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What’s the deal with Leonard Fournette and the Jaguars run game?

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Jacksonville Jaguars v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

In Sunday’s 27-24 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, the Jacksonville Jaguars struggled on offense, most notably in the run game. The Jaguars running backs combined for just 25 yards and much of the fourth quarter we saw fourth overall pick Leonard Fournette standing on the sideline. It was frustrating and confusing to watch the team’s first round pick and arguably best offensive player standing there in a critical moment in the game, leading many fans to question what exactly was going on and if Fournette was still not completely healthy from injuring his ankle against the Los Angeles Rams.

My guess is that based on the packages the team was using during that part of the game, which was more focused on shotgun and passing the football, leaned more to T.J. Yeldon due to his ability to block in the backfield and catch the ball out of the backfield. Either way, something needs to change in the run game and Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone knows it.

“It’s something we have to change,” Marrone said Monday evening in regards to his concerns with the Jaguars run game. “We want to be able to run the football and put ourselves in manageable situations. I think that’s going to help us, along with our play-action game and being able to take shots, basically, what our philosophy has been the whole time. I’ve got to do a better job, and the coaches, of putting those guys in good position, schematically, and being able to take advantage of some of these heavy fronts that we see.”

(via NFLSavant.com)

The Jaguars run game has been noticeably bad since the bye week and it’s left a lot of questions that fans are struggling to find the answer. As you can see the Jaguars are most effective running the ball between the tackles, even though that’s probably the biggest complaint from the fans in the run game. The root of the issue though, is teams stack the box to force the Jaguars into passing situations and the team still slams the ball into a nine man front and end up in third and long. Then when the Jaguars are forced into throwing the football, and into a shotgun formation, it seems Fournette comes out of the game and is on the sideline.

Prior to the 2017 NFL Draft, there was a big discussion on if Fournette was actually a fit for the Jaguars offense because of his issues in college running the ball out of the shotgun. So far through 11 games in the NFL, Fournette is close to a full yard per carry worse than the rest of the running backs running the ball out of the shotgun. Fournette has 40 carries out of the shotgun for just 117 yards (2.9 YPC) while the rest of the running backs have 54 carries out of the gun for 201 yards (3.7 YPC). Now, it doesn’t seem like a huge disparity, but it is an issue because the best the Jaguars have been passing the ball is out of the shotgun because that fits Blake Bortles.

This means that even though teams stack the box to force you into passing situations, you’re even further tipping your hand based on the formation you’re in. The Jaguars have passed the ball just 94 times from under center, which is just a quarter (27 percent) of their passing plays. On the flipside, the Jaguars have run the ball from under center 248 times which is 70 percent of their runs. Essentially the Jaguars running back and quarterback are the antithesis of what each other is most efficient at. While it’s not a surprise to teams that the Jaguars ideally want to run the football and not pass the ball very much, being that open book about it that the formation almost always keys you to what kind of play is happening isn’t going to help the team’s offense get out of a rut.

You also have the issue of just how healthy Fournette is right now, too. He hasn’t been nearly effective since he hurt his ankle against the Rams prior to the bye week, and not just on the box score. He’s visably different in the game. Previously even if he got stuffed, you still saw him fall forward for a short game and very rarely was stopped for a loss. Over the past three weeks however he’s had a lot more negative runs than he did prior and it’s putting the offense in really tough second and third downs. Sure, some of it has to do with right tackle Jermey Parnell being out and I think the loss of Patrick Omameh is kind of a wash with the other guys playing guard, but it doesn’t appear to simply just be because Parnell has been out of the lineup.

So what do you do to fix it? Do you force the ball to Fournette from the shotgun and just hope more attempts improves his effectiveness? Do you start passing the ball more from under center with Bortles and hope that it improves?

That’s the question that offensive coordinator Nate Hackett is going to have to figure out over the next five weeks. Luckily the Indianapolis Colts are next on the schedule and even with the offense as is, the Jaguars should be able to just out-talent the Colts.