This week, we’ve looked at the Jacksonville Jaguars offense and how they performed on opening drives in games throughout the season. You can see them split up by groups of four games each here — the first quarter, second quarter, third quarter, and fourth quarter.
Overall, the raw stats look good, but there is a ton of room for improvement. With three-and-outs dominating the second half of the season, the Jaguars need to focus on what they did right and fix what they did wrong.
Where are the strengths and weaknesses of the Jaguars offense when it comes to opening drives? Let’s recap.
2017 opening drives
Plays: 102 total (6.4 plays per opening drive)
Third down conversions: 10-for-22 (45.5 percent)
Yards: 551 total (34.4 yards per opening drive)
Turnovers: 1 (0.06 per opening drive)
Time of possession: 49:04 total (3:04 per opening drive)
Points: 37.0 total (2.3 per opening drive)
When you look at the big picture, it’s not as encouraging as it could be. The Jaguars declined in every major metric except turnovers. They consistently declined in plays per drive, third down conversion efficiency, total yards per drive, how long they were able to hold onto the ball, and how frequently they scored on opening drives.
But one big, important piece stayed solid the entire year — limiting turnovers.
Blake Bortles didn’t turn the ball over once and if not for a fluke T.J. Yeldon turnover in Game 8 against the Cincinnati Bengals, the team would’ve been turnover free over the course of 16 opening drives in 2017.
That’s a big deal. A really big deal. Bortles’ penchant for a dumb play wasn’t present in opening drives and that’s one of the things you want to set the tone in at the very beginning of the game.
Where does the team go from here?
Well, first things first — the run game. The team started games on offense with a run over the left guard more than any other play in 2017. They know this is how they want to establish themselves and went out and got the best left guard they could find in free agency in Andrew Norwell.
Leonard Fournette is also going to need some help and Chris Ivory wasn’t it last year, averaging just 1.5 yards per carry on opening drives. With Corey Grant’s second-round tender a few months back, I think we’ll see more of him on third downs and that might trickle into opening drives — although I’d imagine T.J. Yeldon will be the early third down back catching passes out of the backfield.
As far as the passing game, Bortles has got to be more accurate on opening drives. Sure, a nearly 60 percent completion percentage may look good over the course of a season, but the opening drive is the set of plays you are most prepared for. These have to be the plays Bortles is hitting with regular and consistent accuracy.
I’d also like to see a few more deep shots on opening drives although I may come to regret that — nearly 90 percent of Bortles’ attempts traveled less than 10 yards in the air and it was his most accurate subset of passes. If the ball is going 15, 20, 25 yards in the air, I think we’ll see a similarly inaccurate completion percentage (and maybe even a turnover or two) on opening drives in 2018.
Marqise Lee sticking around also makes a little more sense now. No other receiver was more productive on opening drives. Keelan Cole will probably start games as the No. 3 guy behind Lee and Donte Moncrief simply because he led the team in targets on opening drives despite only really playing significant snaps for about half the season.
And although the tight ends weren’t really that involved, it’s not for lack of trying. Tight ends saw eight targets last year on opening drives, but only caught two of them. This partly goes back to Bortles’ accuracy but also about tight ends getting separation and making catches over the middle of the field.
The Jaguars are poised to be even better on opening drives in 2018 because they improved upon their strengths — running the ball up the middle — with the signing of left guard Andrew Norwell. If this team runs the ball more, focus on Bortles’ short passing game, and doesn’t turn the ball over, they’ll improve upon their 2.3 points per drive.