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Why won’t Jay Gruden use James Robinson more in close games?

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Jacksonville Jaguars kept last week’s game against the Houston Texans a close, one-score game until there was 14:16 left in the fourth quarter. That’s when a fumble by Gardner Minshew led to a Ka’imi Fairbairn field goal and the game was 20-7. From then on, the offense never played within a score again.

And up to that point, with the game being separated by just one touchdown, Gardner Minshew had attempted 29 passes and James Robinson had 12 rushes. In fact, there was only one drive all game where Robinson had more than two rush attempts.

The day finished with Robinson at 13 rushes for 48 yards.

Gardner Minshew? 56 pass attempts for 301 yards, three sacks, two touchdowns, one fumble, and a whole lot of questions.

Why didn’t Jay Gruden run the ball early and often against the Texans, especially against one of the worst run defenses in the league?

It’s not just last week either.

Last week against the Cincinnati Bengals when the game was within a score:

Gardner Minshew: 26 pass attempts

James Robinson: 12 rush attempts

So, what’s the deal with Jay Gruden? Does he really believe Gardner Minshew gives this team a better chance to win than James Robinson? Was his brain broken by those two missed field goals? Or is this just who Jay Gruden is?

I tend to think it’s the latter.

As offensive coordinator with Cincinnati

2011 - Dalton 516 passes vs. 385 rushing attempts by top two running backs

2012 - Dalton 528 passes vs. 314 rushing attempts by top two running backs

2013 - Dalton 586 passes vs. 390 rushing attempts by top two running backs

As head coach with Washington

2014 - Griffin/Cousins/McCoy 546 passes vs. 305 rushing attempts by top two running backs

2015 - Cousins 543 passes vs. 346 rushing attempts by top two running backs

2016 - Cousins 606 passes vs. 267 rushing attempts by top two running backs

2017 - Cousins 540 passes vs. 239 rushing attempts by top two running backs

2018 - Cousins 606 passes vs. 294 rushing attempts by top two running backs

2019 - Keenum/Haskins/McCoy 477 passes vs. 253 rushing attempts by top two running backs

That’s a typical season looking like 550 pass attempts by the starting quarterback and 310 rush attempts by the top two running backs, with those two numbers growing wider apart in recent years.

Gruden is a volume passing coach. On average, no matter the situation, there will be a wide disparity between passing and running the ball. Will running backs be more involved in the passing game? Sure. James Robinson has the third most receptions on the team and is tied for fourth with targets. And through five games both James Robinson and Chris Thompson have more catches, targets, and yards combined than anyone else.

But just because it’s who Jay Gruden is doesn’t make it right.

James Robinson has shown himself to be a gifted runner and the offensive line is opening holes for him. He has one of the fewest run rates when it comes to rushes for negative yards. And even without a lot of opportunities, he’s just two yards shy of top-10 in total rushing yards. He’s also tied for 10th in the NFL in yards per carry for running backs with at least 50 rushes.

If the Jaguars are going to be competitive in games going forward, Jay Gruden is going to have to change his approach to pass-run balance. Because giving Gardner Minshew two, three, or four times as many passes as James Robinson runs doesn’t give this team a better chance to win.

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