The Jacksonville Jaguars offense in 2016 was, for lack of a softer term, an utter disaster. The team failed to build on the explosive plays that seemed almost routine during the 2015 season. Third year quarterback Blake Bortles regressed, way more than anyone expected and not for the reasons most expected. A lot of people, including myself, thought Bortles numbers would come short of his 2015 season, but because the offense would be more balanced and he wouldn't need to do as much.
That ended up very wrong.
It took nearly half way through the NFL season before then head coach Gus Bradley decided to make a change at the offensive coordinator position. At the time, I defended then coordinator Greg Olson in the sense that it wasn't totally his fault the offense was what it was, but he definitely had his own issues. We saw that when not much changed once Nathaniel Hackett took over for a few weeks. There was a slight bump right away, but in the end it was just about the same.
The real change came once Gus Bradley was fired. We heard little things in how interim head coach Doug Marrone and Hackett said things that made it sound like other things were at play in holding the offense back. Was Gus Bradley just too stubborn to change things, or what? We'll probably never know, but there were some interesting changes once Bradley left.
Thanks to a new tool over at Sharp Football (warning: you'll fall down a rabbit hole) we can see what kind of formation tendencies the Jaguars liked to use during the season. I decided to break it down by number of plays in personnel groupings from Weeks 1 through 8, Weeks 9 through 15 and Weeks 16 and 17. Basically with Olson, with Hackett and without Bradley.
Here were the results:
If you're unfamiliar with the groupings: 11 - 1RB1TE3 WR, 12 - 1RB2TE2WR, 21 - 2RB1TE2WR, 22 - 2RB2TE1WR, etc.
As you can see, the vast majority of the season the Jaguars were in 11 personnel, which is to be expected. The team have a nice trio of receivers in Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee. While they had Julius Thomas at tight end, it's pretty clear he wasn't providing what they wanted and the team had no fullback, so generally they only had a single back in the backfield.
As you can see, with both Olson and Hackett the Jaguars were mostly the same. Hackett used a little more 12 personnel, which you can probably equate to injuries at receiver with the likes of Greene and Hurns. The real interesting shift however was when Bradley was gone completely and Hackett seemed to have a bit more freedom.
I've mentioned this in the past but, for the majority of the 2015 and 2016 seasons, the Jaguars were very pass heavy. It was more noticeable in 2016 because the Jaguars were in games that were a lot closer than the losses the previous season, was how fast the team seemed to abandon running the ball. When Bradley was fired the team ended up a lot more balanced in their run/pass disparity than the prior 14 weeks.
As you can see in the chart, the Jaguars not only continued to play out of 11 personnel the majority of the time, but it also took a significant spike from being used around 75 percent of the time to 90 percent of the time. That's 130 snaps in just two games. Through the previous 14 weeks the Jaguars ran plays out of 11 personnel at an average of 47.6 snaps per game. As you can tell, that's a much lower rate than the final two. The final two games also saw the Jaguars use more no-huddle and run the ball significantly better than they had in the past.
Does this mean we can expect a lot more 11 personnel groupings from the Jaguars in 2017 along with more no-huddle?
I definitely think we will see the Jaguars run a lot more 11 personnel, as well as some 21 personnel when they eventually add a fullback. You can also kind of guess that based on how Coughlin and Marrone talked about what they want from a tight end, in that they seemed to indicate more of a "base" tight end who can play in-line without tipping the offense's hand.
The way the Jaguars roster is built on offense, they should be in 11 personnel the majority of the time. They have a handful of pretty good receivers, so they're going to want three of them out there as much as possible. One of the issues with a player like Julius Thomas, which the Jaguars probably should have foresaw when they signed him, was he's just not an in-line tight end. If you're running 11 personnel with Thomas on the field, more often than not he's going to be flexed out as one of the wide receivers rather than being the in-line tight end. On a team with lesser players at receiver that's what you want, but just on pure matchup issues, the Jaguars are better off with Lee, Hurns or Robinson out in the slot than a tight end.
The biggest problem was the Jaguars just could absolutely not run out of this formation, which is why they'll likely sign a fullback or even draft an h-back type player who can line up at tight end and block/run routes out of the backfield. It lets them do some of the same stuff, but with a little more flexibility.
As far as the no-huddle, I do think we will see more of it. Bortles was a heck of a lot more efficient in those final two games than he was the vast majority of the rest of the season. Part of it I think the pressure was finally off with Bradley fired and he could just go out and play rather than worry about trying to save someone's job, but the other part was he's simply better when he just goes out and plays. I don't really know how to explain or word that, but hopefully you understand what I mean. I don't want to say that it makes him think less, because I don't want to insinuate he's dumb, but I think when Bortles is forced into making snap decisions he plays better.
As far as the improvement in the running game the last two games, I think it was simply a case of the Jaguars just stuck with it. The Jaguars weren't just bad running the football, they also only averaged 24.5 rushing attempts per game for the season, which includes quarterback runs. That was near the bottom of the league, but in those final two games the Jaguars were significantly more balanced with their run/pass distribution than they had in the past. Sure, the Jaguars were playing from behind a lot, but they lost eight games by a touchdown or less. They weren't losing to the point where they had to become so pass heavy.
I'm not sure if they panicked a bit and just went pass heavy or what, but Bortles is not that kind of quarterback like Drew Brees where you want him to throw the ball 40-50 times a game. Is that a knock on Bortles as a quarterback, that you don't want him to throw the ball a lot? Sure? I guess? That's a topic for another day, but, it's no secret Bortles looked the most efficient he's been in a long time in the two games where the team's offense was balanced. Even when they were averaging under four yards per carry, they stuck with it and it helped.
This is getting a little rant-y and I feel like I'm kind of losing direction, so let's wrap up.
The Jaguars seemed to go all in on running their offense through 11 personnel and play more hurry up when Gus Bradley was fired and the reigns seemed to be loosened on Hackett. Prior to that, the offense remained largely the same as it was under Olson. Again, it's only two games worth of data and I wasn't able to pull the same information to the 2015 season to compare like I wanted to, but it's something to keep an eye on in training camp and the preseason.