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2020 Opponent Scouting Report: Jaguars Offense, Gardner Minshew is better than he should be

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Overview

On September 13th, 2020 the Indianapolis Colts will travel to the sunshine state to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars. In this Week 1 match-up, I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may attack our Colts.

The Colts lead this series with an all-time record of 24 wins and 14 losses. Though in the past five years, the team is 5-6 including a week 17 drubbing in 2020 that saw the Colts held scoreless in the second half. Nine months later these two teams seem to be headed in different directions, the Colts seem poised to make a run at the playoffs while the Jags seem poised to make a run for the number one overall pick in the 2021 draft.

Let’s see what we can expect in week one.


Offensive Scheme

In week one of the 2019 season the Jaguars were excited about new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo and his West Coast system. It’s now week one of 2020 and the Jaguars are excited for former Washington Football Team head coach Jay Gruden and his West Coast system. Historically, Jay Gruden offenses haven’t been great, they’re usually somewhere in the middle of the pack by most statistical metrics. To be fair to Gruden, given the talent of most of those Washington teams, middle of the road was pretty good. And for the Jaguars, who ranked 26th in points scored last season, middle of the road would be quite the improvement.

The last time a Jay Gruden led offense faced our Colts was week two of 2018. Colts fans might remember that as Darius Leonard’s coming out party after racking up 19 tackles, a sack, a pass defensed and a forced fumble. I went back and watched the all-22 of that week two match up to understand what Gruden might have in store against the same defensive scheme he saw in 2018.

What I saw wasn’t impressive.

Gruden’s game plan was pretty basic and it lacked almost anything that would be considered creative from a play design standpoint. There was one pass play at the end of the third quarter involving a little misdirection which fooled the defense but outside of that one play, there were only basic concepts mostly designed to beat zone coverage.

I know if there are any Jags fans reading this, you probably didn’t appreciate that last paragraph. Before you get all upset and call me an idiot in the comments just know that I think Gruden’s system might be perfect for Gardner Minshew’s skill set. I’ll get into that in a bit, but what follows are some of the concepts I believe we’re likely to see on Sunday.


Dagger Concept

Often the dagger concept includes a drag (or drive) route from the backside receiver. In this instance the receiver on the top of the screen runs a 15 yard out.

This modification has the potential to pull a linebacker from his zone in the middle of the field to the far sideline, which would create a massive throwing lane in the middle of the field. With the tight end sitting down at 7 yards, the quarterback already has three options to his left; short, intermediate and deep. Pulling that linebacker toward the far sideline might create an easier throw over the middle than trying to get him to step up to cover a drag coming across his face from that side of the field. Unfortunately the Colts aren’t in a zone as they send a linebacker on a blitz and drop a safety down to fill the space he vacated.

On this play the Colts are in a single high safety look due to the blitz so the slot receiver runs at Malik Hooker to try to pull him deep to open a throwing lane in the middle of the field for the outside receiver running the dig.

In the end, with a better pass on this play, this would have been a completion that could have created a lot of yards after the catch as the deep middle of the field was wide open. This is a simple concept that can be effective against most coverage schemes and becomes a quick, easy high-low read for the quarterback.

It’s early in the season so if you’re a little rusty on your route tree (or you think I might be a little insane because why would a “normal” fan ever need to know this stuff, but you kind of like it and want to learn more too) this is an awesome article from Matt Bowen that will give you everything you need to know and probably a little more. Also, if it’s an article about football written by Matt Bowen, there’s a 100% chance it’s a great article.


Smash:

This completion was made possible by Malik Hooker’s initial 25 yard depth. The Colts are in a man cover one and this passing concept is often used against cover two, but as you can see here, if you get the right match up outside and the deep safety is where you need him to be, it’s effective against man coverage as well.

Once again this is a simple concept for the quarterback, pre-snap the Colts defense shows man coverage with a single high safety. It’s an easy pre-snap read that all 32 starting quarterbacks would make. Obviously they could show man and roll to zone to try to fool the quarterback, but they don’t do that here. As soon as the ball is snapped it’s obvious that the Colts are in man. Alex Smith knew he had the match up he wanted and as soon as his receiver was even with the defender he threw to his receiver.

This type of play is one that I believe Gardner Minshew will enjoy and excel with in 2020.


Y-Cross

Gardner Minshew will be very familiar with this concept as it’s a bread and butter play of his college offense. The idea here is that the two wide receivers run deep routes to draw the safeties away from the middle of the field to clear it out for the crossing route (in this case from the receiver who went in motion before the snap.

Because the safety stayed deep and toward the center of the field the receiver closest to the bottom of the frame made his read (as his is an option route) and sat down for the deep comeback route. In this instance Alex Smith was late with his throw and it almost resulted in a turnover but the receiver was open had the throw been on time.


