones sported by Oregon. I like the matte black look on the helmet. I even kinda think it would be cool for some team to embrace a Notre Dame-style, shiny gold brain bucket. But, having both on the same helmet induces vomiting. It’s actually really confusing because the two-tone helmets look totally different from the front and from the back so you occasionally have to ask yourself if you’re watching the same team when the camera switches angles. If Smith throws any picks in this game, I’m fine with him blaming the helmets – “Oh wait, so the guys in black are the same team as the guys in gold? Wait, really?”

Topics: Blaine Gabbert, Chiefs, Denard Robinson, Gus Bradley, Jacksonville, Jaguars, Jamaal Charles, Kansas City, Preseason

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  • Lyle Graversen

    Great breakdown! I agree that this won’t be a cake walk for KC. I still think they’ll win, but I expect some fight from the Jags. The key will be Sutton’s defense pressuring Gabbert. If they get consistent pressure on him, I think he’ll eventually make a critical mistake.

    Really enjoyed this read.

    • Suzi Conger

      Agreed; as well as our QB getting consistent protection (for a change, lol) so he can again accomplish similar performances as ps NO first session, the last two minutes of the first half Pitt. game, and have the time necessary for a deep pass to an open receiver. I believe our OL will get better and better, I just hope sooner rather than later.

  • Trent Taylor

    Knock the snot out of Gabbert from the get go, and he, along with the offense will fold up.

    • Jason Seibel

      I couldn’t agree with you more. I think if Sutton comes in and puts Blaine “Footsteps” Gabbert on his ass once or twice in the first couple of series, it will all be downhill from there. The kid has proven that he can’t handle the pressure.

  • berttheclock

    I happened to stumble into watching that game and you are correct in your analysis. The Jags of today are not those of last year. The offensive line has improved.

  • Chiefswatch

    Getting beat by Jacksonville would be a quick kick in the teeth for the franchise. Everyone would have us going way down in the rankings. I couldn’t think of a bigger disaster for this honestly fragile team. I am so interested to see the Joeckle v Fisher battle. Pretty sure Houston will have a day with that rookie as Hali will give Monroe some fits. Ah man….SIX days!!!! So excited to see this new defense in action!!!!

  • BurtGummer44

    Gabbert is probably the worst starting QB in the league; and that’s a hard hurdle to overcome. Chiefs by a TD.

  • sidibeke

    I agree we can’t look past the Jags.

    One thing that makes me feel better: the Jets just signed Brady Quinn. Man, that team is a train wreck. Perhaps the Jax showing isn’t all that.

    • berttheclock

      They began as the Titans, then, became the Jets. Now, they are merely Jet Lag.

  • KCMikeG

    Red is the only color Smith needs to focus on.

  • Tony Parker

    I think the Chiefs run away with this one 30-10.

    • Suzi Conger

      I agree Tony, if the OL does it’s job and protects AS11 adequately and gives him the time needed to find an open receiver

  • Suzi Conger

    Nice article. I believe the QB comparison of game ps two is questionable…. Jets = one of the worst teams in nfl with nearly zero pressure on Jag’s OL/QB, while KC’s 2nd ps game with SF = arguably the best team in nfl; their D totally swarmed and ran-over our OL QB protection.
    I agree with you, don’t discount the Jags

  • Stacy D. Smith

    I’ll be shocked if this team doesn’t win by 10. The Jags will be playing without Blackmon and I’m not at all convinced that Gabbert is ready to turn the corner. Sanders will probably also get his first NFL start. I’m just not sure where points are going to come from for the Jags. Then you can factor in what ought to be a big running day for the Chiefs. JAX had the 2nd-worst run defense in the NFL last year. I think we win big.

    • NicholasAlanClayton

      Jeez man, way to jinx it with reasonable expectations. You know the Chiefs don’t respond to that!

      • Stacy D. Smith

        Yep. I also know Chiefs teams of the past played down to their level of competition.
        God I hope they get out to an early lead.

  • ArrowFan

    What about their special teams? Do they have a good FG kicker? I wonder who will be our returners, Davis on kickoff and McCluster of Punts? How good is their Center and Guards and can they handle Pow?

    • Stacy D. Smith

      Demps on kick returns. McCluster will probably man punts with Wylie gone.

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