On October 22, 2017 the Indianapolis Colts will host the Jacksonville Jaguars. In this week seven match-up I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea for what we’re up against.
The Jags finished 2016 with 3 wins and 13 losses. One of those wins came against our Colts. Our win against that bad Jags team came at home and is best remembered by the visual of a pumped up Andrew Luck running off the field, wearing a brace on nearly every visible joint, pumping his fist like a kid who just won the Super Bowl. This all despite the win coming against a 3-12 team at a time the Colts had already been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.
Luck’s display of fight and competitiveness will live on in memory but this time the Colts will have to face the Jags without Luck — hopefully his absence won’t hurt our chances this time around. Let’s figure out what we can expect in week seven.
Usually when I break down an opponents scheme I look for resources online, other breakdowns that have been written prior to my compiling of information and gifs. I do this for a lot of reasons and I would be lying if I said time wasn’t one of them. Another is the fact that I watch 16 Colts games a year (17 to 20 games when Peyton Manning was around) and if I watched tape and broke down our offensive and defensive scheme, I would do it better than a Lions fan would be able to.
Sure I watch 2 or 3 games leading up to before I write an opponent scouting report but the fact remains that a Jags fan who took the time to really understand what their team is doing would offer a better insight than I will be able to.
With that said, I can find exactly zero (0) articles that go over the Jaguars scheme with the kind of detail and visuals I like to include. So what follows is my best effort to give you a good insight in what they will look to do on offense.
Luckily for me, the information I did find let me know that Jags offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett runs an Air Coryell system. Neat.
Traditionally an Air Coryell system features a lot of single back sets, three wide receivers, pre-snap movement and deep looks down the field. These Jags run a lot of plays out of the I-formation giving heavy 21 personnel looks. With that said they implement a lot of looks from the gun using 4 and 5 wide sets and, like classic Coryell systems, they look to push the ball down the field.
I fully expect to see a lot of passing concepts that stretch the field and create multiple easy reads for Blake Bortles. One of those concepts you can bank on seeing is the sail concept:
The sail concept is designed to do exactly that. A vertical route stretches the defense deep while giving the quarterback three options, one at each level of the defense, in theory leading to a safe throw.
The Jags run it from a bunch set in this example. The idea here is to confuse the defense at the snap as to who is covering who. If the defense is pattern matching each defender will essentially “switch” their assignment based on the receivers route. Coming off the line in this way makes it difficult for the defenders to declare and may force them into making a mistake. Even if the defense doesn’t pattern match this creates a free release and a more difficult route to cover.
The outside receiver gets a free release and runs a go route. The slot receiver runs a deep out and the tight end runs a short out to the flat. Textbook.
- In Action:
Unfortunately for the Jags the Texans DB’s “reroute” the Jags receivers so that the receiver running the 15 yard out makes contact with the receiver running the go. How this wasn’t illegal contact beyond five yards, I’ll never know.
Either way this concept and concepts like it are staples of this offense which will look to stretch the field and require everyone to execute on every play.
Here we see the Jags come out in another bunch set and yet again they will look to confuse the Titan defenders and make them make choices that will dictate where quarterback Blake Bortles throws the ball.
The receiver lined up nearest the bottom of the picture runs a drag route back across the formation. The receiver in the slot runs a deep dig. This combination of routes, run together, should prevent the DB’s lined up over their respective assignments from being able to cover both cleanly.
The receiver that lines up nearest the formation runs a shallow out to the flat. Which is designed to further draw attention away from the design of the play.
Meanwhile the running back runs a shallow dig of his own which should pull the linebacker in man coverage away from that side of the field.
Finally, the receiver at the top of the screen runs a go route. His route on this play is designed so that the quarterback can key on the deep safety. If the safety drops deep there will be a naturally huge hole on that side of the field. If he dives in to cover the drag route it leaves a 1 on 1 match up deep down field.
- The safety went deep:
The free safety on this play dropped (as he should) to assist with the go route on the perimeter. The running back’s route drew the linebacker where he needed to go and the DB’s couldn’t run through each other to cover the drag route.
This is a well designed play that once again creates three levels for Bortles to attack using quick, easy reads. After showing you these plays I feel that I need to note, on occasion the Jags will drop back and run multiple vertical routes and let their QB take his shot. This offense isn’t predicated on crossing patters or creating multiple levels of options for the quarterback to throw to. Instead, in 2017 the offensive success of the Jacksonville Jaguars revolves completely, totally around their power run game.
