So, you watched a Jaguars game on national TV, huh?
It was another segment of the Jaguars going onto national television and having an objectively poor showing against the New Orleans Saints, losing 23-21. Despite the close score, the Jaguars starters floundered against the Saints, only scoring three points in the first half and barely getting any traction on offense. Defensively, the Jaguars were once again susceptible to big plays via the passing game, allowing two long TDs to the Saints starters. Overall, not a very fun time for anyone at all. Urban Meyer looked especially disappointed:
Naturally, this led to a lot of national takes online(some of them true) but this film room is going to take a look at these takes and validate them or examine if there’s a bigger problem.
So, let’s open up the Film Room!
What the Heck is Wrong with the Jaguars Offense?
So, I think this question has multiple answers, all of which can be answered using some film from the Saints game. New Orleans has a fantastic front seven, and with the Jaguars going into the game without their starting center and the entire left side of the line, there were some struggles to be expected:
Little has more strength when it comes to protection but when he drops his hands he loses all leverage.— Laurie Fitzpatrick (@LaurieFitzptrck) August 24, 2021
See how the defender pushes him back and then Little is left standing straight up... it's easier to win when you are on top, gravity helps with leverage too pic.twitter.com/Kw0nbHz1ZZ
A LOT OF STRUGGLES:
This is hard to watch pic.twitter.com/Yv54BZCWqm— Laurie Fitzpatrick (@LaurieFitzptrck) August 24, 2021
THE MOST STRUGGLES:
Walker Little got pushed back about 4 yards pic.twitter.com/gZdojIuu2J— Laurie Fitzpatrick (@LaurieFitzptrck) August 24, 2021
These two sacks highlight something that Meyer talked about when discussing Walker Little’s play. He mentioned that he “drops his hands”. What this means is when contact first begins, Little’s hands are down by his waist instead of up by his chest. This is something he could get away with all through college, because he was the biggest and strongest guy on the field. However, in the NFL he has to get hands on the man, otherwise he’ll get bullrushed into oblivion by players like Marcus Davenport. Ben Bartch, who is the first guard off the bench in the event of a Norwell or AJ Cann injury, just isn’t ready to start yet. His hand usage is all over the place, and he isn’t strong enough at the point of attack yet.
Because of the lack of push, the Jaguars resorted to the passing game. However, the Jaguars receivers couldn’t get any separation, or have any speed downfield. Marvin Jones is more of an underneath and third down target, and LaViska Shenault doesn’t see much action down the field yet. This is where the team misses another star at a crucial position: DJ Chark. Among the top three receivers, Chark is the fastest, and arguably the best receiver on the team. Due to his finger surgery, we haven’t really been able to see what this offense looks like at full strength. However we do know that the depth behind Chark is questionable, at least. Phillip Dorsett and Tavon Austin are fast, yet they can’t actually separate from defenders. Travis Etienne is out for the season after suffering a foot injury. There has to be someone outside of Chark who can separate vertically.
This leaves us with the final culprit: offensive playcalling. This has been the common group people have pointed to, with ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky calling the offense “archaic”. At times, the offense has looked slow, and rife with miscommunication. During the two minute drill of the Jaguars game, Lawrence and Shenault weren’t on the same page and they had to burn a timeout. There were other occasions where the Jaguars looked lost on offense. Media members and fans alike have asked for Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell to be more creative with the offense, including myself.
So, what’s the verdict? I think it’s a little bit of everything, honestly. Give Bevell and Passing Game Coordinator the benefit of the doubt for now. I think Bevell did a great job with rookie Russell Wilson, and Schottenheimer was just the coordinator for Wilson’s best year passing. However, they could make things a little easier on their offense. They can give Lawrence some easy half field reads on rollouts and bootlegs. It’s clear that Meyer wanted this offense to run the ball and set up play action, and that’s where I think this offense will go in the regular season. They’ll set up creative inside zone runs and then hit for play action off of that. I’m sure the offensive braintrust noticed that the most effective plays have been when Lawrence was on the move, throwing a spectacular pass across his body, and almost completing another that would’ve been a touchdown:
Love to see it pic.twitter.com/xyVXjXC453— Laurie Fitzpatrick (@LaurieFitzptrck) August 24, 2021
This philosophy will most likely bring up the premise of “establishing the run,” but what I think Meyer means is that he wants to run the ball well, not just run it to run it. When the starters were in, they only ran the ball nine times, and leaned more on the passing game. Give the offense more time, they can be creative. Which leads me to my next point...
