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.
Surprise, surprise it’s the 4-3 under single high safety, Seahawks-esque defense, once again. I’ve written essentially the same thing about this style of defense here, here, here, here, here, here and here. So if you want to know the basics of this style of defense, click any of those links. Everything I’m about to show you is based off of the same ideas that created that system, just current for these Jaguars.
After watching the All-22 of our 2019 week 17 game against these Jags, I don’t think it’s a great representation of what they usually look to do on defense. The play calls were less aggressive, and the only reason they would have done this is if they weren’t the slightest bit worried about Jacoby Brissett. We got little brothered by Jacksonville... ouch.
Due to this realization I’ve looked at more than just our last game against these Jags and while I’m not exactly sure if they’re more or less worried about Philip Rivers, I’m pretty sure the Colts offense will look a little different and these Jags will want to mix things up as well.
Pattern matching struggles
Jags man coverage against bunch pic.twitter.com/wtBip5ZKqk— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 8, 2020
At the bottom of the screen you’ll notice that the Colts have three receivers bunched. The receivers release vertically which creates traffic and confusion. Usually in this situation defenders will know who they’re going to cover on the play based on which direction each player breaks. This play makes that much more difficult for the defense to do because no one makes a break until T.Y. Hilton falls off and there’s no defender within ten yards.
So how will the Jag’s defense counter these late breaking bunch formations so that the Colts don’t just run four highly effective plays the entire game?
Boxing the Bunch
Jags Defense Coverage 2 pic.twitter.com/yjJ5uVDAh9— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) November 12, 2019
Instead of relying on an ability to quickly identify what direction the receiver is going to go this clip shows us that the Jags will probably look to “box the bunch” which is a term I know from watching Detail on ESPN+. This isn’t an ad for the service but every episode I watch I learn something and it feels like Peyton Manning is giving me a private lesson on football and that feeling alone is worth the price of the monthly subscription. Instead of me breaking this play down I’m going to give it to you straight from the GOAT’s mouth:
He spends more time talking about the routes that the 49ers use to beat the coverage but if you notice in the clip I posted above, the Saints run the same combination of routes to beat this look against the Jags. The option route that’s targeted looks a little different because the Jags linebacker stayed with the receiver running the vertical route but with a better throw, both examples beat this coverage.
Ultimately this coverage isn’t always highly effective at shutting down plays, instead it prevents big plays and keeps your defenders in position to make a play if either a receiver or the quarterback happens to make a mistake. When you’re surrounded by four defenders, even small mistakes can turn into game changing turnovers.
This will be something to watch for on Sunday, if the Colts come out in a bunch formation and the Jags give them this “box” look, it’s safe to assume Frank Reich will have a similar play ready to go to beat it.
Jags Defense Coverage pic.twitter.com/qbZ2j1jtAr— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) November 12, 2019
The Jags show man coverage with a switch in the middle. I have to believe that the Jags prepared for this look and anticipated it was coming. To start this is a variation of the Air-Raid concept that inventors Hal Mumme and Mike Leach simply refer to as “mesh”.
At the snap it looks like the slot receiver is left uncovered. In reality the safety is lined up ten yards away and drops into coverage once he sees the receiver running the drag route. The linebackers then switch off of the crossing routes. What makes this play work for the Jags is the fact that everyone is on the same page. The linebackers see that it’s mesh and they’re not fighting each other to cross the field, instead they allow the receivers to cross and then rally to make the tackle. Its about all they can realistically do in this situation.
Aggressive on Third Down
Jags Defense, aggressive blitz on 3rd down. pic.twitter.com/ZS4zpQdbdM— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) November 12, 2019
On this play the Jags send six defenders at the quarterback and leave no one deep. In this instance it paid off to be aggressive as it forced a bad throw and ultimately a punt.
Screens were effective a year ago
Jags Defense allows TE screen for touchdown pic.twitter.com/IOMgpkLbI1— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) November 12, 2019
I noticed several times that screens are effective against this team. In part because of their aggressiveness and part scheme. Cover three tends to leave the flat open, so a well executed screen has the chance to be highly effective for the Colts speedy receivers and backs.
