In yesterday’s 13-12 defeat to the Texans in Houston, the Jacksonville Jaguars came within inches of taking their first lead of the year. Rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew led the team to a two-minute drill touchdown, something Jaguars fans have not seen in years. With :36 left in the game, Coach Doug Marrone opted to attempt a 2-point conversion rather than kicking the extra point. Unfortunately an inside handoff to Leonard Fournette found the team inches from being up 14-13.
Should the Jaguars have simply kicked and gone into overtime? Should the ball have remained in Minshew’s hands?
A good number of folks expressed their agreement with the decision, but not with the play call. Leonard Fournette, 17 for 45 on the day, was the worst of all possible decisions. The interior offensive line was challenged to create clear lanes all day. Minshew had the momentum, the rhythm, and the confidence.
After reviewing the play multiple times and listening to arguments, these are a few of the circumstances I felt worthy of unpacking.
If it’s not a bad call, who is at fault?
Marrone has been the focus of significant criticism both on this website and across multiple mediums. Why hand the ball to an ineffective running back? When Leonard was drafted the hope was that he would be the bruising short yardage back, and if any situation was perfect for him it was the 2-point conversion.
In reviewing the play, Fournette gets tripped up in the backfield but manages to move forward in spite of the challenge. If he maintains his balance, the correct move is to not go into the back of your linemen, especially with a lane available to your right where you could bulldoze a defensive back. The problem, however, is that his immediate commitment leaves him few options.
Rather than blame either Doug or Leonard, maybe the focus should be on the offensive line. As Leon Searcy noted postgame, the interior offensive line failed to successfully complete their assignment. Instead of pushing their opponent into the end zone, they were managed at the line of scrimmage, impacting Fournette’s ability maintain his balance and get the conversion.
Yes Fournette was average at best in the running game on Sunday, but he did average 3.1 YPC, which is more than enough to yards for the task. Instead, Texans defensive end Angelo Jackson penetrates, hits Fournette in the backfield, yet somehow he manages to fall just inches from the goal line.
Who holds the most blame?
Marrone did not trust his defense.
This is another one bantered about amongst the fan base, though not as passionately as where to assign blame.
As I tweeted about before the game, DeShaun Watson has not lit up the Jaguars in the two and a half games they have battled. Sunday was another example of how the Jaguars defense can limit the success of the MVP rated quarterback. Apart from yielding big runs between the tackles, the Jaguars defense, on the whole, earned the trust of the coaching staff.
How is the decision to go for two a sign of distrust? If someone can make a compelling argument I am all ears since he would have to rely on the defense to either hold the Texans offense for :36 or in overtime. Two recent games are perfect examples.
Yesterday, the Denver Broncos successfully executed a 2-point conversation to take a 14-13 lead over the Chicago Bears with :31 to play. Sound familiar? The Bears drove down the field, allowing kicker Eddy Pineiro to kick a 53 yard field goal as time expired.
While a bit more apples and oranges to circumstances, in week 1 the New Orleans Saints managed a similar act. DeShaun Watson had just led the Texans on a two play, yard touchdown drive, leaving the Saints :37 to mount a comeback. Drew Brees moved the ball just enough to allow Will Lutz to nail a 58 yard field goal, also as time expired.
Houston’s kicker Ka-imi Fairbairn’s range is at least 55 yards, which means Watson would have needed to move the ball 37 yards for a shot at the win, assuming a touchback. The Texans still had one timeout to burn.
Overtime rules allow for an offensive touchdown to win the game on the first possession, but not a field goal. I would argue that trusting your defense to hold their opponent in a situation where you are definitely not getting the ball back requires more trust.
Going for two was the right call.
As Alfie wrote, the Jaguars were not wrong in going for 2. Or were they?
Maybe if the Jaguars convert the defense stops the Texans. Maybe they do not. As noted above, yielding a field goal in regulation means a loss, while yielding a field goal in overtime, if Houston gets the ball first, still allows the Jaguars a shot at tying or winning the game.
And this is where it becomes interesting, because trust and strategy becomes the variable for the Houston head coach.
Can we crawl inside Bill O’Brien’s head for a moment?
If I am the Jaguars I do not kick the ball deep for a touchback. My goal is to kick it high and deep, or maybe line drive it, allowing time to run off the clock. Best case scenario for Jacksonville is the Texans get the ball with :25 to play. If the game is tied, does O’Brien play for overtime or trust and offense that has been limited in the passing game? Do you run the ball once to see if you can get a big play then call timeout?
What Marrone does by opting for the 2-point conversion is layered. He potentially stops the game from going into overtime, limiting the number of plays which also limits the potential for injury. This is amplified by the short week, hosting the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night. But what he also does is force O’Brien’s hand. If Leonard gets in the Texans are definitely playing for the win. Kick for the point and O’Brien has the option of going to overtime to utilize their running game with more effectiveness.
Does Bill believe playing for overtime favors the home team, or is he willing to risk a turnover that might give Lambo a chance to win it?
It is not clear to me that going for 2 was the right call.
So where do you stand?