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.
Player You Need To Know This Weekend
Matt Schaub, QB, Houston (No. 8). Nothing is wrong with Schaub—physically. But mentally is another story. Four straight games with a pick-6, and looking like he’s totally lost his confidence out there. The MMQB has a good story with former Schaub teammate and quarterback Sage Rosenfels talking about the importance of confidence at the position, and the torment Schaub may well be going through right now.
Sound Bite of the Week
“We are asking for prayers and for respect for our family as we deal with this tragic situation.”
—Nelson Peterson, father of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, whose 2-year-old son is in critical condition in a Sioux Falls, S.D., hospital after reportedly being beaten by the boyfriend of the boy’s mother. Nelson Peterson made the comments this morning to Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Ten Things I’ll Be Watching For This Weekend
1. The head of Tony Romo. “Anybody who’s played in the NFL long enough knows you’ve got to get on to the next one really quick,’’ Romo said this week, after throwing the interception that led to the Broncos’ 51-48 win at Dallas last Sunday … after already throwing for 506 yards and five touchdowns. No mercy from Washington this week. Look for a heavy blitz from Jim Haslett.
2. The Bucs and the developing MRSA story. Tampa Bay has enough problems without dealing with a lingering staph infection that has already sidelined two of its players—starting guard Carl Nicks and kicker Lawrence Tynes. Now there’s more: The team has confirmed that a third player has contracted the infection, with reports pointing to rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks. Based on the report they get about the infection’s containment, the NFLPA might recommend the Bucs-Eagles game Sunday not be played.
3. The Bengals and, surprisingly, a must-win. Let’s say the Bengals go to Buffalo this weekend, underperform, and lose to the Bills. That means in the span of four games, the great wins over Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady would be counter-balanced by losses to Brian Hoyer and Thad Lewis. So don’t go telling me about the great Bengals talent pool if they lose in Orchard Park.
4. The condition of Calvin Johnson. Detroit saw what a Johnson-less life was like in the feeble loss to Green Bay last week. The Lions will lose at Cleveland without him—that’s how good the Browns’ defense has been. Looks like Johnson takes the field Sunday, after practicing two straight days this week, and the matchup of the weekend could be Johnson versus rising star cornerback Joe Haden of the Browns.
5. The Cleveland defense. I saw it in training camp: This group had the makings of a top-10 defense, and through five weeks the Browns are fourth in the NFL. You can bet Matthew Stafford and the Lions have noticed. This is going to be a much better game than people think.
6. Super Bowl QB matchups. Drew Brees at Tom Brady. Joe Flacco at Aaron Rodgers. Ben Roethlisberger at Geno Smith. Oops. Missed one there.
7. The Gronk. WEEI in Boston reports the Gronkowski family has doubts about the efficacy of Rob’s forearm surgery, and the team has brought in the famed Dr. James Andrews to consult and decide if the star tight end should be active for Sunday’s game against the Saints. The drumbeat looks negative as of this writing. Stay tuned as Sunday approaches. And for all those who took a fourth-round fantasy flier on Gronkle, my apologies.
8. The horror in Sioux Falls. I don’t know if Adrian Peterson plays against Carolina Sunday, and frankly, I don’t care. I can’t get over some monster beating up Peterson’s 2-year-old son in Sioux Falls—apparently the abuser is a boyfriend of the child’s mother—and I have no idea how Peterson could cope with this and think about football this weekend.
9. The return of Champ Bailey, though I don’t know why. Not trying to be a wiseguy, but if I were someone in Broncos management, I’d sidle up to John Fox today and say, “Hey John, let’s save our brittle 35-year-old corner for T.Y. Hilton and Reggie Wayne next weekend.” Apparently Bailey will make his season debut after long rehab on his foot against the Jaguars Sunday.
10. The fate of Tom Coughlin. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport was right Thursday night: The decision whether to return in 2014 will be up to Coughlin. That’s what it looks like now. But if the Giants go 1-15 (they look more like a 4-12 team to me), there’s going to be immense pressure for Coughlin to step aside.