On Sundays in the fall, after positioning ourselves on the couch for a full day of football, it can be easy to overlook how NFL players make the game look easy. So when things start to go wrong, it leaves fans scratching their heads. One such quandary is the Jacksonville Jaguars passing attack. All summer long, and throughout the preseason into Week 1, the offense was firing on all cylinders. Trevor Lawrence and company were primed to jump into elite status. Then came Week 2 and Week 3 and the sky seemed to start falling. So what happened?
The reality is the passing game is a delicate balance of timing and spacing. Defenses try to interrupt the timing (jamming receivers) and spacing (zone vs. man coverage) as best they can. The passing game is not as simple as dropping back, throwing it, catching it, and running.
It’s like the Beatles, Led Zepellin, or the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But instead of a 4-piece band, football is more like an 11-piece band. Everything must be in sync to be successful. The blocking needs to match the quarterback’s drop, which needs to match the receiver’s stem. Both quarterback and receiver need to read the coverage the same way, pre-snap and post-snap.
Trevor Lawrence and Calvin Ridley have shown the ability to make beautiful music together, but have become out of tune these last couple of weeks. Now’s the time to get back on track.
Back to basics
A good starting point is getting back to basics. Calvin Ridley has four drops already on the season. Cleaning those up will go a long way to moving the offense forward. They’ll also help the Jaguars defense by keeping the chains moving and the offense on the field.
For Ridley, some cobwebs were expected with such a long layoff. But now’s the time for him to regain his form. Ridley’s drop on the slot fade against the Houston Texans for a touchdown would have been an amazing catch, and one Ridley is expected to make. Unfortunately, his other drops have been due to a lack of concentration.
Game speed in the regular season is just faster than anything Ridley could have replicated during his time away from the game. So he’s concentrating on getting hit as the ball is getting there, resulting in drops.
As Ridley gets fully up to game speed and wipes away the rust, these unforced errors will lessen. Drops are a part of football, but in the Jaguars' case, they’re taking points off the board. So it’s paramount they clean them up. Time and concentration should help this part of Ridley’s game.
Timing and spacing
At times you’ll see Lawrence’s footwork at the top of his drop not mesh well with the route Ridley’s running. Windows are small in the NFL, so when the timing is thrown off even by a split second, it’s hard to complete a pass. Timing issues due to taking a few extra steps on a route, or shortening a drop, are avoidable.
More in-game reps will eventually take care of this issue, but it’s frustrating to watch between two superstars. It all just has to click, and there’s no telling when that will happen.
Another issue for Ridley has been spacing. A few times this season he’s lined up too close to the sideline on a go route. Incorrect alignment can make life easier for a cornerback, leaving no space for Lawrence to fit in the throw.
Getting squeezed out of bounds will almost always lead to an incompletion or interception. If it continues to happen, Lawrence will likely start to look elsewhere. This will be a detriment to the offense since Ridley and the deep ball are such a weapon.
Varying his alignment to keep defenses guessing will work. But when lining up too close to the sideline, Ridley has to use his quickness to take his stem inside, while quickly getting back on his go route. That will help him create separation from the defender while also leaving enough room for Lawrence to drop in a pass.
Calvin Ridley’s Utilization
You can’t fault Doug Pederson and the Jaguars if the plan was to ease Ridley back into the grind of a regular season. Through the first three weeks, they’ve kept things fairly simple when it comes to his usage and alignment.
Ridley has lined up as wideout 87% of the time and in the slot only 13%. He’s also run a majority of his routes from the right side of the formation. All of this can lead to a defense keying on Ridley much easier and shutting him down. So now’s the time for an adjustment.
The coaching staff needs to start moving Ridley around. Motioning him is an easy way to keep defenses guessing but also keeping things simple on offense.
Another way to let the offense dictate coverage on Ridley is motioning players around him. The Jaguars have done this a few times but more is necessary.
Lining Ridley up as a no. 1 receiver, motioning someone to the outside, and making Ridley now the no. 2 in the formation, causes the defense to have to communicate on the fly. That’s when mistakes can happen. It will often get a safety or linebacker on Ridley, which is a matchup the Jaguars can take advantage of.
Ridley’s drop on the slot fade is a great example of this. A plus matchup with simple adjustments for the offense that can lead to big plays needs to be utilized.
Getting the ball in Ridley’s hands will create more opportunities for the rest of the offense. Forcing a defense to dedicate a couple of players to focus on Ridley would let the offense dictate coverages.
An offense as talented as the Jaguars going on the offensive would keep defensive coordinators up at night. It would also help stop the sky from falling in Jacksonville.
Will Trevor Lawrence and Calvin Ridley get the band back together in London against the Atlanta Falcons?