When the Chiefs kick off the 2013 regular season this Sunday at the Jacksonville Jaguars, it’s not just the Jags that the Chiefs will be facing.
I went over to Black & Teal, our superb sister site for the Jaguars. Over there, Jaguar fans have high hopes for Blaine Gabbert, the Jags’ much maligned starting quarterback, and excitement about rookie cornerback Dwayne Gratz (a third round pick this year) and Denard Robinson, the quixotic quarterback from Michigan whom the Jaguars drafted in the fifth round this year. Of course, Jags’ fans are totally geeked on second overall pick Luke Joeckel, who will start at right tackle, and veteran running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who is back from a foot injury and by many accounts, is ready to roll.
Most football prognosticators are picking the Jaguars to be at or near the bottom of the league this year, alongside our good friends, the Oakland Raiders. So why all the optimism, aside from the usual preseason high that we all experience? Well, Addicts, first go to my colleague Nicholas Alan Clayton’s excellent analysis here and then understand that the Jaguars have a new coach in Gus Bradley, and Bradley has brought some thinking new to football – but not to baseball and basketball – to Jacksonville.
If you haven’t read it already, I encourage you to check out a brilliant article about the Jaguars’ new approach, The Geeks Shall Inherit the Turf by ESPN The Magazine writer David Fleming. Fleming describes how Bradley and Jaguars’ owner Shahid Khan are the newest recruits to the Moneyball method of analysis that has taken over many baseball and NBA teams. For example, the Jaguars’ new analytics department identified that when Gabbert has time to throw the ball in the pocket, he is actually one of the better quarterbacks in the league. That’s why the Jaguars went after Joeckel in the Draft, rather than finding a quarterback through free agency. They also determined that cornerback Gratz, based on a new metric they created for defensive backs – Passes Touched Per Target – could step in immediately and be an impact player. And they learned that Robinson, who is listed on the Jags’ roster simply as “Offensive Weapon,” had the third highest Speed Score equation of any player in the Draft. Robinson may play up to four positions: running back, wide receiver, return specialist and quarterback out of the Wildcat formation.
What does it all mean for the Kansas City Chiefs this Sunday?
It means we should consider ourselves lucky that we’re playing Jacksonville in the first game of the season, and not the last.
Here’s why. You don’t need a bunch of numbers to tell you that the Jacksonville Jaguars are young and will need several games just to learn how to play cohesively. For example, the defensive backfield – an area where teamwork is paramount – will have two rookie starters in Gratz and second round pick, safety Jonathan Cyprien and new free agent cornerback Alan Ball. You also don’t need statistics to tell you that this team, like the Chiefs, won’t bounce back from a 2-14 record and become Super Bowl champs immediately, or that the absence of star wide receiver Justin Blackmon (suspended for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy) will hurt. But despite all of these shortcomings, the Chiefs shouldn’t underestimate how the Jacksonville Jaguars look on the surface, because the Jags benefitted from serious data analysis to help inform their draft and free agency pickups. While it may take them a while to gel, this Jacksonville team will get better, and fast.
This game will give us a glimpse of which 2-14 team from last year rebuilt itself faster and better. Unfortunately for Jacksonville and fortunately for us Addicts, the Chiefs did. In virtually every position on the field, we have more talent than the Jaguars. On the coaching side, we’re about to see 100% of Head Coach Andy Reid’s playbook, 100% of Bob Sutton’s attacking defensive playbook and 100% of Special Teams guru Dave Toub’s playbook. To be specific, these five match-ups will win us the game:
Chiefs’ linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali vs. Jaguars’ tackles Luke Joeckel and Eugene Monroe. Tamba beats Monroe all day and Houston welcomes Joeckel to the NFL, Chiefs-style. That also means Gabbert is back to his mediocre self, with no pass protection.
Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson vs. Maurice Jones-Drew. If we get a draw here and contain Jones-Drew, the Chiefs will win.
Chiefs’ wide receiver Dwayne Bowe vs. Jaguars corners: No contest. As promising as Gratz may be, he’s a rookie against a talented and smart veteran.
Chiefs’ safety Eric Berry vs. Jags’ tight end Marcedes Lewis. Lewis is 6’6 and can run and catch. Let’s see if Berry has shored up his coverage skills after a spotty 2012 season.
Chiefs punt coverage unit vs. Jaguars’ rookie long snapper Carson Tinker: The Chiefs will block a punt in this game.
Addicts, the Jaguars will be tougher than we think, and they, like the Chiefs, are on the road to long-term success, built from the ground floor up with data. Addicts, what do you think about this data-driven approach?!