The Jacksonville Jaguars are about to start their 2018 campaign with training camp — picking up where they left off with a loss in the AFC Championship to the New England Patriots. The loss was a gut punch, plain and simple, not simply because it was one bad quarter away from the franchise’s first Super Bowl but because with a few minor tweaks that game is ours.
What if the Jaguars had been able to average more than 3.2 yards per carry and keep the ball out of Tom Brady’s hands for a few less minutes?
What if the Jaguars coaches had called a better game in the second half?
What if Corey Grant hadn’t been shut down by the Patriots defense?
What if the tight ends had been able to win their matchups in the passing game?
If we think we’ve been haunted by these questions, imagine the Jaguars front office popping the game tape in and seeing that the game really was decided by a razor thin margin. It would frustrate them, madden them — but then it would motivate them to tackle this offseason in a certain way to make sure that sort of thing never happened again.
How did the loss to the Patriots in the AFC Championship affect how the Jaguars went about their offseason? Let’s get to it.
1. Blake Bortles gets a short extension
Let’s get right to it — Bortles was absolutely balling in the first half of this game. After an opening drive where he went 3-for-5 for 16 yards, he completed his next 10 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown. By halftime, he was 13-for-15 for 154 yards and a touchdown. It was 14-10 in favor of the Jaguars and without a bogus pass interference call against A.J. Bouye along the sideline, this game might have gotten out of hand quickly.
Bortles took the game into his hands in the Wild Card game against the Buffalo Bills and then played out of his damn mind in the AFC Divisional game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. This team believes more than they don’t that Bortles can take this defense and running game to a Super Bowl and it’s justified.
But make no mistake, Bortles is not a slam dunk. He signed an extension that amounts to a two-year bridge that the team can get out of in case his 2018 goes down the toilet. Bortles showed against the Patriots he can get it done, not that he will get it done — hence the new contract.
2. Corey Grant earns a second-round tender
When the Jaguars placed a second-round tender on Grant, there was a bit of head scratching. He’s a good player who does specific things really, really well, but he’s not a true feature running back. Why such a hefty value?
Because in the first two quarters, Grant was a weapon that jumpstarted the rest of the offense to a 14-10 halftime lead.
Late in the second quarter, Grant had amassed 59 receiving yards on three catches in addition to returning kicks. He didn’t see a single touch in the second half, but that’s both on the Patriots defense shutting him down and Nathaniel Hackett not putting more of the gameplan around him.
And (probably) rightly so. If not for a bogus interference call, a negated Myles Jack touchdown, or a blown 3rd-and-18 conversion from Danny Amendola, this game would be looked at as a coaching masterpiece.
Grant will get more touches in 2018 and it all stems from him proving it in this game.
3. Andrew Norwell gets PAID
The Jaguars averaged just 3.2 yards per carry throughout the game and when they needed to run out the clock in the fourth quarter, it was even worse.
The run philosophy was strange by offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. In 2017, Fournette ran out of a shotgun formation just 88 times for an underwhelming 3.4 yards per carry. Compare that 251 attempts under center for 4.0 yards per carry.
Now look at the Jaguars’ four fourth quarter drives — every single run play was out of the shotgun formation and it was a disaster. Leonard Fournette had just four runs for three yards in the fourth quarter.
That needs to change and Norwell’s presence at left guard will be a big part of that.
4. Austin Seferian-Jenkins in, Marcedes Lewis out
Tight ends only accounted for two catches and eight yards this entire game. The gameplan on offense was clearly to run the ball and move the pocket while targeting Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee on passes over the middle, but when you look at the teams that had success against the Patriots pass defense late in the season, targeting tight ends was a more significant part of the strategy.
The Miami Dolphins won in Week 14 thanks largely to a defense that only allowed 10 rushing attempts by the Patriots and forced two interceptions. But Jay Cutler targeted tight ends on seven of his 38 pass attempts.
Same with the Pittsburgh Steelers who lost on a fourth quarter comeback but nearly won with Ben Roethlisberger targeting tight ends on seven of his 30 pass attempts.
The Jaguars? Just four targets on 36 attempts for a measly 2.0 yards per target to a tight end.
Seferian-Jenkins was brought in to shift a couple more of those targets to tight ends in what will be an upgrade in the position.
5. Taven Bryan is the first round pick
Calais Campbell played in over 800 snaps in 2017. That’s nearly 80 percent of defensive snaps during the regular season — far too much for someone turning 32 years old before Week 1.
Bryan was drafted to be a disruptive force, likely at the defensive end position, but he will also be instrumental in keeping Campbell fresh for the playoffs.
Campbell looked gassed in the postseason, never once sacking the quarterback (after racking up a franchise-record 14.5 sacks during the regular season and coming away with at least 0.5 sacks in 10 of 16 games. He only recorded seven tackles total in three games where we needed him to be the standout he was earlier in the year.
Bryan will likely be getting somewhere in the ballpark of 15-18 snaps per game, which will drastically cut down Campbell’s workload — likely putting him somewhere around 600 snaps during the regular season, a full 25 percent less time on the field than he had in 2017.
I’m sure there are more correlations you can draw from the AFC Championship loss. What are some things I missed? Let us know in the comments section!