It’s really hard to be creative when you can’t block. For all of you that know me (and shoutout to the Pancaked Podcast), they know that I believe everything starts in the trenches. If you can’t win up front, it’s hard to win at all. You can run the most creative plays ever, but if the entire left side of your line can’t run or pass block, you can’t get any momentum going. Take that second sack that I showed above. That was in the redzone and the Jaguars were about to possibly score a TD. Instead, it’s a sack and the Jaguars have to settle for a field goal.
So overall, I think the offense needs time to gel and figure out what works best. Jaguars RB Dare Ogunbowale said after practice that the Jaguars haven’t opened up the playbook too much, but with Week One looming, the question is, why not? God I really didn’t want to spend 900 words talking about the offense, but here we are.
Be Patient With the Defense
Guys...despite the passing performance on Monday...I think this defense has the potential to be really good. Like, REALLY GOOD. I know the passing performance was off-putting, but I’ll explain that later. First, let’s take a look at this run defense. The Saints boast one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, with left tackle Terron Armstead and left guard Andrus Peat ranking in the top ten of offensive line scout Brandon Thorn’s positional rankings.
The Jaguars run defense looked PHENOMENAL. The Saints love running outside, or wide zone. The objective is to give the back a cutback lane to take advantage of over aggressive linemen. However, the Jaguars absolutely just reset the line of scrimmage on every run play.
This is a split zone run by the Saints, they ran this play a lot in this game. Watch Malcolm Brown (98) beat Peat to the spot with a great first step and blows up this play, and Jihad Ward avoids the cut and gets the tackle. This is why both guys were brought in.
Another zone run play, and watch Roy Roberston Harris (95) get knockback on Terron Armstead and force Latavious Murray to cut back right into Malcolm Brown, who was fighting down the line of scrimmage. If we know one thing from the preseason, it’s that this Jaguars run defense is going to be special.
The pass defense...yeah we gotta talk.
So the Jaguars allowed two big touchdowns on deep passes. One was a play action shot play, the other an adjustment made at the line of scrimmage. Both terrific passes and catches, but very preventable by the defense. Let’s look at the first TD:
The Jaguars are in Cover One here, with the Saints running a post and crossing route combination, a route combo seen often among shot plays. As the receiver at the top of the screen runs the crosser, safety Jarrod Wilson triggers down on the post. Tyson Campbell has no receiver in man coverage(he passed the receiver at the top to Wilson), so he’s supposed to replace Wilson over top. As the ball is thrown, Campbell takes a very flat angle and causes a pass interference. Not only that, he takes himself and Shaquill Griffin out of the play. Griffin is playing an outside technique, knowing he has help to the inside. This touchdown is remedied by Campbell taking a better angle to the ball, and looking at the ball, as seen here. The angle he takes is in black:
The second touchdown is just a great adjustment by Jameis and Marquez Callaway, and Griffin got put on the bad end of it(I’ll reference this play later). However, one small play encapsulates the biggest problem I have with this Jaguars defense, and how the Jaguars have run this offseason so far.
This is probably a two yard gain near the end of the first quarter against the Saints’ backups, but the late communication or lack therof in the secondary is a bit of a problem for me, and a larger problem for the Jaguars in general.
To put it simply: both sides of the ball looked like they were young and hadn’t practiced against anyone that wasn’t wearing the same color helmet—because that’s exactly what happened. The Jaguars haven’t done any joint practices before preseason games, and I know I’m going to sound like a geezer but these joint practices are very important for a young team. Often they’re more intense than the preseason games, and it gives young guys a lot of reps against NFL speed. Griffin got burned on that second touchdown probably because he hasn’t seen Callaway’s speed, or gotten reps against that type of player. New coaching installs get put to the test, and communication is stressed in these practices. The Jaguars had miscommunications along both sides of the ball, and that’s primarily due to what I believe is a lack of experience. For a lot of these guys it’s their literal second game ever.
This is why I’m on the side of patience with this team, especially in the preseason. The preseason performances leave a lot to be desired(especially on offense), but because of the situation that they’re in, they haven’t been able to get the reps necessary to get up to speed. Now that doesn’t mean it’s not the staff’s fault totally(naming Trevor Lawrence the starter just this week is a screw up—rookie QBs need a lot of reps with the starters if the plan is for them to start) but not having joint practices and hoping to see something different, especially when installing a new offense and defense is kind of rushed. So let’s give it time, at least until the first quarter of the regular season is over.