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Can Jay Gruden help the Jaguars’ porous red zone rushing offense?

The Jaguars were the worst team running the football in the red zone last season.

NFL: New York Jets at Jacksonville Jaguars Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

While the Jaguars 2019 season ended in disappointment at 6-10, the team’s crux — specifically on offense — resonated most profoundly in the red zone. Replacing offensive coordinator John DeFilippo with former Washington head coach Jay Gruden has been deemed a popular decision due to the team’s inefficiencies, and overall inability to adapt and grow with rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew II and third-year veteran running back Leonard Fournette.

While much has been made regarding the team’s inability to score in the red zone, upon further inspection, the Jaguars struggled the most rushing the football in that area — even with Fournette posting his best rushing and receiving numbers since entering the NFL in 2017 with the team’s fourth overall pick.

Last season, Fournette rushed for 1,152 yards and three touchdowns while hauling in 76 passes for 522 yards — a feat accomplished in undesirable circumstances. One of the largest criticisms of Fournette’s season was his lack of touchdowns. With only three, Fournette tied for dead last in touchdowns among running backs with at least 200 attempts.

While his 4.3 YPA (yards per attempt) showcased his growth as a rusher in 2019, his rushing numbers in the red zone left a lot to be desired. According to Pro Football Reference, Fournette carried the ball 43 times in the red zone (between the opponents 0 and 19-yard line) for 1.35 YPA — the lowest in the NFL for a rusher with at least 17 red zone carries.

For context, Fournette ranked fifth-overall in red zone rushing attempts, one more than his counterpart Derrick Henry who accounted for 42 red zone rushing attempts for 144 yards (3.43 yards-per-attempt). All three of Fournette’s touchdowns occurred in the red zone, the lowest total among rushers with at least 30 rushing attempts in the red zone.

Top 10 rushers in the NFL sorted by red zone attempts

As a team, the Jaguars ranked last in red zone rushing YPA in the red zone with 1.5, the Pittsburgh Steelers ranked 31st with 1.8 YPA in the red zone with Tennessee Titans ranking first with 3.8 YPA. From 2017-2019, the Jaguars ranked last in rushing YPA in the red zone with 2.1 YPA, the next lowest is the New York Jets with 2.2 YPA.

While Fournette’s individual statistics have been highlighted, the team has not put him in favorable positions, especially in 2019 — the lowest-scoring season and worst red zone performance in his career. In the clip below, the Jaguars are lined up at the Jets six-yard line with a fake end-around to receiver Dede Westbrook. The motion instantly gives the team a numbers disadvantage on the side of the rushing attempt, and with a shortened field, the toss to Fournette had no chance.

In 2019, the Jaguars rushed for one of fewer yards in the red zone 29 out of 62 (46.7%) times, with which led to one of fewer yards rushing in the red zone last season with 29 out of 62 with only nine of those plays starting at the opponents’ one-yard line.

Along with drive-killing play-calling, the Jaguars disappointed along the offensive line. According to, Jacksonville had 20% of all rushes stuffed (runs in which the runner is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage), which ranked 23rd in the NFL. While the team has not made any personnel moves along the offensive line, the Jaguars have addressed one part of the issue — offensive coordinator.

How have Jay Gruden-led teams fared running in the red zone?

Gruden’s west-coast offense relies heavily on his passing game, however, the perception of him being a pass-happy play-caller is largely overblown. In 2011-2013, while offensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals, Gruden ranked 10th (2011), 17th (2012), and 8th (2013) in rushing attempts. With Washington, Gruden ranked 21st, 24th, and 14th in rushing attempts in 2014, 2017, and 2018, respectively — the years Gruden called plays for Washington.

During his time with the Bengals (2011-2013), the team accounted for 2.6 rushing YPA in the red zone with running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushing for 2.45 YPA over the same span. While the numbers are not a great improvement over the Jaguars’ run-game as it stands today, his overall success as a play-caller

The Bengals ranked 17th in rushing YPA (2.6) from 2011-2013. The Indianapolis Colts ranked first in red zone rushing YPA with 3.2 throughout the same span. However, during his time with the Redskins from 2014-2018, Washington ranked 30th in rushing YPA in the red zone with 2.3 yards.

With mixed results overall, Gruden can help the team due to his play-calling and overall offensive prowess and experience which has routinely put his players in the best positions possible. Where west-coast offenses typically excel is in the short-passing game, a replacement for a run-game. During his time in Cincinnati, the Gruden-led Bengals were third in the NFL for passing touchdowns in the red zone with 56.

Time will tell whether or not Gruden will fix the team’s rushing woes in the red zone, however, their success will largely depend on Fournette’s continued improvement, more efficient play-calling, and better offensive line play moving forward in 2020.

* All statistics provided by unless otherwise stated.