The Jacksonville Jaguars offense overall has been an improvement from the 2018 season, where at times it felt like watching grass grow and maybe even speeding up to paint drying. Many were excited by the hiring of John DeFilippo, especially because he was fired for allegedly not running the football enough, to a team who seemed to try to run the football too much.
The Jaguars still run the ball a good bit, but their passing game has been a massive change and part of that has to do with the aggression DeFilippo is showing on first down, even with sixth-round rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew II.
Neutral situation (WP < 80%) passing rates pic.twitter.com/rjQA1hQzyn— deryck (@deryck_g1) September 26, 2019
The above chart shows a team’s tendancy to pass the ball on first down while the game is in a “neutral” position, which means neither team has a huge chance to win the game. The Kansas City Chiefs lead the NFL throwing on 70 percent of first downs in the neutral position, which shouldn’t be a big surprise, but the surprise was the Jaguars are in the top half of the NFL at a 60 percent rate.
If you follow me on Twitter you’ll often see me sarcastically asking the Jaguars to stop wasting a down on a drive by running the ball on first-and-10, because their run game is so poor and it usually ends up with the team behind the sticks. So far in 2019 Leonard Fournette has 23 caries for 108 yards on first-and-10, which seems pretty damn good, until you realize that 69 of those 108 yards are from his long run on Thursday night, which means prior to that it was a paltry 22 carries for 39 yards (1.7 yards per carry), so you can see why I would constantly yell “THROW ON FIRST DOWN”.
The other reason is that it always felt like the drives where the offense threw on first down, they’d score points. It was true in the game against the Houston Texans, in that all of their scoring drives started out with a pass. It also helps that Minshew has been exceptional first down throwing the ball, which opens up the rest of the playbook on the following downs.
Through three games Minshew is 20-for-27 with 301 yards, a touchdown and his only interception on first-and-10 downs. That’s a yards per attempt of 11, which is another chain mover and a chunk of yardage. That’s not to say he’s going to pick up 10 plus yards on the majority of first downs, but it shows the offense can continue to be aggressive in close games because they’ve shown success doing it.
It’s refreshing after having watched an offense play scared of their quarterback finally have two guys they can trust to throw the football when the run game isn’t working.