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Did the Jaguars fire the wrong coordinator?

Mike Caldwell has left town and Press Taylor is still in the building, despite conflicting numbers for their respective sides of the ball.

NFL: JUL 28 Jacksonville Jaguars Training Camp Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Scapegoat -- defined by Webster’s dictionary as “one that bears the blame for others” -- is the first word that comes to mind regarding the Jacksonville Jaguars’ recent moves.

After finishing the season 9-8 to miss the playoffs, and allowing Derrick Henry to rush for a season-high 153 yards in a win-and-in Week 18 divisional matchup, Doug Pederson fired defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell and much of his staff on Black Monday.

The team announced on Tuesday that running backs coach Bernie Parmalee was relieved of his duties and assistant offensive line coach Todd Washington’s contract had expired.

Offensive coordinator Press Taylor and most of his staff remain.

Here’s a look at how both sides of the ball performed for Jacksonville in 2023.

2023 Jaguars

- Yards per play Scoring rate Turnover rate DVOA EPA per play Success rate
- Yards per play Scoring rate Turnover rate DVOA EPA per play Success rate
Offense 5.2 (15th) 35.4% (17th) 14.9% (27th) -1.3% (18th) -.03 (17th) 42.9% (14th)
Defense 5.4 (20th) 32.3% (10th) 12.8% (13th) -4.2% (10th) -.03 (17th) 43.1% (16th)

(There’s not a big difference. Both units were middle-of-the-pack in 2023.)

Taylor called plays full-time for the first time in his coaching career. “I thought it went good,” Pederson said at his end-of-season presser on Monday. “Can it be better? Yeah, it can be better.”

“...As a play caller, yeah, you want to be as efficient as you can, especially on early downs. But at times, you get handcuffed just a little bit by trying to find the right play. Especially when you’re struggling as an offense.”

“I thought overall, Press did a nice job of organizing the offense, the game planning that we did, and even calling. I would have to go back and look at all the numbers, but I think points and different things like that, we were better [than last year]. We can still get better on third down and in the red zone, all of that. He did a nice job.”

Narrator voice: the Jaguars were not better than last year.

Here’s a look at how the offensive side of the ball performed in 2022 compared to 2023.

Jaguars offense

- Points per game Yards per play Scoring rate Turnover rate DVOA EPA per play Success rate
- Points per game Yards per play Scoring rate Turnover rate DVOA EPA per play Success rate
2022 23.9 (9th) 5.7 (8th) 39.2% (11th) 12.2% (24th) 6.0% (10th) .05 (7th) 46.7% (5th)
2023 22.2 (13th) 5.2 (15th) 35.4% (17th) 14.9% (27th) -1.3% (18th) -.03 (17th) 42.9% (14th)

Just for fun, here’s a look at how the defensive side of the ball performed in 2022 and 2023.

Jaguars defense

- Points per game Yards per play Scoring rate Turnover rate DVOA EPA per play Success rate
- Points per game Yards per play Scoring rate Turnover rate DVOA EPA per play Success rate
2022 21.4 (14th) 5.4 (18th) 36.1% (17th) 14.4% (4th) 4.8% (23rd) -.02 (12th) 44.2% (19th)
2023 21.8 (17th) 5.4 (20th) 32.3% (10th) 12.8% (13th) -4.2% (10th) -.03 (17th) 43.1% (16th)

To simplify, the Jaguars’ offense dipped from 10th to 18th as the defense lept from 23rd to 10th in DVOA (an efficiency metric that adjusts team performance based on strength of opponent and many other contextual factors). The offense declined and the defense improved.

When asked on Monday if the offensive or defensive breakdowns were more alarming, Pederson acknowledged, “It’s yes and yes ... This is the complementary part of football that I don’t think we were very good in this year ... I think those are equal to both sides.” Caldwell was let go four hours later.

It’s not a surprise that Taylor is still a Jaguars employee, considering his close relationship with Pederson going back to their days in Philadelphia. And really, he wasn’t close to the worst coordinator in the league this season. The thing is, neither was Caldwell.

Change was certainly needed after the way the season ended, but it’s a shame Caldwell got the short end of the stick. Jacksonville’s defense did not perform well at all after its Week 9 bye -- especially during the December 0-4 freefall and Week 18’s disasterclass -- but injuries, errors, and effort from players played a role as well.

Caldwell showed some juice as a good play caller in the past. Yes, the same unit was toyed with by Jake Browning, Joe Flacco, and Baker Mayfield, but the Jaguars' defense did its job against the best and the worst of the NFL’s most important position.

For two years, Jacksonville held up against good quarterbacks and generally outperformed their own talent level. The Jaguars ranked 30th in defensive DVOA in 2020 and 2021 before Caldwell took them to 23rd in 2022 and 10th in 2023. Contract-year Josh Allen was the defense’s only Pro Bowler in that whole span, despite the Jaguars spending top-five money on that side of the ball in each of the past two seasons.

Taylor’s gamble to publicly announce his role as the Jaguars’ offensive play caller just prior to the season opener failed spectacularly. Not that it matters. Thanks to his connection to Pederson, the coach in charge of the other side of the ball has taken the fall.