The Jacksonville Jaguars offense the last two weeks has left a lot to be desired and put a lot of fans in a frustrated/worried state heading into the divisional round of the 2018 NFL Playoffs against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Jaguars offense has generated a total of 459 total offense yards and 13 points the past two weeks.
In fact, the last two weeks have been the Jaguars lowest offensive outputs the entire season. That’s not really how you want to be rolling into the second round of the playoffs, but here we are. It’s a hard issue to pin down, because it’s not entirely on one specific thing causing the issues.
Blake Bortles hasn’t been great throwing the football the past two weeks, especially on Sunday against the Bills. The Jaguars run game, outside of Bortles scrambling, has been almost non-existent because the offensive line hasn’t been great and the running backs haven’t been able to create something when nothing is there. In reality, everything seems broken.
So, what needs to happen?
Go back to what worked. Previously the Jaguars were running a lot of easier combination routes with easy natural picks and would create space. They’d run a lot of mesh type concepts over the middle that would usually free up someone for Bortles to throw to. While this opens up to possible tipped balls because of lineman or it being behind the receiver, it’s been in large part their most effective thing passing the ball.
You have to mix in some deep shots as well, early in the game. The Jaguars should have their full array of healthy wide receivers on Sunday, so test a sketchy Steelers secondary down the field early on. I understand why the Jaguars did what they did against the Bills, going for shorter passes and screens to combat a loaded box and catch them looking in the backfield, but you also have to try to back them off early in the game. Bortles hasn’t exactly instilled confidence passing the ball the past few weeks, but you’ve got to do better in the passing game if you want to win.
Jaguars offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett has taken a lot of heat the last two games, but in my personal opinion what he’s doing overall has made sense considering the circumstances. Bortles has gone from those high peaks where he was shredding teams in early December to now bottoming out and struggling to even hit a screen pass with accuracy. He doesn’t need to go out and throw for 300 yards, but he also can’t struggle to even eclipse 100 again.
To Blake’s credit he kind of knew it wasn’t working for him on Sunday so he decided to use his legs more to pick up yardage and keep drives alive. He needs to go to that well a bit more and recognize that early in games, because that can also end up helping the passing game. If a defense feels like they have to commit a spy to Bortles, that’s one less person focusing on filling the box and will lead to some more zone coverages.
In large part however, Bortles simply just has to play better than he has.
Running the Ball
The Jaguars ended the season with the No. 1 ranked rush offense in the NFL, but to be frank, that ranking is a total fraud. The Jaguars have struggled to run the football most of the season and have been buoyed in the rankings by things like fake punts from Corey Grant and Bortles running with the ball.
Leonard Fournette, the Jaguars fourth overall pick this season, has averaged under four yards per carry in 10 of his 11 games this season. His season average is just 3.88 and two of the last three games his yards per carry has been under three. Some of the issue is the offensive line and the Jaguars have had injuries and some of it is teams still loading the box to stifle Fournette, but some of it is also on the rookie just not doing more with what he’s given.
According to NFL’s Next Gen stats, Fournette has faced eight or more in the box on 48.51 percent of the time, which is the fifth most out of qualifying runners, two spots lower than his teammate Chris Ivory at 50.89 percent. The excuse that Fournette is running into loaded boxes is entirely valid, but his efficiency in doing so also isn’t what it should be for a player of his caliber.
As mentioned, some of the issue here is a combination of offensive line play, loaded boxes and Fournette himself. You’ll remember prior to the 2017 NFL Draft there were some issues raised about Fournette and his ability to “create” as a running back versus leaning on the play of his offensive line and some of that is starting to bear.
It’s true the Jaguars offensive line hasn’t been great in the run blocking department, however they haven’t been so bad that Fournette should be in large part in effective and really only productive because of the volume of his carries. Even with facing so many stacked boxes, there should still be times where Fournette is able to make something out of nothing, be it making someone miss or bouncing the run to the outside and picking up yardage.
This is an area Fournette has struggled this season and I’m not entirely sure what can be done about it, other than investing heavily into the offensive line the offseason. I think that is probably a good idea regardless, but in order for the Jaguars to keep going in the playoffs he’s going to have to put his super star first round pick shoes on and start making some things happen. He was picked fourth overall for a reason, and that reason wasn’t just to simply run through the holes the offensive line provides.
With that issue being there, it’s probably time for the Jaguars to start bleeding some of Fournette’s carries to guys like TJ Yeldon and Corey Grant as well, since they both offer something different to the defense and have shown an ability to make something out of inadequate blocking with their quickness and/or speed to the outside.
To wrap it all up for the run game, Bortles should be running the ball some more as well and maybe the team should work in a few more RPO’s (run-pass option) plays just to keep the defense on their heels.