Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has been a breath of fresh air in Jacksonville thus far this season. While the team may have lost 33-30 to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, the team’s offense gave them hope, reasons to believe. A stark contrast to years past.
“He knows everyone’s strengths and weaknesses and he plays to them, and he has confidence in us, and we have confidence in him,” Jaguars receiver DJ Chark Jr. said after the game on Sunday. “He’s been obviously helping us out a lot. This is the first time in a while that we’ve been able to move the ball efficiently, and I think it’s due to a lot of different just changes and mindsets on the team.”
From creativity, to explosiveness, the Jaguars have never had as much success as they have had over the first two weeks of the season. Much of the success has come in the former of Gardner Minshew II’s performance, who is currently tied for second in the league touchdown passes with six on the season.
With back-to-back performances of three touchdowns or more, Minshew became the first quarterback in franchise history to throw for at least three touchdowns in three consecutive games dating back to week 17 of the 2019 season.
The explosion has come from a multitude of areas, but new and old. The Jaguars have done an efficient job of spreading the ball out. This week, the team targeted 10 different pass catchers, with eight of the 10 targeted having at least three receptions or more. This comes just a week after the Jaguars deployed 12 total potential pass-catchers and 10 had at least one reception.
On Sunday, the Jaguars out-paced the Titans in yardage by posting a net yardage of 480 yards to the Titans’ 354. The team converted 10 out of 14 of its third downs, or 71%, the best since the team posted the same metric in week two of the 2018 regular season. For further reference, the Jaguars converted an average of 34.55% of third downs just last season.
The Jaguars have also been strong in the red zone this season, a trouble area for the team in 2019. On Sunday, the Jaguars were 4 for 5 in the redzone, just a week after the team went 2 for 2. Last season, the Jaguars were the second-worst team in the league in red zone to touchdown conversion at just 40.43%.
The Jaguars have scored 57 points through its first tow games, and have scored at least 27 points in each of their first two regular-season games for the first time since 2000. For reference, Minshew was four years old the last time this occurred. Gruden was the head coach of the thrice defunct Arena Football League Orlando Predators.
One of the reasons the Jaguars have been so successful on offense aside from effective play calling is the use of misdirection within the team’s offense. One shining example would come with the Jaguars down 13 at the start of the fourth quarter near the goal line.
Minshew would bring rookie receiver Laviska Shenault into the backfield in a shotgun formation with running back Chris Thompson flanked to his left, Shenault to the right. Shenault ran what appeared to be a flare route out to the left with the entire offensive line shifting towards that side with Minshew bootlegging right.
Finding @Air4Cole in the back of the endzone— #DUUUVAL (@Jaguars) September 20, 2020
: @CBS | #DUUUVAL pic.twitter.com/gLK50JjGQ1
In the meantime, receiver Keelan Cole ran a crossing route to the right side behind the Titans defense breaking wide open as Tennessee bit on the Minshew scramble, an easy six points.
“I think he just knows — he understands the coverages,” Chark said of Gruden and his offense. “He understands what they’re trying to do, so he counteracts that. So if they’re in cover-two, running the ball, things like that. Or if they’re jumping outside, inside routes, things like that, just taking what they give us. Sometimes he puts some — I don’t want to say ‘trickeration’ but misdirection, make their eyes go one way and go back the other way. He does that.”
Other additions to the team’s offense besides the offensive coordinator are rookies Shenault and running back James Robinson. The Jaguars use Shenault in a variety of ways, including as the team’s No. 2 running back.
On the day, Shenault carried the ball five times for 37 yards, while catching three passes for 35 yards, the x-factor of the team’s offense.
#Jaguars give the handoff to WR Laviska Shenault and he's a tough tackle. pic.twitter.com/EK4xYY5Uvs— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) September 20, 2020
While his runs are impressive, his catches are even more so. Of course, while he’s a receiver first, and the Jaguars will have a lot of fun with him due to his versatility.
An undrafted free agent running back, Robinson, has also been a bright spot for the team’s offense. After earning the starting gig following the the team’s decision to waive Leonard Fournette, the rookie rusher has taken the offense by storm, rushing for 164 yards in his first two games, the most through a player’s first two career games in franchise history.
Robinson recorded his first 100-yard rushing day of the season, and his first career rushing touchdown on a 17-yard scamper.
“He’s our running back,” said Chark. “He’s running the ball between the tackles, and you have to respect it. As long as he’s doing that, we’re going to be on the outside blocking, and he makes blocking fun because you’re blocking for two, three seconds, then you see him running by you. It makes you want to go out there and get you a pancake or something.”
Simple put, the Jaguars have weapons. That’s something the team couldn’t quite say in seasons past, and even if they did, they weren’t necessarily used effectively. Gruden has done an admirable job, and that allows the team to always be in the game no matter the circumstances on the other side of the football.
“We have a lot of guys that’s capable of making plays, like I said,” Chark remarked. “You can have the rookie Laviska come in and run the ball as well as go out there and catch the ball, that makes the defensive coordinator have to prepare for that, and then you add guys like Cole, Chris, you also have Collin that comes in and makes big plays and has the potential to make big plays.”