Flood:

The flood is a zone beating concept that cuts the field in half for the quarterback and overloads (or floods) zone coverage on that side of the field. It can also be effective against man coverage, especially when one receiver is running a crossing route from the opposite side of the field.

It’s designed to attack all three levels of one side of the field and, if against zone coverage, to make a defender decide who to leave open. If things go according to plan all the quarterback has to do is throw an accurate ball to an open man. Gruden threw this at the Colts defense several times with some success in 2018 and it’s a concept quarterback Gardner Minshew should excel at, for several reasons.


Switch route combo I think Minshew will like:

This play features four routes that start out north and south. On both sides of the play the two receiving options cross before making their breaks. In the meantime the back is running a flair which works to help pull defenders up to the line of scrimmage.

Alex Smith was content to throw the majority of his passes at or behind the line of scrimmage the last time the Colts played a Jay Gruden offense. Gardner Minshew might be willing to do that as well, but I doubt it. This play against zone coverage gives Minshew the kind of quick reads and usage of space that he likes.

This is speculation as I didn’t see a ton of this from Minshew (although, admittedly I wasn’t looking for it either). However I saw Gruden use multiple switch route combinations throughout that 2018 contest and given what I do know about Minshew’s game I would expect to see several similar play designs this Sunday.


Goalline- Drive:

There’s a chance we’ll see the drive concept used near the goal line. The tight end on this play runs a deep(er) in breaking route while the receiver in the slot runs a shallow in. With the defense in man cover 1, the idea here is to make the zone defenders make a decision. Is the linebacker in the underneath zone going to get pulled back to cover the tight end, leaving the receiver open underneath? Or is he going to recognize the concept and trust that the safety behind him should stay home to take away the deeper route?

If the linebacker or safety make a mistake this is a completion that could have gone for 6. Instead Hooker and the linebacker (sorry my internet is making this play look really grainy) stay home and force Alex Smith to throw the very low percentage fade route to the back corner of the end zone.

Gardner Minshew should excel with this concept given the quick read in the middle of the field. Even against different coverage the dual in-breaking routes will more often than not create windows to throw into, either via good timing or by using his legs to extend the play.


Mesh

I will personally guarantee we will see this concept in some way, shape or form on Sunday. If not I will have shamed my entire family. You didn’t think I was going to promise to do something ridiculous or embarrassing if an NFL team did something stupid did you? NFL teams do stupid things all the time, click this link it’s proof of my theory. This play was partially created by Minshew’s college coach, Mike Leach, so I feel very strongly about this prediction. He’s very familiar with this concept and Gruden should dial it up early and often.

Literal books have been written about this play, I feel like I’ve written a book about it as every team uses it to varying degrees. That said “mesh” might be the play Gruden goes to, to get Minshew into rhythm as the reads should be as familiar to him as tying your shoes is to you. If you want to get into the nitty gritty of the Mesh concept, here’s a near 20 minute video explaining everything.

Like I said at the start of this section on scheme, I don’t believe Jay Gruden is going to be drawing up anything complex. Especially not in week one, surrounded mostly by players he’s never coached. With that said, he may not need to. If he sticks to concepts that quarterback Gardner Minshew feels comfortable with and the second year pro doesn’t turn the ball over, the Jaguars could move the ball effectively. Ultimately this game, for the Jags offense and the Colts defense, isn’t going to be about out-smarting the other, it will be a game of who executes their most basic schemes, better.


Quarterback:

When Gardner Minshew was drafted in the 6th round, it was an interesting moment for online “draftniks”, many of whom had watched what Minshew put on tape and dared ask the question: “Why not?”

There were a lot of issues with Minshew as a prospect. Having only played one year at a power five school, with only one year of decent production in a college system famous for inflating QB production (lookin’ at you Graham Harrell), an arm that few considered to be strong and his 6’1” frame.

I know, I know, short QB’s are so in right now, 6’1” is massive compared to Kyler Murray. But if you’re going to have all of those other issues, at least look like an NFL quarterback, right? All of those things led to him falling all the way to the sixth round on draft night. Despite his draft position, a Nick Foles injury in week one forced the rookie into action and what followed was part hype, part truth and part underdog with a very likable personality.

In reality Gardner Minshew showed us during his rookie campaign that he more or less, is who we thought he was. His arm isn’t big, he’s good at extending plays but he lacks the pure athleticism to make plays with his legs, and you’re never going to turn him into a traditional drop-back passer. Instead, as he showed us at Washington State, he’s actually really good when asked to use air-raid principles while playing quarterback.

It doesn’t seem like drafting a guy and then asking him to do things that you know he’s good at should be a revolutionary concept, but Gardner Minshew falling all the way to the sixth round shows that maybe NFL coaches and staff don’t have as much figured out as they would like us to think.