With the 4th overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft the Jacksonville Jaguars selected running back Leonard Fournette. We can argue the merits of drafting a top 5 running back all day (1st round, really), that’s not what I’m here to do. Instead I just want to say that the Jags had a plan when they took the 235 lb human battering ram and so far they’ve implemented it.
I’m not a huge fan of “box score scouting” because there’s a lot that you can’t gather from simply looking at stats. You have to watch the games to fully understand what’s happening. The numbers I’m about to throw at you, align with what I’ve noticed on the field.
In their week 5 game against Pittsburgh Leonard Fournette ran the ball 14 times for 39 yards with a long run of 12 yards. Good for an average of 2.78 yards per carry.
The second half? The second half saw Fournette run the ball 14 more times for 142 yards, good for more than 10 yards per carry. I know, I know, he had a 90 yard run in there, but you can’t take it away from the guy, but for kicks, if we took that 90 yard TD out his numbers he still averages 4.0 yards per carry, an improvement of more than a yard per carry.
His entire game is based on wearing out a defense, in the 8 runs before he outran everyone, he totaled 12 yards. This isn’t graceful football. This isn’t pretty. This isn’t the type of game that the NFL has been steering its teams to play for the better part of the past 20 years. This is old school, down hill running and for the first time since Maurice Jones-Drew gouged our defense consistently, I wish we didn’t have to play these guys.
I’m only going to go over one run because it gives you a good idea of what the Jags really want to do. This play features the backside guard pulling, a fullback as the lead blocker, and tough man-to-man blocking across the line.
Fournette is running a designed counter where he will take a step to his left and cut back to where his blockers are on the right. Basic misdirection. While I don’t know the called play, I believe this to be accurate. I may have chosen the wrong gap, but bottom line it was designed to be an inside the tackles run.
- Why outside contain is important:
Even though Ravens DE Carl Davis stalemates his double team and fills his gap perfectly, the combination of the pulling guard and block from the H-back are enough to allow Fournette to turn the corner and get something out of nothing on this play.
Like I said this play wasn’t blocked well but it is the heart of what the Jags want to do, not only in the run game but on offense. They want to hit you in the mouth and they don’t want to stop until the other team just gives up.
This isn’t a normal offense for 2017. They only pass the ball 44% of their offensive plays and according to their head coach Doug Marrone, 44% is far too often. For reference the currently undefeated Kansas City Chiefs have thrown the ball 54% of their offensive snaps, and they’re in the top 10 for rushing attempts on the season.
The article I linked above quotes Marrone stating that he wants to change the way the game is played. If this Jags team continues to find success, he may not change the league completely, but he might have a huge influence on how AFC South general managers choose to build their teams.
Quarterback: Blake Bortles, This Guy Sucks Right?
Not so fast my friend. Yeah, okay Bortles isn’t good. He’s not. But he isn’t exactly bad either. When you take a look around the league you realize that a guy like Blake Bortles isn’t easy to find.
I believe that says more about NFL coaches and their ability to adjust to the types of quarterbacks college football is producing than the actual talent of the prospects coming to the league. Regardless, if the Jags are smart they’ll stick with Bortles until a clear cut upgrade becomes available. Which may not come along for quite some time.
Why am I high on Bortles? If you can say I’m “high” on the guy it’s due to the fact that given the run based offense the Jags want to run, he’s good enough. That’s it. If you want to build around a quarterback and make him the focal point of the offense, forget it. Burn down the roster and position yourself to take a QB early again this year. Instead if you can move the ball on the ground, create turnovers and give your team a short field, you can win games as long as your QB doesn’t turn the ball over when you need him to throw.
- This is the kind of play you want Bortles to run:
This is a simple play, simple read, and simple throw. It’s set up to succeed but you still have to have a QB who can execute these plays. It seems simple but go watch the Browns and you’ll quickly understand these are the throws that matter when you want to pound the rock.
- This is the kind of play you want to slap Blake Bortles on:
Bortles can progress through reads. I’ve seen him do it. I get that he had one-on-one coverage and if his outside receiver was supposed to run a fade to the back corner, then, sure he took his shot.
But look at the slot receiver on this play, as long as Bortles looks right to hold the ILB in place (which he does), he has six points if he throws to the receiver running the drag. That side of the field is cleared out, the motion before the snap all but guaranteed he would be open. Blake Bortles knew they were scheming him open and that side of the field would be void of defenders. It’s literally what the play is designed to do.
