Four Downs: Jaguars are team to beat in AFC South

My weekly look at game film brought up some interesting trends and truths. Four Downs starts this week with why I see the Jaguars winning the AFC South race.

1. In my mind, the Jaguars look like the team to win the AFC South. First of all, the schedule favors them: They face Oakland (6-6), Indy (6-6), Washington (5-7) and Houston (5-7). Next to the Chiefs, no one runs the ball a greater percentage of the time than the Jaguars. They play to their identity better than any other team in the division, running the ball and controlling the line of scrimmage. It was very evident last week against the Titans when they ran 53 times and repeated plays over and over until they could be stopped. That’s the Jaguars’ identity, and they do it better than almost everyone else. Right now the Jaguars are playing the best football in the division and are in the best position to win it.

2. It’s interesting to note that LeSean McCoy leads NFL running backs in receptions by a large margin and is on pace for 90 receptions. McCoy is a benefactor of the Eagles’ speed on the outside, especially last week against Houston. With DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin racing down the field on the outside, they take all the coverages with them, opening up a huge area underneath for screens, swing passes and check downs. The best part about it is Michael Vick’s accuracy. He throws swing passes better than anyone else in the NFL, putting it right in front of McCoy so he can catch it without having to turn around, and giving him more time to make a move on the first defender. The Eagles are excellent in this area.

3. Sam Bradford is garnering a lot of attention for the Rams, and rightfully so. But Steve Spagnuolo has the Rams defense playing really well. Their strength is that they attack the protections of the offense as well as anyone in football and get to the quarterback. It’s the same thing Spagnuolo did with the Giants’ defense on their Super Bowl run. I know Cardinals coaches Russ Grimm and Ken Whisenhunt are smart guys, but they seemed defenseless last week in stopping the overload pressures from the Rams. It’s really sophisticated, but the Rams execute it well.

4. I’d like to give some credit to Cowboys interim coach Jason Garrett. In the four games since he’s taken over the Cowboys, their offense is averaging 36.0 points per game. OK, he did coach the offense under Wade Phillips. So what’s different? The execution out of the Cowboys has been superb. The offensive line is run blocking much better and they’re running the ball 53 percent of the time under Garrett, which takes pressure off of QB Jon Kitna. And Kitna┬áis completing 70 percent of his passes the last four weeks, you can’t get any better than that. He’s even helping his own cause, running 18 times, six of which have gone for first downs. If defenses want to double receivers, Kitna is good at taking off with the ball. He hasn’t been looking like any 38-year-old I know.

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