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FILM ROOM: The Jacksonville Jaguars and third downs, a tragedy in two acts

A major reason why the Jaguars lost in such a lopsided fashion to Miami was the inability to execute on third down.

Miami Dolphins v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

To put it simply, the Jacksonville Jaguars were bludgeoned by the Miami Dolphins in embarrassing fashion on Thursday Night Football was because Miami took care of business on both lines of scrimmage and executed in all three facets of the game.

The Jaguars... did not.

A major reason why was because of the inability to get off the field on third down defensively, and an inability to convert on third down offensively. The Dolphins were 7-for-13 on third down, compared to the Jaguars going 3-for-10. This led to Miami having 34:22 minutes of possession, compared to just 25:38 for Jacksonville.

Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone spoke on this earlier this week:

“[If you] went back and looked at the third downs or you’re coming out and you’re having to throw to push the ball down the field and score, now your third downs could potentially be longer than if you’re running the ball getting five yards and then maybe you get another two and its third-and-3, the manageable situations.”

“I think conversely when you look at what teams are doing to us, I think [on] third-and-1 to 6, we’re only winning 27 percent of the time. That’s something people are [doing], keeping the chains in their favor, and I think that’s why we’re struggling to get off the field defensively.”

There’s not much positive to look at, so here we go, we’re taking a look at the tragedy that is the Jaguars and third downs.

BACK TO THE FILM ROOM BABY!

Defense

Alright, I’ll come out and say it: The Jaguars defense is BAD. Like, really bad. Whether you blame Todd Wash (who deserves blame) or a lack of talent and execution (which also deserves blame) this team is not good on the defensive side of the ball.

This surfaces on third down especially. There are multiple symptoms of this — the inability to win on early downs is one point, as Marrone said. According to Sharp Football Stats, the Jaguars defense gives up a successful play on first and second down 55 percent of the time.

What does that mean? On first down, opposing offenses gain 40 percent or more of yards needed for a first down, and on second down, opposing offenses gain 60 percent or more of yards needed for a second down.

On this play, it looks like a split zone, with the tight end coming back across the line to block the weak side end, which is rookie defensive end K’Lavon Chaisson. Chaisson doesn’t feel the backside block and crashes too hard, effectively taking him out the play. This is a short second down, and the Dolphins pick up nine yards.

If you pass on early downs, you’re in luck playing Jacksonville. Opposing teams have a 59 percent success rate on early down pass attempts against the Jaguars, which puts Jacksonville at...

*checks notes*

...dead last in the NFL.

This reveals many symptoms, but the prominent one: the Jaguars cannot get pass rush, especially from the interior. The Jaguars only had one sack on Thursday, and three on the whole season.

That number puts them at...

*checks notes*

...31st in the NFL.

This play comes on a second-and-12 and the Dolphins get eight yards on a pitch-and-catch over the middle. There’s essentially no pressure up the middle, and little pressure coming from the edge. This gives Ryan Fitzpatrick time to find the hole in the zone and complete the pass. Fitzpatrick only misfired on two passes Thursday, and a large reason why is because when you can’t get pressure with four and continue to play zone, quarterbacks will pick you apart.

However, some third downs come down to execution, and the Jaguars simply haven’t executed.

This is a third-and-4, and the Jaguars finally get enough pressure on Fitzpatrick to force him to scramble. This should be an easy stop for Joe Schobert.

Yet...

Whether it be a lack of pressure, not forcing the opposing offenses behind the chains, penalties, or simply not executing, the defense has to get off the field on third down.

Offense

The Jaguars can actually move the ball pretty well on early downs. According to Sharp Football Stats, the Jaguars have a 57 percent success rate on first and second down and a 62 percent success rate on early downs with the pass — both numbers ranking them top-five in the NFL.

Third down is also normally successful for Jacksonville’s offense, having a 53 percent success rate on said down, ranking second in the NFL.

But...

They only went 3-for-10 against Miami, an abysmal number for an offense that was putting up big numbers in the first two weeks. So what happened against Miami?

Well, a lack of execution plus untimely penalties doomed this offense. We’ll start with the third down toss to Chris Thompson. While I question the play choice, the play would have worked if the Jaguars executed. It’s a simple toss play, and it looks like Chris Conley is supposed to crack block the outside defensive end.

However, nobody accounts for Noah Igbinoghene, and he is the first guy there. Either Conley or the lineman on that side made a mistake, and left a guy free.

When the Jaguars did take to the air on third down against Miami, the pressure was there just enough to force incompletions, a lapse on Jacksonville’s part. On this play, Kyle Van Noy slightly delays his blitz, and the Dolphins only send three linemen to blitz. Andrew Norwell sees Van Noy late, and Van Noy crushes Chris Thompson.

This pileup forces Minshew to throw the ball off of his back foot, and it is heavily underthrown. Honestly, if there was no pressure, this ball has a chance of being completed. But again, the offense fails to execute on third down.

And so we move on to the Cincinnati Bengals and rookie quarterback Joe Burrow this Sunday. The Bengals offensive line has been one of the worst in football so far, so if the Jaguars can’t get pressure and force the Bengals behind the chains on third down, the problems will only get worse.