Sunshine State Swoon
By Patrick Snow
Has professional football hit its lowest point in the state of Florida? I’m not trying to overreact to three Week 1 losses, but one has to wonder what direction the franchises in the Sunshine State are going. None of the three squads ran for over 90 yards as a team in Week 1, and it’s hard to see much improvement with no real threats at the quarterback position. It’s also difficult to see how the fans of the Jaguars, Buccaneers, and Dolphins could have much confidence in the front office or coaches that are leading their respective teams to seemingly boring and ineffective results each week.
Jacksonville would be the one team in Florida that was predicted to at least be a fringe Playoff team. Over the past few seasons, they have had a physical identity of being able to run the ball and stuff the opponent’s running game. Neither of those aspects was on display in a week 1 loss to the Titans, who beat the Jags at their own game. A desperate Jack Del Rio, who is fighting to keep his job, fired Byron Leftwich before the season, but his choice of David Garrard will not be effective either without a physical running game. Additionally, the lack of contribution from 4 straight 1st round picks (Leftwich, Reggie Williams, Matt Jones, Marcedes Lewis) is catching up with this team along with nagging injuries to lineman on both sides of the ball. As they once again try to avoid a local TV blackout this week, the Jaguars franchise could struggle on and off the field if things do not improve quickly.
Another Florida team with a coach fighting to keep his job is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The honeymoon for Jon Gruden seems to be closing as his defense gets older and offense continues to be lackluster. The Bucs have tried to address the offensive line in the last two drafts, but the running game with Cadillac Williams remains stagnant. Couple that with the musical chairs at quarterback, and the forecast seems bleak for the Bucs. Management must make better decisions during the next few years to insure that fan interest stays at the level of the past decade, and does not ever slip back into the nightmare of the ‘80’s.
The Miami Dolphins brought in offensive ‘guru’ Cam Cameron and veteran quarterback Trent Green to fix a terrible offensive unit. There wasn’t much improvement in Week 1 as they still lacked a ground game, and the defense struggled to stop Washington’s running attack. Trent Green played fairly well, but is he a solution for the future? From passing on signing Drew Brees to not drafting Brady Quinn to the many coaching changes, the Dolphins have been a rudderless ship. This storied franchise, which has had such a stronghold on the fans of South Florida for so long, seems to have slipped greatly in recent years while owner Wayne Huizenga still raises ticket prices despite bad results. With aging defensive leaders (Thomas, Taylor, Holliday) and an improving AFC East, this task of returning the ‘Fins to prominence looks to be extremely difficult one for Cameron and crew.
The common thread to improving the three franchises seems to be better drafting and finding a signal caller. It’s hard to see stagnant offenses and boring games selling in Florida for very long. While it’s difficult to get a Manning, Brady, or Palmer, these teams need to do whatever they can to at least sign or develop a quarterback the caliber of Rivers, Roethlisberger, Bulger, or Romo. Having an effective field general will improve things on the field and in the stands. There is no doubt that exciting, wide-open football will make a connection with fans in the Sunshine State.
* Think Bobby Petrino is missing those blowout victories with his former Louisville team? He probably has a ‘mulligan’ year in the eyes of Falcons fans because of the Michael Vick situation, but it looks like the new coach will have a very stressful season if Joey Harrington is leading the way.
* The New Orleans and Dallas defenses were shredded by the Manning brothers in Week 1. Both units must improve to obtain their lofty goal of winning an NFC Title.
* Kudos to both Carolina and Tennessee for their gritty performances in going on the road and beating teams that were favored. Both teams ran the ball well and seemed to get back to their physical identities in their impressive wins.
* And most importantly, our thoughts and prayers here at Swampland go out to Texas Native and former Miami Hurricane Kevin Everett. The Bills Tight End suffered a spinal injury in the game against the Broncos and may be fighting for a long time just to walk again.