Aaron It Out: Thoughts on Jaguars

Normally, I enjoy starting here with a bit of news from around the NFL, and I’ll throw in some “quick hits” before we get to the Top Five, but it’s the Jaguars’ bye week, and it’s time for my first truly in-depth column on the Jaguars this season. Welcome to Aaron It Out, Week 8.

First things first: Calais Campbell is quite possibly the best free-agent signing in the Jaguars’ history. I know players like McCardell and Searcy were obtained in free agency as well, but I consider McCardell part of that initial core (and of course, back when the team started, the team was built through the expansion draft and free agency). There have been some big whiffs in team history – Jerry Porter, who just sucked; Hugh Douglas, who was a jerk; Aaron Ross, who made the “vacation” comment; Aaron Kampman, who fell apart; I could go on, but I won’t. The previous General Manager, Gene Smith, whiffed big-time on free agency and because current GM Dave Caldwell and the rest of the regime wanted to completely rebuild and get rid of toxic contracts, they were kind of afraid to spend.

Then, of course, they went out and signed Julius Thomas and Malik Jackson from the Broncos, among others. Thomas was injured and not right for the Jags’ system (he did not want to block, something team cornerstone Marcedes Lewis has been amazing at his entire career), and Jackson, having been on a team with Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, and Aqib Talib, was not quite the leader/mentor that the Jags envisioned him being – he wasn’t even a full-time starter in Denver. It has taken Jackson some time to grow into his role, not to mention that he also needed to be used correctly in the defensive scheme now that Todd Wash is out from under having to use former head coach Gus Bradley’s defense.

This offseason, it seemed like the Jaguars were loading up, but everyone had favored the Jags’ free agency moves the past few years so it was a bit of same old, same old. One of the better additions was most definitely cornerback A.J. Bouye, who has paired with starter CB Jalen “Best CB In The League” Ramsey and Nickel CB Aaron Colvin to make a spectacular defensive backfield. Also, Barry Church came in, providing a spark at the strong safety spot that had been covered (not very well) by Jonathan Cyprien, now with (haha) the Titans. But the Jaguars invested heavily in Calais Campbell, and every single dollar has been justified.

Campbell had the physical requirements to be a fearsome defensive player. At 6’8″, he is the same height as tight end Marcedes Lewis, and of course he is bigger. There were concerns with his age, but when players take care of themselves, there is a great chance that they will continue to be successful. Campbell, as far as my research can tell, has missed less than ten games in his entire career. Campbell played with stars like Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, and has been to the Super Bowl and the Pro Bowl. Campbell was brought onto the Jaguars to be a veteran presence on the team. And in my estimation, he has absolutely excelled at that.

You can tell watching postgame video, watching locker room video, watching sideline video that Campbell has the respect of his teammates and exudes those leadership qualities. The man is going to make an amazing coach or motivational speaker (or both!) someday. Campbell does his best to motivate his teammates to action, to winning. He breaks down nearly every postgame locker room speech after the coach is done. Campbell is far more valuable than the $60 million that the Jaguars are paying him. He has recorded 10 sacks and the team has only played seven games. He doesn’t take any credit – he credits the secondary for locking the receivers down (which is true), and believes in the team. Even if he doesn’t win “team MVP,” Campbell is one of the most valuable players on the Jaguars and the best free agency investment the team has ever made.

On Wednesday night, the Jaguars made another smart move, locking in Telvin Smith to a four-year contract extension. Smith is a severely underrated player and linebacker in the league, and is one of the Jags’ best players and a leader of the team, as evidenced by his selection to defensive captain for this season.

Smith is playing a lot smarter this year (again, if you ask me this is a product of a full transition to Todd Wash’s defensive system, getting out from under the shadow/albatross of Gus Bradley’s defense) and he is not overdoing it in terms of trying to sniff out the ball-carrier. He makes some crazy plays and should be a solid part of the team for a long time. Good for him.

The Jaguars overall looked great last week against a Colts team that is just not that good. The Colts have major issues both on defense and on the offensive line that kept them out of the game, but replacement starting QB Jacoby Brissett was also guilty of locking onto his reads and holding onto the ball too long. Those factors plus the dominating performance of the Jags’ defense and the offense not making too many mistakes led to the shut-out win.

It’s smart football the Jags are playing: take advantage of an opponent’s weaknesses, exploit them, and hope the offense doesn’t mess up too badly if a mistake is made. I read a great stat the other day that all of the Jags’ first drives of the game resulted in some sort of score; I expect that to continue and it needs to continue if the Jaguars want to keep piling up those wins. The schneid of “even week loss, odd week win” will be broken at some point over the next few weeks as the season continues, because the schedule looks a lot more favorable going forward. However, the next two games are at home and neither are “gimme’s” because the Bengals can sometimes look decent, and the Chargers always seem to be able to just lay it on Jacksonville. The road trip to Cleveland and Arizona looks like a 2-0 trip to me, because the Cardinals have no run game and have an unfortunate QB situation, and the Browns are just awful. Then there’s a three-game stand at the ‘Bank that should garner a 2-1 record at least. Keep an eye on the week 15 game, December 15, when the Texans come to Jacksonville. The currently scheduled Sunday Night Football game is Broncos-Colts, and if Houston and Jax both keep up what they’ve been doing so far this season, it is entirely possible that Texans-Jaguars gets flexed to prime-time.

As a Jaguars fan, I am delighted that the season has gone the way it has; usually we get win number four in November or December. As an NFL writer, being able to write about the team being successful instead of trying to throw fixes at the wall is much more gratifying.

