Through two games, we're starting to see offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch's offense form it's identity. The Jaguars are currently second in the league in terms of time elapsed between snap and throw - second only to the Philadelphia Eagles. More importantly though, we saw Blaine Gabbert take some incremental steps, giving some hope that the Jaguars can at least have a functional offense this year.
The most noticeable difference between the first and second game of the preseason was Gabbert’s patience. The Jaguars so far have made a major emphasis on playing at a fast tempo and getting the ball out quickly, and Gabbert did a much better job of not rushing his post-snap reads and allowing plays to develop against New York than he did against Miami.
If you remember from the Jedd Fisch Offensive Primer, one of our new offensive coordinator's favorite pass concepts is the Snag Concept. Snag features a CHINA (Corner High-Low) route combination from two inside receivers and a Mini-Curl route from an outside receiver. The combination of a Corner/Flat High-Low stretch and the Curl/Flat Horizontal stretch forms to create a Triangle Stretch against the defense. The quarterback's progression goes from deep-to-short on the Corner/Mini-Curl combo. If the defense is able to take both of those routes away, there will likely be a void for the Curl runner to settle into.
(Miami running Snag off of Outside Zone action under Fisch)
Gabbert's final play in the first preseason game against Miami resulted in an interception off of Snag. Granted, the interception came off a deflection as the ball ricocheted directly off of fullback Will Ta'ufo'ou's facemask, but Gabbert rushed the progression and made a sub-optimal choice on where to go with the football.
Miami runs Cover Two - the exact coverage the Corner High/Low combination is designed to attack. The safety to the playside bails deep and the cornerback gets sucked up into the Flats, leaving Marcedes Lewis wide open on the Corner route. As you can see, the design of the play sets up so that Gabbert's drop times up with Lewis' break. The ball should come out in rhythm and arrive well before the safety has a chance to react up. However, after the playfake, Gabbert immediately throws the flat route to the fullback, leading to the deflection and interception.
The Jaguars called a similar Triangle concept against the Jets in a 1st and 20 situation this past Saturday. It featured the same Corner High/Low combination, but the horizontal stretch came from a backside crosser - as opposed to a mini-Curl from outside of the Corner/Flat combo. The progression is identical to Snag - High-to-Low (or Corner-to-Flat) and then onto the receiver creating the Horizontal stretch (in this case, the tight end running a Drag from the backside).
The Jets run Cover One (man coverage across the board with a deep safety over the top), meaning that there won't be any natural voids where the defense gets stretched. The players running patterns have to simply beat their man and make a play on the ball. Gabbert completes his drop and fires the ball into Blackmon's chest in rhythm coming out of his break on the Corner route. Note that Blackmon is actually more "covered" on this play than Lewis was on the Snag. One extra split-second of patience makes all the difference between a negative play and a 15-yard completion.
Gabbert's accuracy in the short passing game also seem improved from a week ago. It goes without saying that accuracy is an integral part of playing quarterback, but precision is an absolute necessity for any quick, rhythm-based pass game (which the Jaguars have been utilizing greatly so far this preseason).
Ace Sanders runs a quick Square-In against a cornerback in press-man coverage. He does an excellent job of sinking his hips and using his hands to fight the corner off his chest (and actually pushes the corner to the ground out of his break). However, Gabbert's high pass causes Sanders to break his stride and jump to bring the football in - giving the cornerback the split-second he needs to recover and disrupt Sanders at the catch point. Like with the interception, the blame on this play doesn't solely lie with Gabbert. Sanders contributed to the poor outcome, much like Ta'ufo'ou on the interception. However, it's another good example of small details being the difference between a routine play and a wasted play.
Gabbert puts everything together against an overload blitz with man coverage behind it on 3rd and 9 against the Jets. Instead of rushing a throw to the Quick-Out to the slot receiver (who the safety begins driving down on immediately out of the break), he waits a split-second longer and throws to the Reisner on the deeper Out.
Not only does Gabbert show improved patience by not jumping onto the Quick-Out, his precision in hitting the deeper Out allows for yardage after catch and, ultimately, the first down. The Jets' overload blitz comes to the same side as the passing strength, forcing their man coverage defenders to cover a lot of ground post-snap. With Gabbert hitting the Out in rhythm and with accuracy, he gives the linebacker no chance to recover and disrupt Reisner at the catch point like the Sanders play.
The hallmark of Jaguars quarterback play over the last few seasons has been major inconsistency (not just week-to-week, but drive-to-drive). The Jets challenged Gabbert with a lot of man coverage and blitzes, and he responded with solid drives. The offense overcame penalties, mistakes, and bad situations for the first time in what seems like eternity. In typical Jaguars fashion, Gabbert's day ended with a fracture to the thumb on his throwing hand, which will cause him to miss the remainder of the preseason. Once the regular season resumes, it will be interesting to see if these were true steps toward progress for the young quarterback or just another frustrating flash in the pan.