Jaguars rookie QB Gabbert needs more help from playmakers

Posted Oct. 31, 2011 @ 6:49 p.m.
Posted By Arthur Arkush

One week ago, the Jaguars shocked the Ravens by masking their anemic offense with dominant performances on defense and special teams. On Sunday against the Texans, a superior offensive club to Baltimore's, the "D" played well enough to win, getting a pair of takeaways and keeping the Texans' high-powered attack at bay most of the afternoon. But rookie QB Blaine Gabbert continued to look lost, managing just a 26.7 passer rating in a 24-14 defeat. The Jaguars' latest disappointment leaves them at 2-6 entering the bye, desperately in search of something, anything, to hang their hats on offensively.

The PFW spin

Gabbert is regressing. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter admitted as much following the Week Seven victory over the Ravens. The rookie triggerman has a boatload of issues, including poor footwork and accuracy. Frankly, against the caliber of defenses he has faced — the Jaguars have played four of the league's top-10 units in the past four weeks — it is a miracle that the bruised ribs he suffered in Houston is his only injury, unless one counts his shaken confidence.

The rookie excuse doesn't hold a lot of water when a quick glance around the league reveals Cam Newton, Andy Dalton and, more recently, Christian Ponder not looking all that much like rookies. But Newton has Steve Smith, who is dropping jaws on a weekly basis with his ridiculous production. Dalton has rookie WR A.J. Green, an absolute man-child who already ranks among the league's more dynamic wideouts. Ponder has Adrian Peterson, arguably the best running back in football.

Then there is Gabbert's situation in Jacksonville. Not only do the Jaguars have one of the more average receiving corps in all of football, the team's top two playmakers, Maurice Jones-Drew and Marcedes Lewis, aren't doing enough to help out their QB.

MJD has played very well as a ballcarrier this season, averaging 4.5 yards per carry despite seeing a safety in the box on virtually every play. However, he is on pace for only 24 receptions — far below his season average of 47. The Jaguars have used Deji Karim a lot on third downs this season, but it might be time to change it up. Although Karim, who actually has fewer catches (nine) than MJD (12), is a terrific receiver, he does not scare opponents the way Jones-Drew does. Getting the backs more involved in the passing game is an obvious, but necessary, way to take a little off the rookie's plate.

The struggles of Lewis are far more egregious. Unlike Jones-Drew, Lewis has not come close to carrying his weight after becoming one of the higher-paid tight ends in football in the offseason. He doesn't seem like the type to take the money and become complacent, but the questions must be asked: What happened to the guy who found the endzone 10 times last season? Where is the huge target who stretched the seam so well? What about the guy who could at least be counted on to move the chains on intermediate throws? Or the dominant run blocker he was regularly regarded as before his breakout '10 campaign? Instead, Lewis has been next-to-invisible, not getting open or catching the football consistently. In his defense, other Jaguars were also responsible for a number of drops on Sunday.

Gabbert's growing pains aren't an excuse. It is clear as day he is not in the same stratosphere as Newton or Dalton right now. But the failures of Lewis and Jones-Drew, arguably the team's two best offensive players, are far more inexcusable. If Jacksonville doesn't find a way to get its best playmakers going, putting Gabbert in a better position for success, the rookie QB is likely to continue regressing in the second half.