Instead he throws to a receiver that either ran the wrong route or just couldn’t get past contact that came within the first 5 yards.
- Then there’s this:
Bortles does the right thing and throws a great ball.
- End zone angle:
Bortles sees Ravens Safety Eric Weddle cheat outside, clearing the middle of the field for his tight end Marcedes Lewis. This was obviously the match-up he wanted to see and confidently threw to Lewis who rewarded the QB by going up and making the catch.
I don’t know if I should give him credit for putting the ball only where Lewis could catch it, basically a non-sideline back shoulder throw, or if he just chucked it up and Lewis ran underneath. All things considered I’ll give him credit for the throw, it did end up being perfect.
- Then there’s this:
How Bortles throws the ball this poorly is beyond me. This is a 12 yard throw, I suppose it could have been an option route and the receiver could have run a curl or a dig based on the defensive look, but given what they’re doing with the receivers on the other side of the field this seems unlikely. If he hits him in stride this is a first down, instead it’s thrown well behind his receiver and results in a basic first-day-of-camp style tip drill for the Titans defense.
Here’s the thing with Blake Bortles; if you use him to compliment a strong defense and a good run game, then he’s going to be good enough for you to win football games. If you want him to be the face of the franchise, leading drives and throwing for 300+ yards per game, you’re going to have a bad time.
Besides, Leonard Fournette is the face of the franchise.
Running Backs: Leonard Fournette is Unique
There’s something unique about Fournette. Sure he’s bigger and faster than any human has any right to be, but even guys who have similar size and speed don’t play like this guy. What sets him apart isn’t physical, it’s mental.
You’ve probably seen the following clip by now, because everyone has shown it over and over again, Leonard Fournette waving to Mike Mitchell to hit him. That’s totally true. He’s waving Mitchell in. What they can’t really show is what truly makes this special.
See Fournette and Mitchell had been meeting each other head on all game. It started early when Mitchell made a “tackle” and got up to tell Fournette that he had made the stop. Mitchell, a 9 year veteran, probably had something to say about tackling him all day, something about being a rookie, something welcoming him to the league. Fournette, being who he is, accepted the challenge and for the next three quarters every time Fournette tripped while running directly through Mike Mitchell’s soul, Mitchell and Fournette got up and let the other guy know neither of them were going anywhere.
- Which is what lead to this play:
In the open field Fournette, sees Mitchell ahead and realized this was the moment. As far as either of those guys were concerned, at that exact second, the only two people in that building were Mike Mitchell and Leonard Fournette. What results is an exclamation point on the kind of day each guy had. Mitchell got him down, which is his job, but Fournette won the down.
I don’t really think I can accurately describe to you through written word how physical Fournette is. I don’t know that I’ve seen a back like him in my lifetime. Like I said, this isn’t just a height-weight-speed issue, this is his mentality. He wants to run you over and he has the build and ability to be able to do it 30 times a game if that’s what it takes to soften up your defense.
People used to talk about running backs that wore down a defense over the course of a game. Guys that would grind the game out and when the defense was tired they would still be fresh and going strong. The league has been moving away from those backs, mostly because guys that can take that kind of a beating are rare.
- Then there’s Fournette:
I don’t want to like the guy. He’s in our division. But watching him run is exciting, not because he makes a lot of explosive plays like the 90 yard run above, because he doesn’t. He’s exciting because he’s going to punch you in the mouth on five or six, 2 yard runs in a row and then he’s going to break off a 10 yarder. Then he’s going to repeat the process all day long and he’s not going to lose a step.
Watching that mental battle between him and the guys trying to tackle him is what’s exciting. This guy seems to be as old school as they come, every game he’s healthy could end up being a battle of wills between Fournette and everyone on the opposing defense.
14 weeks of the year, I’m going to enjoy watching this guy. The other two weeks, well I hope he fumbles a bunch.
- The Texans front seven is good:
But the rookie runner has met a similar fate on a lot of his runs this year.
- Should have been an inside run:
This play is designed to run off of the inside of the pulling guard. If you’ll notice Fournette cut outside, remember “run where they ain’t”. Anyway Fournette turns this play into a nice gain despite not having a designed hole to run through.
