clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

5 questions with Football Outsiders: The run game looked like it improved more than it actually did

NFL: Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Jacksonville Jaguars are just about to hit the middle of their 2017 preseason schedule, so we thought it’d be a good idea to sit down with Tom Gower over at Football Outsiders and get a couple of deep-dive statistics that will help us know what to expect out of this team.

1. Statistically speaking, what’s better for this current Jaguars offense: high-volume, high-variance Blake Bortles, or low-volume, potentially efficient Blake Bortles?

Can Bortles be efficient if they ask him to throw fewer passes? I think that’s the big question here, and we don’t have a great answer. The defense improved last year, but he didn’t, until the Jaguars were down multiple scores. He was particularly bad in the base offense (12/21 personnel) sets we think they’ll try to run with Leonard Fournette. An improved run game should help, but he needs to be more effective and make better decisions.

2. Last year, the Jaguars run game improved when Nathaniel Hackett took over for Greg Olson when the latter was fired after Week 8. What was the difference? Did Hackett have a better understanding of the offense, thereby calling better plays? Or did something else happen?

Through Week 8, the Jaguars were last in the league with a rushing DVOA of -27.1%. From Week 9-17, the Jaguars had a rushing DVOA of -20.3%, sixth-worst. So they were better, but still not good. It looked like it improved more than it did, because Jacksonville faced an easier slate of run defenses the second half of the season.

By player, T.J. Yeldon had almost exactly the same rush offense DVOA both halves (-24.6% v. -25.0%). By our numbers, the big difference is mostly Chris Ivory. The early-season injury obviously slowed him (-49.6% DVOA under Olson), but the last three games he played (the 33 carries against the Lions and Bills in Weeks 11-12 and Titans in Week 16) were the best work he played. I didn’t see a real strong story of improvement there, aside from maybe health, so that’s not something I went into in the chapter.

3. How will this Jaguars team navigate around the fact that their offensive line is largely the same as it was in 2016?


I wish I had a good answer, or a better answer than you could get from somebody else, but I just don’t know. Coaching, internal improvement, and an unexpectedly good rookie season from Cam Robinson now that we’re pretty sure he’s playing left tackle (as I write this, Branden Albert has just been released after un-retiring) seem to be the best bets. It happened for Tennessee last year, and I didn’t expect it to happen there. I’d feel better if the line that starts Week 1 was the line as it looked after the draft, in May, in June, and when training camp opened, but as long as it looks good in Week 1, that doesn’t matter.

4. Where is Calais Campbell’s best position, statistically speaking?

Of the plays he made last year, he was more likely to make a play in run defense when Arizona had a three-man defensive line, and in pass defense when Arizona had a four-man defensive line.

I asked Bryan Knowles, who wrote the Arizona chapter this year, and he noted he played most often last year as a 3-technique, but also played more 1-technique than he had in past seasons and was also moved around a decent amount. He has experience as a 5-tech from earlier in his career.

If the plan is to play him as a defensive end in base situations and kick him inside in sub packages, that makes sense to me.

5. What is Dante Fowler best at? How can he carve out a long-term role for himself in this league?

The answer I had coming out of Florida was as a good all-around player who’s best used on third downs in a joker role as a rusher coming from a variety of places instead of a defensive end you can reliably line up on the edge of, say, a four-man line and expect him to get pressure on the quarterback that way.

We had him with more total pressures than Yannick Ngakoue last year (31 hurries vs. 21), and total pressures has been a better predictor of future sacks than actual sack totals. I was skeptical of him coming out, but there’s a reasonable story to tell about how he had a good first real season and we should expect bigger and better things from him in his second year removed from injury. I’d give him another year before putting him firmly in Andre Branch territory.