Getting Pressure With Four
Jags pass rush. Taven Bryan might not get credit for it but Calais Campbell probably owes him dinner. pic.twitter.com/gOkfwurHZs— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) November 12, 2019
A season ago the Jaguars could generate a pass rush, most of the time, using only four defenders. That’s huge for a defense as it allows another man to drop into coverage and take away throwing lanes. They like to drop more into coverage if they can, but this season features some personnel changes for the Jags and they might find themselves needing to blitz more than in the past.
Pre-Snap Motion Tends to be Effective
Jags struggling to react to motion again amazing effort by safety Jarrod Wilson forcing the turnover at the end pic.twitter.com/haR3sW266j— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) November 12, 2019
In the next couple sections I will cover the defensive line and linebackers but this play is a good example of the lack of discipline these Jags have against the run. It isn’t just one kind of play or another they have been consistently out of position and on the play above they’re pulled out of position by the man in motion.
As soon as the ball is snapped the offensive line fires off, it looks like a run, everyone on defense has a gap to fill. If everyone on defense fills their gap and fights off their blocker, the back has no where to go. Instead the man in motion pulls #52 outside away from the gap he should have filled. What that means is; THERE’S A HUGE HOLE ON THE LEFT SIDE OF THIS PLAY.
I noted several times, in multiple games, the Jags struggled to maintain gap discipline when presnap motion was used in conjunction with the ground game.
A year ago I would have had to write about Calais Campbell, but now I get to wait until week nine when the Ravens travel to Indy (yuck). Instead I can tell you about their new free agent signee, Adam Gotsis. Gotsis came to town after four seasons in Denver. During his time in Mile High, Gotsis was a good but never great player. Having said that it seems unlikely he’ll be able to replace the 10 sack per year average that Campbell had given the Jags since his signing in 2017.
Next to him is former first round pick, Taven Bryan. Bryan is an interesting player who is entering his third season in the NFL. From a purely physical standpoint he has great get off, he’s very quick off the snap but he often gets pushed around in run game. He’s interesting because evaluating his physical gifts it seems like he should be a highly productive player. So far that hasn’t been the case, but some guys do take time to develop and if Bryan puts it all together, he could be a force.
Abry Jones is listed as a nose and based on the tape I’ve watched, Jones is a fine player but he’s not someone the Colts are going to have to worry about running away from.
At the other defensive end position is second year pro Josh Allen. Allen is coming off of a rookie year that saw him rack up 10.5 sacks after being drafted in the top 10 out of Kentucky. Allen is obviously hoping to improve upon his first season and the Jags think he’s the right guy to rush the passer.
The last defensive lineman I want to mention is 2020 first round pick K’Lavon Chaisson. The Jaguars selected him with the 20th pick out of LSU. It will be interesting to see how they plan to use the rookie but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him come on the field in obvious passing situations.
Jags dline pic.twitter.com/Riob8lWVe3— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 8, 2020
Plays like this one aren’t hard to find. The Jags defensive line wasn’t really capable of eating blocks to let linebackers flow freely and here the Colts just show textbook execution for a big gain. When you draw up a play, rarely does it go exactly according to plan, but the Jags just let it happen here.
At the five
I just wanted to give you this still shot of the Jaguars front seven before the snap. It’s important to note that it is third down, but the Indianapolis Colts spent a top ten pick on a guard, how do you not expect them to run on third and four given that information?
Jags, no chance pic.twitter.com/32fwE1XHEE— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 8, 2020
The defensive line really didn’t have much of a chance to do anything here.
Sacks are a QB stat
Holy Jacoby. pic.twitter.com/ZH1IOlL8IO— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 8, 2020
Fact: Jacoby Brissett held on to this ball too long.
Fact: the offensive line will take the blame in the stat sheet.
Fact: a year ago the Jags actually did pretty well getting pressure with four.
Fact: the Jaguars defensive line is not better than a year ago.
They get a good push
Strong push pic.twitter.com/A5vQF5MK4B— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 8, 2020
Here Tavin Bryan uses his burst and strength to get a good push against right guard, Mark Glowinski. Meanwhile the ends crash in and Brissett has to step up and avoid taking the safety.
The very next play
The Jaguars run stunts on both sides of the line which creates pressure from Josh Allen. Brissett leaves the pocket and well, you can see the rest. This was what turned this game around for the Jags. Our Colts never recovered.
