Leonard Fournette has the Jacksonville Jaguars offense wrapped so tightly around his finger that even Mister Geppetto would be jealous.
After spending a rare top-five draft selection on the transcendent talent from LSU, it would have been foolish of Nathaniel Hackett not to manufacture a playbook that made Fournette the fulcrum of their offensive mission.
And under Tom Coughlin, the Jaguars want Fournette to punch the ball into the end zone on short yardage situations and churn out the tough yards to allow this defensive-minded team to kill the clock and play with a lead.
The danger, however, of going all in on one player perhaps manifested itself this past Sunday in the Meadowlands after Fournette was sidelined in the second quarter during the Jaguars’ season opener against the New York Giants. Although Doug Marrone categorized the muscle pull as “minor” Fournette’s ailment was obviously serious enough to hamstring the Jaguars offense for two and a half quarters.
Doctors told Doug Marrone that Leonard Fournette has a "minor hamstring injury."— Daniel Popper (@danielrpopper) September 10, 2018
"We're just going to treat it during the week," Marrone added. "We got a lot of time, and we'll see where it is." #Jaguars
Leading up to Fournette’s injury, the Jaguars offense was cooking with impressive drives of 10 plays for 4:43, three plays for 1:17 — ended abruptly on a Blake Bortles interception — and 15 plays to run 8:01 off the clock. After Fournette exited the game, the Jaguars did not sustain more than six consecutive plays across seven drives, and their longest possession in the second half was six plays for 2:31.
Six plays. Two minutes. Thirty one seconds.
Simply put, these are unacceptable conditions for this offense. The Jaguars are built to play with a lead and kill the clock with long drives to keep its defense fresh and effective. That’s the formula, and the fact that they couldn’t follow suit without their feature player is alarming for this offense.
I decided to go back through the tape and see just how much Fournette’s absence impacted Hackett’s play calling, and the results were curious:
The first number is the amount of running backs in the formation and the second is the number of tight ends. For a detailed breakdown of personnel sets, check out the ITP glossary.
According to the chart above, Hackett employed a much wider variety of personnel groupings when Fournette was in the game, and this assortment of packages made life difficult for opposing defensive coordinator James Bettcher early on in the contest. While the Jags run the majority of their plays out of “posse” personnel (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers) even with Fournette, it seemed like Hackett switched exclusively to 11 or 12 personnel alignments after Fournette left the game and Yeldon subbed in.
The most intriguing morsel to digest is that almost all of the two running back personnel sets (20, 21, 22) were with Fournette in the game. This is the special two back sets that we had seen a glimpse of in preseason that helps keep the offense creative and difficult to defend. If not for trying to run out the clock at the end of the game and the one goal line touchdown, Yeldon wouldn’t have even taken a snap in “tank” (22) personnel, so it’s obvious that these unique packages were tailored for Fournette and severely limited Hackett’s creativity when not available.
As a result, it almost makes sense that Grant had even less snaps after Fournette was out of the game, because most of his niche packages likely included Fournette as a decoy to adequately execute. With a game coming up against a Patriots linebacking unit that lacks the speed to keep up with Grant (*cough* 2017 AFC Championship game *cough*) Fournette’s unavailability for the game could be a major blow.
In his postgame presser, Bortles emphasized how much faith he has in Yeldon to carry the load if Fournette can’t go. Bortles, however, isn’t the one calling the shots and the proof could be in the clam chowder if Fournette isn’t ready to go on Sunday against the Patriots.
So what do you think? Is the Jaguars offense too heliocentric around its prodigal sun?