Well, here at The MMQB, we’ve written quite a lot about team No. 32 this week, the Jacksonville Jaguars. Much has centered on the concept that this is one horrible team, with so much to do to even think .500 is an option, with such an impossible dream: Jacksonville, 0-5, the lowest-scoring team in football, at Denver, 5-0, the highest-scoring team in football.
But I am here to tell you some good news, fans of Jags. I am here to tell you how to beat the Denver Broncos this weekend.
First, some encouragment from Kent Graham. Remember him? He and Danny Kanell alternated at quarterback for the New York Giants in 1998. The Giants were a bumbling team in ’98, 5-8 when the Denver Broncos came to town that December. Denver was 13-0. The Giants were coming off 34- and 24-point losses to the Packers and Niners, respectivley, in the previous month, and the John Elway-led Broncos were blowing away teams with ease. “It’s the only time in my career,” Graham said this week from his home in Illinois, “when I remember saying to my wife, ‘I don’t know if we can win this game.’ ”
But they hung in, and with 1:49 left, trailing 16-13, Graham took the ball at the Giants’ 14-yard line and did the stunningly improbable. Eighty-six yards in 61 seconds, capping it with a beautiful 37-yard touchdown pass to Amani Toomer. And so I asked him: What would you say to Jacksonville quarterback Chad Henne as he goes up against the great Broncos—maybe greater than the Super Bowl-winning ’98 team; we shall see—if you had the chance?
“One play at a time,” said Graham. “One efficient play after another. Focus on one play, and then the next—and take a few educated risks. There’s so much parity in the league now. A tipped ball, three turnovers, who knows? In our game, it was definitely David and Goliath, but there was one thing I knew: If everyone did his job to the best of his ability, we’d have a chance. A chance. And Jacksonville has that chance. They’re NFL players.”
My Rx for the Jags:
1. Force running backs Maurice Jones-Drew and Jordan Todman on the Denver front. The Jags’ running game (2.7 yards per rush) has been awful, but the key to this game is to play clockball, and the way to do that is with a possession running game and short passing game. And tell the backs to stay in bounds. The clock must run.
2. Henne should never snap the ball until there are three seconds or less on the play clock. Simple. Run the clock. Run the clock.
3. Put Justin Blackmon in motion so he can’t get jammed as much at the line. One of the weaknesses of young Blackmon’s game is his difficulty in beating press coverage. So offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch needs to move him all game long. And put the ball in his hands on a couple of reverses—as long as he stays in-bounds.
4. On defense, blitz more. The Jags are not big blitzers. And Peyton Manning is a blitz-recognizer. But coach Gus Bradley must do things Manning won’t expect. If Jason Babin can generate some pressure with his regular weakside rushes, the rookie safeties—particularly instinctive Johnathan Cyprien—could hurry Manning and try to take him out of his comfort zone. It’s next to impossible, but anything to show Manning things he hasn’t seen.
5. Take risks on defense. Will Blackmon, a mediocre journeyman corner, has played for some good teams—the Giants and Packers most notably. He knows what it means to know when to take a risk, to jump a route. The only way to make Manning turn it over is to bait him. He’ll kill the D a couple of times, to be sure, but he’s going to do that anyway. Risks, educated ones, are vital.
6. Don’t let Trindon Holliday beat you. He’s the most dangerous returner in football. Kick the ball out of the end zone on kickoffs. And the punter’s job? Bryan Anger must never give Holliday the ball in the field of play. Lose eight yards and kick out of bounds.
See? It’s easy. Now just do exactly what I say, and we’ll have the biggest upset in regular-season history Sunday evening.
About Last Night …
Chicago 27, New York Giants 21. I came away so impressed with Jay Cutler, who played his second straight interception-free game. Not just for his throws downfield, but his management of the game. Example: Twelve minutes left, Bears trying to run the clock out, 3rd-and-2. Giants blitz … and Cutler lofts a perfectly placed rainbow into Matt Forte’s hands as he scurries out of bounds just past the first-down marker. That’s what I like about Cutler right now under Marc Trestman: He’s playing under control, making great decisions, and throwing the ball with the best touch I’ve ever seen in him.