The good news is that these Jags lost Calias Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue this off season. Despite adding K’Lavon Chaisson and Adam Gotsis, on paper they look like a worse unit. There’s a reason they play the games, though and there’s always the chance the 2020 version comes together in ways the 2019 team never could.
This position group is a really interesting one for the Jaguars. Myles Jack is entering his fifth season and thus far he has failed to live up to the expectations most had of him as a draft prospect.
Coming over from Cleveland after starting 49 games in four seasons, Joe Schobert will look to hold down his role in the middle of the field. The third linebacker you’ll want to know is Leon Jacobs. Jacobs is entering his third season after being taken in the seventh round of the 2018 draft. Given the amount I expect the Colts to run the ball I believe we may see a lot of Jacobs on the field.
I had to go back in the archives to find this clip of Schobert. It might give you the wrong idea about his abilities as a run stopper, he’s not always great there, but it’s meant to show you how quickly Schobert can get to top speed and chase down a very good (at that point) running back in no time flat. Schobert has a reputation of being solid in coverage, though I think the Colts might test his ability to take on blocks rather than cover tight ends.
So to give credit where it’s due, I originally saw this play on a Reddit post by someone named LawrenceOwen. I was going to just post his video (with credit, of course) but I wasn’t able to. In the comments I saw people discussing whose fault this play was. Here is the exchange:
I can confidently say that after writing the scouting report before the Cowboys game, dealing with know-nothing Cowboys fans was exhausting. They were almost as bad as Titans fans. Almost. But sugashane707’s response here further cements my feelings toward that fanbase.
IndianaGnomes was on the right track but heavily edited his comment after I posted mine, not that it matters. Here’s what I said:
Another user went on to tell me that I had just summed up Jack’s play through all of 2019, which further confirmed what I have seen on tape: Myles Jack is a fantastic athlete who is about as disciplined as a common goldfish.
This linebacker corps isn’t what most thought it would be just a few short years ago. Unexpected retirements and Myles Jack failing to develop into the kind of player everyone assumed he would be have weakened the group but the upside is there and no one should be shocked if Schobert and Jack either one have a career year. It’s unlikely but not impossible.
It used to be I would get to the defensive backs section of the Jags defense report, post two gifs of Jalen Ramsey and call it a day. Those days are long gone. The Jags can no longer claim to have the undisputed best defensive backfield in the AFC South. That said, they do have some talent.
The Jaguars ended up having two first round draft picks in this years draft, I already told you about the pass rusher they selected with their mid to late first rounder but I didn’t mention that with their top ten pick they selected C.J. Henderson, cornerback from Florida.
Opposite him will be Tre Herndon, a former UDFA entering his third season with the Jags. D.J. Hayden and seventh round rookie Chris Claybrooks are the other two corners we can expect to see on Sunday.
At safety Jarrod Wilson is entering his fifth NFL season and just his second as a full time starter. At the other safety spot is former second round pick Josh Jones. Coaches have been talking up Jones as a player but his time in Green Bay was disappointing. If a change of scenery (and of defensive system) can help, Jones could turn his career around in a big way. Worst case; he’s still the same old Josh Jones.
Henderson at Florida
Watching #Florda's CJ Henderson match up against #LSU's Ja'marr Chase was an epic battle among top tier players.— Sanjit T. (@Sanjit__T) April 17, 2020
Chase had 2 catches on 7 targets, and one 5-yard TD on CJ.. Overall, on the 26 snaps Henderson covered Chase 1 on 1, he did a Great Job. #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/nSspqbPNos
Henderson was frustrated
Ultimately C.J. Henderson might end up being a very good corner but the Indianapolis Colts get to play him in his first ever NFL action and that’s good news for T.Y. Hilton and crew.
The Jags defensive backfield is largely of unknown quality right now. In the months to come we will obviously have a much better idea of who these guys are and how they will play together but for now, there isn’t much evidence for or against this group.
The Jaguars defense is packed with first and second round picks at each level of the defense. Other than their disappointing linebacking corps, the defense seems to have a ton of upside.
Upside is great and all but we’re talking about what we’re going to see in week one. It’s completely possible that these young Jags are capable of being a dominate force right from the jump, but I don’t believe that to be the case.
Assuming Philip Rivers isn’t a literal shell of the player he was in 2019, the Colts shouldn’t have many issues moving the ball through the air or on the ground this Sunday.