The Jacksonville Jaguars snapped their four game winning streak in Sunday’s 27-24 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, but it felt like a long time coming the way the offense has been playing since the bye week. All those issues and limitations came to head on Sunday, which wasn’t helped by a brutal late interception in field goal range by Blake Bortles. Even though the team dominated the Cincinnati Bengals coming out of the bye week 23-7, the signs were there that the offense was poised to struggle. The team struggled to run the football, albeit with a benched Leonard Fournette, but even Fournette’s return didn’t seem to alleviate the issues.
The point output from the offense on paper seems fine, but when you really look and see how often the team gets a non-offensive score, you see the difference and how much close the games were than the scoreboard. In every game since the bye week, the teams’ point output has been buoyed by either a special teams or defensive touchdown. This isn’t even factoring in when the offense scores after being setup in field goal range by the defense. The issue is the offense has struggled to put together scoring drives, especially touchdown drives. They’ve struggled to maintain drives and after going 1-of-12 on third down on Sunday, have been just 24 of 68 (35.3 percent) on third downs since the bye week, which is below their season average of 36 percent. That number is also buoyed by an abnormal 12 of 18 day on third down against the Bengals.
The Jaguars didn’t rankly highly on the season in third down percentages as is, but the amount of third and long the team has faced since the bye feels like it has spiked a considerable amount. I haven’t gone through and parsed every third down on the season, but with the inability of the run game it feels like teams are forcing the Jaguars into obvious passing downs on third downs.
The last three weeks we’ve seen teams totally sell out to stop the Jaguars run game and it’s worked. If you look at just the effectiveness of the Jaguars running game from the running back position, it’s been pretty bad since the bye week. Sure, Leonard Fournette had over 100 yards against the Browns, but it was after nearly 30 attempts and the team forcing it. The Jaguars first round draft pick has averaged just 2.9 yards per carry the last three weeks, and while the offensive line is missing two starters, he simply does not look the same as he did early in the season when teams stacked the box.
Not only are teams stacking the box on the Jaguars, but when they get them in third and long situations, they send pressure nearly every time and it works. I lost count of how many times on Sunday I saw the Cardinals defense overload the weakside of the Jaguars offensive line pre-snap only for Blake Bortles to seemingly be surprised there was a pass rusher in his face so early. The team is struggling to make pre-snap adjustments in the form of adjusting protections and/or setting up their hot routes. I don’t know if Bortles has the freedom to make those calls, but at the very least he should be ready to get the ball out quickly in those situations and offensive coordinator Nate Hackett should have something to back those plays off after the second or third time it comes.
While the Jaguars record is 3-1 in the past four games, it’s a very tenuous 3-1 that has relied on special teams and the defense to score points and create a cushion for their offense. The last three weeks however, teams have executed the blueprint to shut down the Jaguars offense and force the game to be close, negating the big advantage of the Jaguars defense. The defense is doing all they can to keep the games close, and even in Sunday’s game with two blown coverages allowing touchdowns, they scored a touchdown and gave the offense the ball back with the game tied late. You can only expect them to stop the other teams so many times before something gives, so the offense needs to start pulling their weight.
I don’t know exactly what the offense can do to improve things, other than the players simply executing at a higher level than they have. The quarterback needs to make better throws and decisions, but the receivers also need to start making some plays and playing above the X’s and O’s. There were a handful of drops in Sunday’s loss, Keelan Cole having a big one on a deep pass. Albeit Bortles throw the ball to the wrong hashmark, making the catch more difficult than it should have been, it was still a catch that Cole should be coming down with. Bortles didn’t complete a pass over 10 yards against the Cardinals, be it because of an inaccurate pass or a drop, but something needs to change in that regard, though I’m not sure what can actually change.
As far as the run game, the most effective play was Bortles keeping the ball on read-option or on a bootleg, but that’s a risky proposition to continue to do going forward. Bortles has been sturdy, as far as avoiding injury, but you also don’t want to over expose him to taking hits if you don’t have to. The team is going to have to figure out how to manufacture running yards from somewhere else, be it from different run concepts or a short and quick passing game to act as a pseudo-run game. Running it off center into loaded boxes clearly isn’t going to work, especially when it seems pretty clear that Fournette still isn’t 100 percent.