- Letting Chris Ivory have some fun:
It’s not hard to get a push against a 7 man box and that’s exactly what the Jags are gifted with on this play. Ivory hits the hole and is stopped for a nice gain.
Ivory isn’t the player Fournette is, but he’s good to spell the workhorse back from time-to-time. I would expect to see him used in this way often this year as defenses will notice when Fournette is off the field, coupled with a shotgun formation and you’re probably going to have running lanes open.
- Out of the backfield:
One thing I haven’t mentioned yet that I noticed a lot was how often the Jags delay a back coming out and then throw to him. Fournette is averaging 2.5 catches per game and has more than 125 yards receiving on the year.
Leonard Fournette and Chris Ivory probably won’t break off any long runs this weekend. That 90 yard run isn’t typical for this offense. What you will see is a heavy rotation of defenders trying their best to stop these backs before they get a chance to get to full speed. Because if they get to full speed and our DB’s try to tackle him the way you’re taught to tackle, I fully expect to see someone in the concussion protocol heading into week 8.
Wide Receiver: It’s a Good Thing They Have Fournette
Two years ago the Jacksonville Jaguars had a receiver catch 80 passes for 1,400 yards and a league leading 14 touchdowns, but Allen Robinson joined the yearly list of players lost due to a torn ACL early in the season. The Jags selected Robinson in the 2nd round of the 2014 draft. 22 picks before drafting him the Jags took another wide receiver in Marqise Lee.
Lee has become Bortles number one target in Robinson’s absence. Through five games he has been targeted 30 times and reeled in 15 catches for 208 yards. For reference in the last three weeks T.Y. Hilton has caught 13 passes for 360 yards. A receiver named Allen will get a lot of looks on Sunday. Allen Hurns has had 27 balls thrown his way snatching 18 balls for 207 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Keelan Cole is the third name you should know, he was a UDFA from D2 Kentucky Wesleyan. He’s drawn 16 targets while only pulling in 5 passes for 40 yards. He could have a few passes thrown his way, but the guy that will likely have the biggest day receiving is 79 year old tight end Marcedes Lewis. Okay, he’s only 33 but doesn’t it feel like this guy has been in the league for decades? This season he’s been targeted often but only brought in 5 passes, 3 of which have scored touchdowns.
Just for reference if you take the top four receivers not named Fournette and combine their numbers they have 43 catches for 531 yards, once again T.Y. Hilton has 24 catches for 466 yards. I’ve said it a lot on Stampede Blue mostly in various comments that stats without context are meaningless. Well here’s some context:
- Someone has to get open:
I noticed this a few times in the games I’ve watched, the Jags will run iso routes where someone has to just go man to man with guy across from them, win the route and make a play. Here that results in no one winning a route and Bortles taking the coverage sack.
- Like on this play:
Here Marqise Lee beats press coverage, gets a step on his defender and Eric Weddle isn’t able to get there before Bortles has put a nice ball on his receiver. This play is more rare for the Jags in the sense that it worked this well. I expect to see a few of these shots taken but I expect to see a lot of crossing patterns and guys getting schemed open.
- Nice route:
That’s Allen Hurns with the nice route, finding the hole in the zone and making the catch. This is another play that Bortles shows that at times he looks, well, good.
Ultimately without Allen Robinson the Jags don’t have a true number one receiver. What they have are a bunch of guys. The term “jag” has been used around the league for a long time. It stands for “just a guy” or “just another guy” and if you’re a “jag” it essentially means you’re highly replaceable. This Jag’s receiving corps is comprised of a bunch of jags.
Lewis is the only concern I have, not because I think the 33 year old tight end has any special physical gifts. It’s because the Colts have yet to prove that they can cover anyone who plays tight end for any professional football team they’ve played for at least a few years. If Lewis doesn’t have a big day it’s because the Jag’s coaches haven’t done their jobs well enough.
Offensive Line: This Unit Isn’t Bad
I have a theory. I haven’t seen it anywhere else but I can’t be the first person to believe what I’m about to say. A lot of people like to point out that young offensive linemen coming into the league are ill-suited to play NFL football due to the spread offense and as a result NFL line play is at an all time low.
I think that’s a lazy take, I think the root cause is multifaceted and deals with poor player development, rapid coaching turnover, and a near complete disconnect from NCAA to NFL football.
With that said, my theory; modern NCAA linemen will translate into heavy zone blocking schemes better than they will traditional man blocking schemes.
