PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 16: Blaine Gabbert #11 of the Jacksonville Jaguars tries to outrun the tackle of Ziggy Hood #96 and Steve McLendon #90 of the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on October 16, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh won the game 17-13. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
I didn't realize that Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert was so young. The rookie signal caller turned just 22 years old a day before being terrorized by the Pittsburgh Steelers defense, who sacked the youngster five times in a 17-13 win.
When you consider the birthday boy's jaw-dropping youth, it's tough to be too hard on him, no matter how anemic his production under center. That said, Gabbert looked profoundly lost against Pittsburgh's 3-4 zone blitz scheme on Sunday. He started out hot, connecting on four of his first five passes and looking extremely sharp coming off the play action bootleg. However, Gabbert would go on to complete only eight of his remaining 21 passes on the day at 4.2 yards per attempt with an abysmal completion percentage of 46.2.
Beyond the glaring statistical problems in the box score, Gabbert just didn't pass the eye test. His pocket presence is frighteningly bad; he appears to panic if his first read isn't there and doesn't go through his progressions. Gabbert is athletic enough, so scrambling from time to time did pay off—he recorded 16 rushing yards in the loss—but the young quarterback showed an inability or an unwillingness to hang in the pocket on most of his dropbacks. Granted, the Steelers pass rush completely collapsed Jacksonville's pocket on a number of occassions, but even when the defense rushed only three or four or when the Jaguars picked up the blitz, Gabbert got skittish and exhibited a terminal case of happy feet.
This got me thinking about just how bizarre it was that Jacksonville released quarterback David Garrard. With the Indianapolis Colts floundering without Peyton Manning and the Houston Texans losing their best offensive and defensive players—Andre Johnson and Mario Williams, respectively—the AFC South is completely wide open. What's more, the Jaguars' revamped defense is much improved from last year's sieve of a unit. So it stands to reason that with a league-average quarterback like Garrard at the helm, Jacksonville could've competed for the division crown. Instead, they effectively waved the white flag before the season even began and went all-in with Gabbert.
Who knows how that decision will affect Gabbert's long-term development, but it seems likely to cost coach Jack Del Rio his job.