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Why didn't the Jaguars stop the Run?

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I'm still sick about Sunday.  I'm breaking my own 24 hour rule because I'm stinging over the fact that the Jaguars look nothing like what they're supposed to.  As much as the Jaguars media guide tries to spin some positives out of the loss (for example, did you know that Marcades Lewis had a career high 4 receptions?), there is not much good news.  We couldn't run and we couldn't stop the run.  The latter is so fundamentally important to the Jaguars.  It was in 2003 when Jack Del Rio decided to build the team around stopping the run and playing physical football.  We kept that up until Sunday.  What I'd like to explore is what happened and how to fix it

There are two schools of thought when it comes to football strategy.  Yes I'm oversimplifying.  There are coaches who focus on players.  These coaches focus on matchups, exploiting speed, strength and size in order to put the ball in the right hands.  Then there are coaches who believe in plays, scheming and experimenting.  I'm not sure where I fit between the two.  The Maddenite in me is fascinated by play calling and scheming.  The realist in me knows that the "tough game for tough men" is the result of individuals and their physical talent.  It seems that the critcism of the Jaguars is coming from the scheming and play calling side, and not the players not plays school of thought.

 For example, Football Outsiders explains that for most of the game we kept our safeties deep:

For whatever reason, the Jaguars continually left the safeties back deep. The three safeties made all their tackles down the field. They made only one play on a run of less than six yards, a half-tackle by Knight on a first-and-goal run by White.

What was the point of this strategy? The Titans ran for 282 yards and controlled the ball for almost 37 minutes. At the same time, the Titans only scored 13 points. The 13 is somewhat misleading considering the Titans twice had the ball inside the five-yard line and failed to score a touchdown. On one of those series, White fumbled on a fourth-and-goal run. Against an explosive offense like the Bengals, the Jaguars' strategy is understandable, but were the Jaguars really worried about a Vince Young-to-Brandon Jones long bomb? The good news is that with this alignment, the Titans' already poor passing game was rendered nearly useless.

A fair point from the very smart folks at Football Outsiders.  I've only seen the game once and as of now I don't have the ability to TiVo and break down the film myself so I can't verify that.  If it is true, it's an interesting view into the mindset of the Jaguars.  Putting our Safeties deep would eliminate the passing game for Vince and put the game in the hands of the running game.  Rather than turning Vince Young into a passer, we dared him and his backs to run.  And run they did against a 7 man box, because the safeties were deep.  Does this mean that Sammy Knight and  Gerald Sensabaugh are weak in run defense?  Are they not recognizing the run?  I understand keeping Reggie Nelson deep, he's a passing game guy not a run stuffer.  

This leads to the next question, why diddn't they adjust in the second half?  Jack Del Rio says that they did adjust:

"There wasn't a need for any fairy dust. It was just a matter of defeating blocks and making plays," Del Rio said at his Tuesday morning press conference.

"To think we sat there and ran the same defense the whole game, I don't know where that thought would come from. Watch the tape," he added. "Football, sometimes, can be reduced to real simple things like blocking and tackling. We weren't good enough on Sunday to overcome our poor blocking and tackling."

Ok, so according to Jack it was not a problem of scheme, it was a problem of fundamentals.  And I'm comfortable with that implication.  If it's true that during camp we wore out our guys a bit or had too soft of a camp, or whatever other reasons you want to come up with that explains why the run-blocking and block-shedding was off kilter, then that's fine.  I just don't understand how a defense with what I think are 11 potential pro-bowlers can FORGET HOW TO BLOCK AND TACLKLE.  

So what are we to expect?  Because the NFL is full of copycats, Id expect to see Atlanta try and spread the field and run up the gut.  They'll establish very quickly if they can divide and conquer through the middle by going wide.   How do you defeat the spread offense?.  College teams often do this by employing a 3-3-5 defensive formation where they emphasize speed over bulk.  You need your fastest players swarming on the ball as quickly as possible, or so I surmise from a very short amount of research.  Sadly, most of the resources require me to pay to read the content, so I'm of little help. But I have a few conclusions..