Let’s take a quick trip around the NFL… Vontaze Burfict should be suspended for his kick in the Steelers game, but he won’t; he could be taken out of action if a similar thing happens in Indy this week… tough break (pun not intended) for Carson Palmer, who keeps getting the “when are they gonna draft the QB successor?” talk in Arizona; he could retire… the Chargers have won their last three but they’ll certainly get handled by the Pats this week, and still face a very good Bills team, the Chiefs, the Jets, and the Raiders the rest of the year… speaking of the Raiders, they’ll have their hands full in Buffalo this week, but look for them to have a bit of an advantage thanks to backup QB E.J. Manuel’s presence… Carson Wentz is having a career year, and good for him; the Eagles are a pleasant surprise… the Broncos are 3-3 and on the decline, and look for them to continue that with a tough next three games at KC and Philly, then hosting the Pats… will the Colts allow Luck to play, or tank so they can get a high pick and draft a few good offensive linemen? That is a great question, as is “will Pagano be there this time next year?” I think the answer is no.

THE AARON IT OUT TOP FIVE

  1. Eagles
  2. Chiefs
  3. Vikings
  4. Bills
  5. Jaguars

PREVIEWS & PICKS

DOLPHINS @ RAVENS – An interesting matchup, as Miami doesn’t have Jay Cutler, but Baltimore doesn’t have any receivers. Can Matt Moore lead the ‘Fins to victory? I think the answer to that is yes, as (on paper at least) Miami is a much better football team and I think Moore could’ve done the same job Cutler has and gotten the team to the 4-2 they are now. However, the possibility exists that this will be a bit of a shootout, and the Thursday night games so far have been interesting. Dolphins win.

VIKINGS @ BROWNS – Oh, yikes. Poor Cleveland. What position will they pick with the first overall draft pick? Quarterback? They’ve gotten it wrong. Running back? Maybe. Receiver? Depends on the talent. This has been Browns Draft Talk. Vikings win.

CHARGERS @ PATRIOTS – I already used the “Chargers won last three” nugget, didn’t I? In the battle of Rivers vs. Brady, Brady will find a way to win, I’m afraid. The Patriots mainly lose when the other team can put up points on them, and although New England has lost Donta Hightower to injury, I don’t think they’ll have much problem here. Patriots win.

BEARS @ SAINTS – The Bears are somehow winning games they shouldn’t. The Saints lost their first two, have won their last four, and have a chance to rack up two more wins before they see another decent challenger (at Buffalo in week 10). I don’t want to acknowledge the Saints are good, but here we are. I don’t want to acknowledge the Bears have a chance, but again, here we are. If there were an NFL “Bet the Board,” this one would be a pick ’em. I will go with the home team – Saints win.

PANTHERS @ BUCS – Carolina supposedly has a prolific offense with a highly-picked running back, a former league MVP, and a star WR on their roster, but every once in a while they only put up a few points and they lose. The Bucs have lost their last three games. Who wins here? The viewers who aren’t forced to watch this game, that’s who. I guess the Panthers win.

COLTS @ BENGALS – I’m going to go out on a limb here. That limb is that the Colts win. I don’t think the Bengals are any good, I think they are close to pulling the trigger on a rebuild, and I think Marvin Lewis may be gone at the end of this year. The Colts have more going for them than the Bengals. The Colts, although they stink, were able to beat the teams they should have beaten (Browns, Niners). The Bengals are another one of those teams. Colts win.

RAIDERS @ BILLS – One of those rare “fun games” – this will definitely be a good matchup, both teams coming off of solid wins against divisional opponents and looking to show they’re still relevant in the Wild Card talks. I’ve got to give the advantage here to the Raiders, because I’m just not sure about Buffalo’s offense – some games they score 26, others they can only manage three points. Raiders win.

NINERS @ EAGLESEagles win, easily – not much else to be said.

FALCONS @ JETS – The Falcons need a bounce-back win after getting manhandled by the Patriots on the set of the movie The Mist, and the Jets have dropped their last two games, and may not be as sneaky good as everyone thinks they are. Falcons win.

TEXANS @ SEAHAWKS – I really like DeShaun Watson, and it stinks that, as a Jaguars fan, I cannot root for him because a win keeps the Texans in contention for the AFC South. However, Seattle’s offensive line is trash. However however, Houston has defensive injuries that won’t make it as dominant as it has been. So I am forced to pick Seattle here, knowing that this will likely be a shootout. Seahawks win.

COWBOYS @ REDSKINS – Two 3-3 NFC East teams, which one you got? Easy answer: the one whose offense is better, and that’s the Cowboys. Dallas has put up quite a few points so far this year and while it hasn’t always resulted in wins, the ‘Boys certainly have more talent on that side of the ball. I don’t think the Redskins can keep up, to be honest with you. Cowboys win.

STEELERS @ LIONS – An interesting matchup to say the least, with the Lions on a two-game losing streak after getting embarrassed by New Orleans, and the Steelers on a two-game winning streak after getting embarrassed by the Jaguars. Who will win? Well, Detroit has the less dysfunctional locker room, so there’s that; Pittsburgh seems to be able to keep games close and keep opponents (except the Jaguars) from scoring much. But I’m not going to discount the home team here, and this should be a very fun game to watch. In another “pick ’em,” I’ll say the Lions win.

BRONCOS @ CHIEFS – Oh, hey, Denver, how’s it-… you got shut out by the Chargers? What? At the soccer field, you say? The team that, just over a month prior, you defeated? After you got beat by the New York Tanking Giants? And now you have to face a Kansas City team that has lost two in a row and needs someone to whip up on? Oh, man. I’m sorry to hear about this. Chiefs win.

Enjoy the games, friends!

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