Spacing

On this play the Colts use four defenders to box in the three receivers that run routes to the bottom of the frame. Once the defensive end dropped into shallow coverage, the tight end cleared out the linebacker and the backs route pulled the safety toward the sideline, it creates space over the middle for DJ Chark to be both wide open and surrounded by white jerseys.

Mishew thrives with concepts like this one. It’s really only designed to go to one side of the field. Yes there are routes on the back side but asking Minshew to get to his fourth or fifth read isn’t realistic. Instead he recognizes the box from the defense, watches as the play design pulls the defenders apart and throws an accurate pass to an open receiver. It’s not a tough read or throw to make, but Minshew makes these plays consistently and if you want a list of quarterbacks who can’t do the same, it’s a really, really long list.


Anticipation

Minshew isn’t Alex Smith, even if the section on scheme confused you. He’s willing and able to take shots when they come open. Here Minshew reads the deep safety, sees that the linebacker has taken a step forward to defend the back and he realizes that the middle of the field is wide open for his receiver.

Minshew’s arm isn’t huge and you can see it some on this play. His throwing motion starts well before this ball leaves his hand, but if you stop and start the video somewhere around 3 seconds, you can clearly see that Minshew knows where he’s throwing this ball well before his receiver makes his cut.

Again, this isn’t rocket science, this is a QB making good reads (even if they’re simple), throwing accurate balls and not doing too much.


Manipulating the safety with his eyes

Before the snap the Colts were in a two high safety look. We could talk a lot about what all that means but this article is already approaching novella status so we’ll skip the deep dive and I’ll just say that the deep middle of the field is usually open in this instance.

Malik Hooker knows that Minshew knows this. He also knows that Minshew really has to step into his deep throws because of his less than ideal arm strength. What he doesn’t account for, because so few quarterbacks can do it, is that Gardner Minshew knows that he really has to step into his deep throws because of his less than ideal arm strength so the only way to complete this kind of pass is by using his eyes to move defenders where he wants them to go, even while he’s stepping into a throw he knows is going to a receiver he hasn’t looked at yet.

On this play Minshew stares down the slot receiver and as he runs his post, Minshew begins stepping into his throw, looking right at the post the entire time. Malik Hooker starts drooling (I assume) because this ball is getting picked, for sure. Except at the last possible instant, Minshew turns his head to see the receiver he knew he had one on one against a rookie, just before the ball left his fingertips.


Flood

We already talked about the flood concept above, but here you see Minshew use play action and his legs to get outside of the pocket to give his receivers enough time to get deep into their routes. He’s then able to find the open man for a 14 yard touchdown strike.

Another Flood

This is where Jay Gruden’s offense and Gardner Minshew’s talent should really align. Gruden likes to use the flood concept, stressing a defense at all three levels. Minshew is really good when outside of the pocket. The flood concept also shrinks the field down to half and making the game easier for a second year pro, is rarely a bad thing. It works well against zone coverage and Minshew is really good at working the ball into those spaces.

Ultimately Gardner Minshew isn’t an elite talent. He’s probably never going to be much more than an average NFL starter. But average NFL starters at QB are hard to find. He has figured out a lot of ways to get around his limitations as a player.

Growing up in Indiana I played a lot of basketball and if you go to enough outdoor courts you’ll eventually find some kid who can’t dribble with his left hand, he’s obviously never played a day of organized ball in his life, he even just looks wrong on a basketball court and he doesn’t have any idea that he shouldn’t be the best player on the court, but somehow he is.

That kid is Gardner Minshew.


Running Back:

A season ago Leonard Fournette showed everyone why the Jaguars used the fourth overall pick in 2017. Fournette put up career highs with 1,152 rushing yards and 4.3 yards per carry and was suspended for his participation in a fight with Buffalo Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson.

You know when you lay it all out like that, perhaps the Jaguars expected a little more from their top five pick. With the suspension voiding all guaranteed money left on his contract, the Jaguars made the decision to cut the underachieving former LSU star.

In his place the Jaguars plan to use a combination of 29 year old former Washington Football Team running back Chris Thompson and a couple guys who didn’t get drafted. The odds that they’re better than Fournette are slim.

Thompson is largely a receiving back, which is good as Fournette was targeted 100 times, good for third on the team in 2019.

The other backs on the roster are anyone’s guess. James Robinson, an undrafted rookie free agent out of Illinois State has been named the starter while Devine Ozigbo is listed second on the depth chart, who as an undrafted rookie in 2019, rushed 9 times for 27 yards (3.0 yards per carry for those of you who failed math). And listed third on the depth chart is Thompson who will likely have a defined role on third down.

This is my fourth year writing these scouting reports and this is the first time that I have nothing of any value, whatsoever, to show you about a position group via video or gif.

If the Jags find success on the ground this Sunday, it will be a tremendous disappointment as either the entire defense fell apart or the entire scouting staff missed on James Robinson.


