Jacksonville Jaguars

Looking Ahead: the Jacksonville Jaguars

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After a blow-out victory in Santa Clara, the Green Bay Packers are primed for a serious run – next victim – the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Jacksonville Jaguars began the year with a semi-convincing win against the Indianapolis Colts then lost a close game to the 2019 AFC runner-up, the Tennessee Titans. There was some belief that the Jags would be a competitive team this year but that belief was squashed in the seven weeks that followed.

The Jaguars have lost the last six games by a collective 72 points and sit at 1-7. That places them ahead of only the New York Jets, or behind the Jets depending on how you look at it. These two teams are competing for the right to select Trevor Lawrence first overall in the 2021 NFL Draft.

The consolation prize is another franchise quarterback, Justin Fields. While I believe that Gardner Minshew can win games in this league, you don’t pass on the opportunity to select a franchise quarterback. The future is knocking and the Jaguars would be wise to answer, but there’s half a season to be played before we get to that.

Seven of the Jaguars’ eight remaining opponents have a winning record and I can say with some confidence that they will be the underdog in every single one of those matchups. No doubt the Jags are tanking but they’ll still put an offense and a defense out there for their remaining games. What’s that going to look like?

Gameplan

Offense

The Jaguars were without Minshew for Sunday’s matchup with the Houston Texans but the offense didn’t miss a beat. Rookie Jake Luton stepped in and kept the unit ticking at a similar rate to what we’ve seen with Minshew.

One game is a tiny sample size but Luton was able to drive the ball downfield with success – he was 3 of 7 for 120 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT in pass attempts of 20+ yards downfield. His 73-yard touchdown to DJ Chark was the biggest play of the game for this unit.

Head Coach, Doug Marrone, and Offensive Coordinator Jay Gruden haven’t changed this scheme much since losing Minshew. Marrone uses ’11’ and ’12’ personnel interchangeably, with his quarterback under center. One major change Marrone has made is in his fullback usage but that isn’t by choice. Starting fullback, Bruce Miller, was recently suspended for a positive PED test and there’s nobody else available to eat those reps.

Even without a fullback, Marrone uses a run-first offense behind the legs of rookie James Robinson, who’s on pace for 1,610 all-purpose yards and 14 touchdowns. It’s the third week in a row that the Packers’ defense is facing a West Coast, zone-blocking offense. After establishing the run, Marrone uses play-action to create big plays through the air. He operates all of this behind an (overall) average offensive line.

While the bookends, Cameron Robinson and Jawaan Taylor, have been awful, this is one of the best interior offensive lines in the league. From left to right – Andrew Norwell, Brandon Linder, and AJ Cann are all well above average at their position. Not only is this interior unit operating combos like tangos but they’re protecting the quarterback with great consistency. Of the 114 pressures applied on the Jags’ quarterbacks, only 19 have come against this trio.

Marrone’s scheme comes with one major tell. When the quarterback is the ‘gun’ – it’s a pass – take it to the bank, or Vegas. Shotgun formations are reserved for the passing game for Ole’ man Marrone.

 

Defense

What happened to this defense? Remember 2017 when the Jaguars ranked first in pass defense and second in overall defense? That same unit forced 33 turnovers that year and dragged the Jaguars’ offense to the AFC Championship game.

Fast forward to today and the only remaining starter from that defense is Myles Jack – more on that later. The results of that mass personnel change are right in front of us. The current Jaguars’ defense is allowing the second-most yards per game (418.1) and second-most points per game (30.9).

Recent (2018-2020) first-rounders Josh Allen, Taven Bryan, K’Lavon Chaisson, and CJ Henderson have been thrust into starting positions and aside from Allen, it hasn’t been pretty. Henderson was getting some early DROY chatter after a week-one performance where he recorded 1 interception and three pass breakups but he’s fallen off the map since. Bryan and Chaisson both have a lot of work to do.

The rest of the defense hasn’t been much better. Wisconsin grad, Joe Schobert, has under-achieved at middle linebacker after signing a five-year, $53.75 million contract. Another familiar face lines up behind Schobert at safety, former Packer Josh Jones. Schobert and Jones are 1 and 2, respectively, in tackles for the Jaguars and Defensive Coordinator, Todd Wash.

