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Third down efficiency must improve on both sides of the ball for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2020

NFL: NOV 03 Texans v Jaguars Photo by Ricky Swift/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Here is a statement that is news to absolutely nobody — the Jacksonville Jaguars did not have a good season in 2019. A common theme during the last decade.

There are many issues that contributed to the team’s 6-10 record and poor on-field performance, but I want to look at third down efficiency in particular today. This is an area the Jaguars truly struggled in this past season — both in terms of the offense converting, as well as the defense stopping opposing offenses on third down.

To put it bluntly, Jacksonville’s offense was abysmal on third down conversions. This is obviously a problem, as success here keeps drives alive and ultimately lead to points on the scoreboard. The Jaguars ranked 26th in the NFL for third down conversions at 34.5 percent.

The team converted just 76 times on 220 attempts. Only six teams — the Pittsburgh Steelers, Miami Dolphins, Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, New York Jets and Washington Redskins — had a lower conversion percentage.

This was the worst the Jags have fared in this department under head coach Doug Marrone. For comparison sake, Jacksonville converted 37 percent of third downs in 2017, not great, but ranked 20th in the league. In 2018, although the team struggled overall, third down conversion rate was actually somewhat of a strong point, as the team, converted 40 percent of the time (14th in the NFL).

Looking at Sharp Football Stats’ situational run-pass ratios in 2019, the Jaguars threw the ball 79 percent of the time on third down (179 attempts). The team had just a 31 percent success rate — which in this case, means gaining enough or more yards to earn a first down — when throwing on third down. The NFL average was 36 percent success rate on third down, so the Jags were well below that.

The team ran the ball just 21 percent of the time (46 attempts) on third down, but had a 46 percent success rate and averaged 4.5 yards per carry. I think the takeaway here is that Jacksonville often found itself in third-and-long situations, and was forced to pass, but when it was able to run the ball on third down with shorter yards to go, the Jags converted at a much higher clip. That said, the Jags were under the league success rate of 50 percent on third down runs, but the yards per carry average was slightly higher than the rest of the NFL.

All in all, Jacksonville’s offense had many struggles, ranking just 24th in offensive DVOA. Fixing third down would be a good place to start to improve the unit overall. Perhaps new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden can come up with new, creative schemes and play calls to help Jacksonville improve in this area in 2020. If not, expect more of the same with drives often stalling out without any points being put on the board, and more losses on the record.

On the defensive side of the ball, things weren’t much better. The defense allowed other teams to convert on third down about 41.5 percent of the time, which ranked just 23rd in the league. Teams converted 79 times out of 190 total attempts against the Jags.

Looking at the other two years with Marrone and Todd Wash at the helm, the Jaguars held teams to the fourth lowest third down conversion rate in the league in 2017 at just 34 percent. In 2018, the defense was quite respectable in this metric, allowing conversions about 38 percent of the time, good enough for a ranking of 14.

Switching our focus with Sharp Football Stats to the defensive side of the ball with play selection and first down rate allowed, Jacksonville fared a lot better against the pass than it did against the run. This is unsurprising given the Jags’ inability to stop the run this past season. The team allowed 139.3 yards per game (28th in the NFL).

In 40 offensive plays, opposing teams converted 21 runs for first downs against Jacksonville. That is a horrid success rate allowed of about 52.5 percent. In terms of passing, the Jaguars allowed 58 conversions on about 150 attempts, which is a more respectable clip of around 38.6 percent. Still perhaps a little higher than the team would like, but much better nonetheless.

Again, it’s not necessarily surprising the team struggled to defend on third down, as the defensive unit didn’t find much success at all in 2019 (29th in defensive DVOA), but just like on the offensive side of the ball, this is an area that must improve in 2020.

Wash returns as the team’s defensive coordinator this season — which was not a popular decision in the eyes of many fans — so he will need to figure out a way to return the defense to 2017 and 2018 form with seemingly less talent.