Yesterday, I wrote about the Jacksonville Jaguars opening drives for the first quarter of the season. They were largely successful — thanks to zero turnovers, nearly 10 plays a drive, and points in each game.
Now we’re on Games 5-8 where if not for a fumble in the opposing red zone, this team would have come away with at least 17 points (and possibly 21) on four opening drives. Instead they saw a three-and-out, a breakaway score, a long, sustained drive, and a turnover.
So, what can we learn from how the opening drive offense evolved over the course of 16 games and where they are headed into this year? Let’s find out.
Plays: 26 total (6.5 per opening drive)
Third down conversions: 4-for-6 (66.7 percent)
Yards: 180 total (45.0 yards per opening drive)
Turnovers: 1.0 (0.25 per opening drive)
Time of possession: 12:58 total (3:15 per opening drive)
Points: 14.0 total (3.5 per opening drive)
Just like the first four games, these four games are scripted from the beginning as Doug Marrone football. All four games start with running backs running behind the guard and all four games have a nearly 2:1 ratio of runs vs. passes. This was the case no matter which running back started the game — Leonard Fournette (two games) or Chris Ivory (two games).
Again, the opening drive and scoring points early is incredibly important for this offense and it shows the importance they placed on securing All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell during free agency.
This is also when Marqise Lee started to separate himself from the pack in terms of who’s consistently getting targets on opening drives, which you’ll see as the weeks go on. Two of his three targets over the course of Games 5-8 are on third down.
A pattern is starting to emerge too in how the scripted games went. As the offense is able to move down the field they start with inside runs, then they add in passes that travel about five yards downfield (twice as often to the left as to the right), then they add in off-tackle runs, then they take shots downfield with passes that travel 10 or more yards downfield. In all eight games so far, if a drive went for more than three plays this was the strategy — as though the momentum of moving down field allowed them to add another tool to the belt.
So when did they start to break this trend I mentioned above? Game 8 against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The second play against the Bengals was a shotgun formation with an empty backfield (the first time there was an empty backfield in an opening drive yet this season) and Blake Bortles hit Keelan Cole with his second read for a a 12-yard gain. Maybe that’s what Doug Marrone meant earlier in the offseason when he said Bortles’ turning point was Week 9?
Speaking of Bortles, his efficiency was outstanding — 80.0 completion percentage on 10 attempts. This is largely because of how offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett scripted the game. Rarely did a ball even travel more than 10 yards in the air to an intended receiver and at no point did an attempt go more than 15 yards past the line of scrimmage, going 6-for-8 on short passes and 2-for-2 on intermediate passes.
Apart from his opening drive throws, Bortles was pretty accurate the rest of the game in Games 5-8, completing 65.3 percent of his passes.
And most importantly again — no turnovers by Bortles. The lone turnover came in Game 8 against the Bengals when T.J. Yeldon fumbled on an terrible, no good, awful play where pretty much everything went wrong.
The offensive line allowed zero sacks, let in zero pressures, and paved the way for 6.7 yards per carry.
So far through half their games, the trend has been to run the ball early and often with Bortles asked to do very little more than complete a few short passes and not turn the ball over. And it’s resulted in 30 points over eight drives — a 3.75 point per drive average.
When you figure that the Jaguars averaged only 1.90 points per drive on average over the entire season (good for 13th in the league) it’s encouraging that their opening drives are more than doubly efficient than any other drive in the game.