Wash has led this defense since 2016. He’s been there for the good, the bad, and the ugly. He runs a base 4-3 and like many  ‘D’ coordinators, he subs a nickel corner in for a linebacker whenever the opposing offense brings in a third receiver.

Wash uses multiple fronts. He’s not afraid to stack the box or use five stand-up rushers across the defensive line. Wash is all about scheming pressure, especially from his linebackers. The Jaguars have six players with triple-digit pass rush reps at the half-way point. While the effort has been there, the results have not.

This defense has only recorded eight sacks on the season – the least in the league. That’s gone a long way in allowing the second-worst QB rating in the NFL. This defense is now a shell of its former self.

 

Three Factors for the Jacksonville Jaguars

Myles Jack

This man is the lone, bright star in the black-hole that is the Jaguars defense. While Jack’s tackle totals aren’t high, it’s his play-making that sets him apart. He makes tackles behind the line of scrimmage and in space, Pro Football Focus ranks Jack second in their run-stop % metric, among qualifying linebackers in the NFL.

Matter of fact, Jack is PFF’s number-one graded linebacker. The athleticism that helps him make tackles in space is highlighted in his coverage reps. In the six games that Jack has been healthy, he’s operated as the primary box coverage-man. He can lock-down almost any interior receiver in the NFL. The Jaguars have even trusted Jack to play some outside corner this year.

 

Wide Receiver Four-some

During the 2015 season, the Jaguars had arguably the best one-two-punch at wide receiver, in the NFL. Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns earned Blake Bortles his first and only Pro-Bowl appearance that year, combining for 144 receptions for 2,431 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Since bringing in Doug Marrone, the passing offense hasn’t been the same and the Jags have parted ways with both ‘Allens’. This year, however, the Jaguars have shown a resurgence at the wide receiver position.

They now have a stable of talented wide receivers. The group lacks a solid number-one receiver but has four WR2’s. The wide receiver core is highlighted by de-facto number-one DJ Chark and 2020 second-rounder Laviska Shenault Jr.. Keelan Cole and Chris Conley are both pushing them for reps. With FB Bruce Miller suspended, the Jaguars would be wise to use more three-receiver sets instead of two-tight.

 

Talent Retention

More like ‘lack of talent retention’. Blake Bortles, Jalen Ramsey, Dante Fowler Jr, Yannick Ngakoue, Leonard Fournette, Marquise Lee, Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Calais Campbell, TJ Yeldon, Malik Jackson, Nick Foles, Telvin Smith, etc. – all of these players were members of the Jacksonville Jaguars prior to the 2018 season, aside from Nick Foles.

That’s a long list of big names that, in one way or another, the Jaguars have lost over the last 2 years. In some cases, like with Blake Bortles, Jalen Ramsey, and Dante Fowler Jr, the situation called for it. Others were head-scratchers – Allen Robinson, Calais Campbell. And then there’s the Telvin Smith situation

It’s been a mess for owner Shad Khan, GM David Caldwell, and of course, Doug Marrone. I can’t blame Marrone for the fall from grace that we’ve seen in Jacksonville.

 

The Jaguars are re-building – they have been for two years, but we’ve yet to see the turnaround. This team is still a handful of pieces away from competing with the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans for the AFC South title.

They do have five selections in the first two days of 2021 NFL Draft and a projected $86.5 million in cap space to play with, so it’s reasonable to think that the Jaguars could be competitors in 2021, but what will this coaching staff look like?

Jacksonville media is calling for Marrone’s head and even Marrone, himself acknowledged that it’s now or never for him in 2020. There’s so much up in the air with the future of the Jacksonville Jaguars. They should provide plenty of interesting storylines in the 2021 offseason.

However, they will likely have a boring end to the 2020 regular season. While there is potential, going forward, this is a bad team right now. Vegas favors the Green Bay Packers by two touchdowns and I can’t disagree.

Both offenses should score at least 20 points but the Jaguars have stepped on their own feet with regularity – they’re good for at least one turnover on Sunday. Look for the Green Bay Packers to put up some serious offensive production in a blowout win in Lambeau Field.

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