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Jaguars Film Room: Play Calling Vs. Execution

In the Jaguars 27-7 against the Houston Texans, it wasn't really the play calling that was the issue. It was execution of the plays that were called on offense.

Sept. 16, 2012; Jacksonville FL, USA; Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) pressures Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert (11) in the first quarter of their game at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Phil Sears-US PRESSWIRE

One of the biggest complaints about Sunday's 27-7 loss to the Houston Texans was about the Jacksonville Jaguars play calling and how ineffective it was. There were calls to "open up the play book" after the game. The biggest misnomer in the complaint about play calling is the "open up the playbook" complaint, as if the there is some secret section of an NFL playbook that has plays that are guaranteed to work.

In the game against the Houston Texans, it wasn't really the play calling that was the issue. It was execution of the plays that were called.

Let's fire up the film room.

The first play we're going to look at is early in the first quarter. It's a 2nd-and-15 on the Jaguars own 20 yard line. The Jaguars lineup with quarterback Blaine Gabbert under center with two tight ends, two wide receivers, and Maurice Jones-Drew in the backfield. The result of the play is an incomplete pass to tight end Zach Potter, Gabbert's check down option. Gabbert checks down on the play because the Texans drop seven men into coverage, rushing only four. The result of the play is an incomplete pass, putting the Jaguars in third and long.

As you can see on the play, Gabbert has a clean pocket to throw from, but the problem is there is no real receiver to throw to on the play. Both wide receivers are bracketed by the Texans defensive backs, with each corner having safety help over the top. Both tight ends, Marcedes Lewis and Zach Potter are covered by a linebacker while another 'backer is covering Jones-Drew coming out of the backfield.

Did Gabbert check down too quickly on this play, and not allow it to develop? In my opinion, no, he took the only viable option to pick up yards on the play. The only other viable option on the play is to throw a jump ball to Lewis, who's running the route to the bottom of the play, but the linebacker has the underneath position on the play and it would be a very risky play in your own territory early in the game.

So was this play a problem of play calling, or play execution?

The next play we're going to look at is the very next play on the drive, after a false start penalty. It's 3rd-and-20 from the Jaguars own 15-yard line, which typically early in the game is a "give up" down and you run a draw or something and punt. The Jaguars however wanted to be aggressive on the play and try to pick up the first down. The Jaguars line up with three wide receivers and tight end Marcedes Lewis and running back Maurice Jones-Drew on either side of Blaine Gabbert in the shotgun formation. The result of the play is just a five-yard scramble by Gabbert, which in turn is the likely play he injured his butt on. So what happened?

The Texans once again drop seven men into zone coverage, rushing just three players on the play. The Jaguars offensive line actually protects Gabbert and look like they're going to give him a clean pocket to step into, but for some reason left guard Herb Taylor decides to give help to Eugene Monroe on the play. Monroe doesn't really need an assist on the play. The defensive lineman initially gets Monroe on his heels, but Monroe looks like he's beginning to anchor and hold up the lineman, but Taylor comes over and hits the lineman, knocking him free of Monroe's grasp and then forcing pressure behind Gabbert, causing him to take the available rushing lane.

The Texans have the Jaguars routes well covered on the play, but on the bottom of the screen rookie receiver Justin Blackmon appears to be flashing through a hole in the coverage that Gabbert could have had a shot at and is a play he's hit on the past to the sideline. There is an available window to the back shoulder over the the nickel corner who shades over. If the throw has enough arch, Blackmon has the underneath position on the defender over the top of him and can make a play on the ball. The same type of play/throw is available on the top of the play, but with a linebacker in coverage.

So was this play a problem of play calling, or play execution?

The final play we're going to look at is in the second quarter with the Jaguars backed up to their own endzone. It's 3rd-and-9 from the Jaguars own six-yard line. The offense comes out with three wide receivers, tight end Marcedes Lewis next to the slot receiver, and Maurice Jones-Drew in the backfield with Blaine Gabbert in the shotgun. The result of the play is a one-yard loss to Jones-Drew. So what happened?

Initially when I watched this, I got excited because the Jaguars receivers and tight end are running a variation of Four Verts, which is one of my favorite plays in football. Watching it more closely and over and over, you can clearly see that this play is a designed screen pass to Jones-Drew. The Texans do a great job of blanketing the Jaguars receivers on the play in man coverage with a safety shading over the top of Laurent Robinson deep, but the biggest issue on the play was a whiffed block by guard Herb Taylor on the screen. Taylor engages the defensive lineman initially, then pulls out to be the lead blocker for Jones-Drew on the play. Taylor whiffs on the block of Quintin Demps however, and the play is stopped in the backfield for a loss. Had Taylor hit his block, Jones-Drew has a lot of running room to easily pick up the first down and then some on the play, possibly taking it for a touchdown if he can make a guy miss and Robinson blocks the other defender.

So was this play a problem of play calling, or play execution?

While the Jaguars are in a frustrating place right now, we need to direct our anger to the right place. Play calling is one of the easiest things to criticize incorrectly. While the Jaguars play calling is indeed limited by what they have on the offensive line right now, they still had some plays where they could have picked up chunks of yardage if the execution was there.