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Jaguars Playbook: Vanilla game plan doesn’t stop Pederson from showcasing his play design brilliance

Jaguars’ offensive plan and lack of execution leads to 13-6 loss to the Texans

Houston Texans v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images

This series will analyze the 2022 Jacksonville Jaguars offense. We’ll create weekly play call sheets to see how one of the best offensive coordinators in the NFL, Doug Pederson, calls a game. Next up: Week 5 vs Houston Texans.

A subpar effort from top to bottom saw the Jacksonville Jaguars lose a low-scoring battle against the Houston Texans, 13-6.

With a younger roster, games like this can and will happen from time to time. Execution and focus just don’t happen by chance on Sundays. They take constant concentration, and when that lacks, a six-point effort is bound to happen.

Even still, some items we’ve discussed in this series showed up in droves. Drive openers were very telling against the Texans. Doug Pederson kept it vanilla on possession & 10’s and the scoreboard showed. Lack of imagination being the biggest culprit.

Only one drive starter gained more than 8 yards. That came on a nice play action rollout, with Trevor Lawrence dumping it off to a wide-open Travis Etienne for a 20-yard gain. They would eventually drive down the field and settle for a FG.

Conversely, the Jaguars' second scoring drive started off with two negative plays. After a 3-yard loss on their drive starter, a false start set them back even further. Lawrence then dropped back on 2nd & 18 finding Evan Engram over the middle for a 25-yard gain. This helped them move down the field for another FG

That’s what this offense will need to consistently be able to do if it wants to take the next step to becoming a top 5 unit. While this is generally a good sign for a young offense, especially Lawrence, it was not enough against Houston.

Unfortunately, in this contest, possession and 10’s were a harbinger of things to come. Poor opening plays led to ineffectiveness.

Additionally, the Jaguars had the opportunity for a double score during the middle eight to take full control of the game.

Having drove down the field to end the first half with a field goal, the Jaguars were on the verge of adding a touchdown to start the second half. Instead, Lawrence inexplicably forced a red zone throw on second down, resulting in an interception.

That would be the last time the Jaguars reached the red zone. All momentum gained from the middle eight completely vanished in one play.

Overall Game Plan

What makes Doug Pederson’s game plan even more of a head-scratcher, is how the Texans spent the majority of the first half in a Cover 2 shell.

No matter the pre-snap disguise, the Texans would always end up in a split safety look. For their halftime adjustment (if you can call it that), the Texans would show Cover 2 then rotate into Cover 3 defense. Although, that “adjustment” only lasted for about three plays.

About as vanilla as you could get. But it worked for the Texans. Usually, talented teams take advantage of a predictable defense but that was not the case here.

At times, Houston’s safeties were more than 20 yards downfield looking to limit big plays. An offense needs to methodically move down the field against this type of defensive shell. And for a young team who can become impatient, that’s hard to do.

Week 5 saw Pederson call more screens than in previous weeks, but most of them were simple wide receiver step-back screens (jailbreaks). With a defense that has five players sitting close to the line of scrimmage with their eyes in the backfield, one missed block can doom a quick screen. Of the five screens called, the biggest gain was just 7 yards.

Another thing that Pederson usually avoids is becoming predictable. But that’s exactly how the play calling developed to start the game. The Jaguars only ran the ball once from shotgun in the first quarter. And only two of those first quarter run calls were not zones; both being counters.

Outside of two long runs, the predictability sabotaged the run game.

Signs of better offensive days

Even when Doug Pederson looks to be trying to squeak out a victory without having to show too much offensively, he pulled out a gem. When the game was on the line he called an impressive screen; two in one play in fact.

With the game seemingly slipping away, the Jaguars still had a chance. In a tie ball game, 6-6, and facing a 3rd & 15, Pederson wasn’t giving up.

The Jaguars came out in a trips right formation, with Jamal Agnew lined up as the lone receiver to the left. Travis Etienne was to Trevor Lawrence’s left in shotgun. The Texans come out in a deep two-high shell, with both safeties sitting about two yards inside the numbers; sitting at 20 and 15 yards deep.

Pederson will give Lawrence a rare choice on where to go with the ball on a screen pass. The young signal-caller will survey the defense pre-snap and choose between two screens based on where he thinks the offense will have a numbers advantage.

Agnew will come underneath on a shallow crossing route to the right as the receivers on the trips side of the formation are setting up a wall. The other choice will be a HB screen to the left.

Lawrence chose the cross screen pre-snap. With the safety being 20 yards deep and the Jaguars having the numbers to that side of the field, it’s a good choice.

Unfortunately, poor execution sabotages a great play design before the ball is even thrown. Both tackles get beat easily inside, which causes Lawrence to have to pull the trigger a bit too early on the crossing screen to Agnew.

Additionally, Agnew runs his route too far upfield. Had he run this route to replace the heels of the defensive lineman, he would’ve had more space to work with. Shortening that space made life easier for the linebackers.

Agnew dropping the ball becomes inconsequential due to all the mistakes being made; but add it to the list of blunders on this play.

Despite the lack of execution, what makes this design so perfect is the timing of it all. Both screens sync up effortlessly. Watching the receivers in the trips formation setting up the wall, not one of them blocks too early; which would have resulted in an offensive pass interference penalty.

At the exact same time Lawrence starts his throwing motion to Agnew, Etienne is turning to face the quarterback as well. While Lawrence could’ve done a better job getting depth on his drop to avoid rushing the throw, the timing of both screens was exquisite.

The icing on the cake as far as play design goes is how the trips receivers attempt to block the screen. This isn’t your run of the mill, run straight out and block the most dangerous man type plays.

The number one receiver (closest to the sideline) runs a “go route” designed to pull the CB out wider. He then curled inside attempting to cut off and block the safety.

Number two (Evan Engram) is straight-up stalk blocking, one of the hardest things to do in football. This is especially true for a tight end as their practice time is limited. He does a good job of breaking down to make the block, but once he stops moving his feet he’s beat.

Number three is faking a flat route (this gets the defense to take their normal drop) only to turn up and block the CB that has been widened by the faux go route.

Such a beautifully designed play. All for naught.

Next up: Week 6 vs Indianapolis Colts (round two)