  1. There is no need to change formations on defense for the Jaguars, Mathis, Williams, and Nelson need to be trusted in pass coverage.  
  2. Don't overthink.  If we're getting run, put our best run stoppers on the field.  Don't worry about our pass rushers or anything like that.  Don't be afraid to put the 8th man in the box.
  3. Guess better, or if it makes you feel better, look harder:  Can you imagine Atlanta of all teams somehow creating a wide open passing game?  If you can't, then focus on the running attack.  We, for some odd reason, thought that Vince Young was a bigger threat as a passer than a rusher.  It's Joey Harrington this week.  We know that a little pressure is all you need to shut down the passing game.  
  4. Books about coaching football are expensive.
  5. In all seriousness, the only think we have to do is practice our fundamentals.
 I like that we're an angry defense right now.  But if you shed the blocks and make the tackles, you don't need to worry about scheming.  Stroud and Henderson need to do what Stroud and Henderson do.  Stop the inside running game, get penetration against the offensive line, and make them hesitate to run the ball.  Once that happens, we've got the initiative and can force the offense to play the game our way.  Stopping the inside run will increase the passing and in theory increase the amount of 3 and out situations.  This will give our offense more time on the field (we only had 50 offensive plays last week) and stop the terrible time of possession that we had on Sunday.

I attempted to find a picture to go with this post, instead I found a great article, albeit ESPN Insider, that has Stroud and Henderson explaining how they do their thing

Stroud: On running plays, if I don't penetrate and give John room to run, he'll be late swinging around, and we've got a hole there so wide, the only thing that back is gonna hit is the post at the back of the end zone.

Henderson: Same thing on passing downs. If Marcus penetrates flat, it makes it hard for me to swing around him. And if I go too early, I jam into Marcus and we take each other out of the play, and the clock ticks away as the quarterback has all day to look around and find someone open.

Stroud: Yeah, and if John comes around the end too soon, he leaves a cutback lane where he was, and they can gash us on the back side.

Henderson: But if Marcus is too slow coming across, it leaves a lane open on the front side. So it has to be perfectly matched up. He leaves at the right time and does his job, and I react to him at the exact right time and do my job. That's how it works.

Stroud: That's why we practice so much, to get our timing down. Because being half a second early or half a second late on something like that is usually the difference between a one-yard loss and a 41-yard gain.

Henderson: You want to know what timing is all about in the NFL?

Stroud: It's the fraction of a second between being early on a stunt or being late.

Henderson: That's it, right there.

Stroud: Winning and losing is all in the time between those two.

Stroud has it almost right.  Winning and Losing is not between being early or late, it's between Stroud and Henderson.  While this article is a little old, I bet you can see the point I'm going to make from a mile away.  Stroud has been nursing an ankle injury that he had surgery on during the off-season.  Stroud and Henderson admit that the key to their success is all in the timing.  They've not had as much time as normal to get that timing down, therefore they are not as effective as they can be.

Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith explains:

Smith: We want Marcus and John to be singing out of the same hymnal. They have to see everything the same way, process everything the same way and be thinking the same way, so that when they hit it, they hit it at the same time. If their timing is good, you've got a superior sense of power from them being joined together.

Del Rio: When it's working, it looks like ballet.

Smith: Our pass defense operates based on forcing the ball out of the quarterback's hands in a specific amount of time, depending on the situation. If we can't hit that time, it begins to have a negative effect across the rest of the defense. Every second over that limit changes the angles and decisions of the linebackers. Behind them, the defensive backs can only maintain their coverage for so long.

Clearly we have some issues to address.  I haven't even begun to talk about why we had no running game and I'll have to leave that for later.  But when you think about Jacksonville Jaguar football, the first thing that comes to mind is defense.  We have to get our heads on straight and play the style of defense that we're expected to bring to the table.  Teams are supposed to be afraid of running inside.  Teams are supposed to loathe the style of physical football that we bring to the table.  Teams should be forced to pass because they KNOW the run will get them nowhere.

It's Thursday, I hope they're getting to work!

-Chris