Pass Catchers:

DJ Chark is easily the Jaguars best offensive player as of this writing. I suppose someone could argue it’s someone else, but it wouldn’t be a very good argument. Standing at 6’3” and running a 4.3 second 40 yard dash Chark is dangerous all over the field.

Chris Conley is yet another 6’3” receiver who ran a legitimate 4.3 second 40 yard dash. Conley is listed as WR2. Keelan Cole has been listed as WR3. Another name to keep an eye on is Dede Westbrook. Westbrook finds himself buried on the depth chart but he’s coming off of a solid season that saw him haul in 66 passes for 660 yards and three touchdowns.

While a 10 yard average isn’t exactly sexy for a wide out, he has been productive but the Jaguars hope that a pair of rookies out preform the 4th year pro. You may remember in the lead up to the draft hearing about a talented receiver named Laviska Shenult Jr. out of Colorado, of all places. The Jaguars liked what they saw from the 6’1” 227 pound receiver and used the 42 overall pick to select him.

The other rookie you might see was a fifth round selection out of Texas, Collin Johnson. Johnson is somewhere between 6’6” and 8’7” tall and figures to be a redzone threat early on.


Finding the back

This play does show that Minshew has a tendency to take his eyes off of his receivers as he danced around avoiding pressure. He’s good at extending plays and here he is able to find a back who picks up a ton of yards. I know this is a section on pass catchers but the Jaguars will use their backs in every aspect of offensive football if they can.


Westbrook

This play perfectly describes the kind of player Dede Westbrook is. He’s schemed open. He makes the catch. He gets a first down. In some ways he reminds me of Chester Rogers.


Just a great play from Chark

This play doesn’t show all of what makes him special but it’s a nice gain all the same.

This is part of what makes him special

You don’t see a lot of 6’3” guys walking around who can run 4.3 second 40’s who can also move laterally the way Chark can.


Respecting Conley’s speed

Chris Conley had a career year in 2019, catching 47 passes for 775 yards and five touchdowns. Until last season Conley had always been a disappointing third round pick but his natural gifts afforded him another chance in Jacksonville and he has made good use of the opportunity.

If you want to know what the Jaguars best offensive position group is, it’s the receivers and it’s not close. Surprisingly despite their recent efforts this franchise has assembled a really talented group.


Offensive Line:

First I’ll give you the names to know and then we’ll go over what to expect up front. From left to right:

Cam Robinson, Andrew Norwell, Brandon Linder, A.J. Cann, Jawaan Taylor.

This group returns for their second season as the starting five. As pass blockers these guys were really solid a season ago. Their sack totals weren’t great but most of that was due to Gardner Minshew often trying to extend plays only to be sacked by a more athletic defender.

The Jags did add one of the best stories from last years draft in division three guard prospect Ben Bartch who is listed as a backup at both guard positions. I had a chance to talk to Bartch at the Senior Bowl and in true offensive lineman form, he didn’t love talking to the media but he was a nice guy that performed well while there against elite talent. It will be tough to pull for him as a division foe but I will be paying attention to his development going forward.

While this unit held up well on passing downs, when it came time to get after it and move some defensive tackles out of the way, this unit was lacking. When I noticed Leonard Fournette picking up big chunks of yards, most of the time, it wasn’t because the line was opening big holes, Fournette was creating yards that weren’t there. This line truly didn’t open many holes a year ago but Jay Gruden might have something up his sleeve to try and fix this issue going forward.

Linder gets destroyed

Norwell and Robinson are able to move Leonard Williams well while Ben Koyack (TE #83) shows why you’ve never heard of him.

Minshew counted to 6-watermelon here

Everybody knows after 4 watermelon it’s a sack.

Or “Mississippi” if you prefer

Cam Robinson just casually jogging up field at the end

This is a perfect example of what I saw from last seasons film. Fournette had success in spite of this line’s inconsistent play, not because of it. The good news for the Colts is, the Jaguars might not have an NFL caliber running back under contract.

Everyone liked playing the Bengals

This hole probably made the 2019 Jaguars offensive line highlight reel. Rumor has it the entire highlight video was only 27 seconds long.


Final Thoughts:

The actions of the Jaguars front office make it pretty clear they’re not too worried about wins this season. The players and coaches on the other hand will be doing everything they can to keep their jobs and earn another NFL contract.

The guys in the team boxes might be focused on the 2021 draft but Jay Gruden wants another shot as a head coach and he might not get it if he doesn’t figure out a way to get Gardner Minshew to elevate the team around him.

This battle will be about execution for the Colts defense. Fortunately for us there is a huge disparity of talent between the Jaguars offense and the Colts defense. If the Jags have any serious success this Sunday it will be because Gardner Minshew doesn’t know he shouldn’t be as good as he is.