Like I said, that can’t be revolutionary. Ultimately this is a discussion for another day, but the Jags obviously don’t agree with my take. They’ve assembled a team of linemen with the intent of running God’s play over and over again. Like I said, I love to watch that kind of football, not everyone does but I’m glad we’re still seeing it. With that said these Jags linemen aren’t good enough to win a bunch of one on one match ups consistently. They can’t always win against defenders trying to control their gap.
They will run a few zone concepts here and there, but that isn’t what they want to do and most of the time it’s obvious.
- This play starts with a poorly timed zone step from all five down linemen:
The Texans have clearly watched enough Jaguars tape to know that despite the zone run look, these guys aren’t a zone team. This is a designed cutback run with the hopes that the defense will flow towards the zone run to the right they show following the snap of the ball.
Instead the Texans (mostly) stay home and fill their gaps. Ultimately Texans linebacker Whitney Mercilus welcomes Cam Robinson to the NFL by reminding the young fella that if the play is going away from you it’s best to make your man take a longer path to the ball carrier instead of the direct path he allowed. It was very thoughtful of Mercilus to teach Robinson this lesson.
Even if Robinson didn’t whiff this block this play wasn’t going anywhere. Jadeveon Clowney gets rid of the tight end like it was nothing, but even if he couldn’t have chased down the back, defensive end Brandon Dunn, clearly still bitter about going undrafted in 2014, throws 315 lb guard A.J. Cann like he’s a toddler and was in the process of what I can only assume would have turned into an eventual arrest for mass murder committed on live TV, had the play not been blown dead (he was killing the Jaguars offensive line- if you missed the joke).
Meanwhile J.J. Watt gets blocked by the fullback and loses the edge, though safety Andre Hal would have done his best to keep Fournette inside, which featured Benardrick McKinney ready and willing to tackle Fournette. He would have made the stop.
The only two offensive linemen to win this down were left guard Patrick Omameh and center Brandon Linder. Coincidentally these two have scored the highest grades from PFF so far this season. Yes I know, no one cares about PFF, just thought it was interesting given this play.
- Poor Cam:
This is what happens when your rookie left tackle hasn’t caught up to the speed of the game.
- Then they have moments like this:
They aren’t going to open a lot of holes in the run game and they probably won’t keep Bortles clean the entire game, but they don’t really need to. Fournette seems like he wants to blast open his own holes and depending on what snap it is, the Jags might get good Blake or bad Blake and it’s a roll of the dice each time. If they’re lucky he gets hit on the bad-Blake downs.
This unit is receiving a lot of praise in the media. ESPN says they’re a pleasant surprise, some people say they had a top 5 performance in week 5. I get it, they’re leading the league in rushing yards and they’ve only given up 5 sacks, which is the second fewest this year. Those things tend to make you think they’re a good line. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this is a bad line. I would trade 4 of our starters for 4 of theirs if this were Madden. I think there are other factors at play than simply saying these guys are an elite unit.
For starters Blake Bortles has 15 runs for 107 yards, and before Leonard Fournette ripped off his 90 yard run, he had averaged 3.48 yards per carry. In fact had he not run 90 yards with the game completely in hand at the 2 minute mark against the Steelers he wouldn’t have had a single game as a professional with more than 3.85 yards per carry in a game. Without Bortles’ 107 and Fournette’s long run, this team would still be in the top 10 in total rushing yards, but they would have the lowest YPC of top 10 teams by nearly half a yard per carry.
The sack stat is a good one. only 5 sacks given up through five games. With that said they’ve only attempted 136 passes, 6th fewest in the league. Of the 8 teams who have thrown fewer than 150 passes through 5 weeks, 3 teams have given up 8 or fewer sacks on the year, so yeah that’s good. This offense does get the ball out quickly and the frequency that they run the ball makes the play action pass effective. So there are potential detractors from the narrative of this line.
It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers and declare the line “good”. They have their moments but they can’t line up against a heavy box and consistently move defenders at their will. I’ve watched the tape and they can’t do it, I don’t care what ESPN tells you.
The Jaguars don’t have a good offense. Seriously. What they have is a clock controlling battering ram of a man who will get you 3.5 yards when the line doesn’t open a hole and he’ll get you 10-15 if they do. This offense seems content to ride Fournette until he can’t do it anymore.
Their offense only works if their defense can force 3 and outs and create turnovers. Unfortunately for us, their defense looks really good. But I’ll cover that tomorrow.