Friday Night Logue: What’s Wrong with Jacksonville’s Offense?

Jacksonville must execute non-explosive passing plays better, as it ranks 30th in overall passing success rate, and that starts with the quarterback even if the environment is far from ideal.
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Welcome to the second edition of Friday Night Logue!

We are here to figure out why the Jaguars are bad at football- specifically, why the Jaguars are bad at offense despite having a very talented quarterback under center.

Everybody knows that teams have a better chance of scoring points, and winning, with a high third down conversion rate. Moving the chains is a key to the game. It also tends to be easier to convert on third down when players don’t have to run as farto the first down marker.

With that said, the cause of Jacksonville’s offensive woes isn’t hard to find. It ranks 28th in third down conversion rate (31.8%) and 30th in first downs gained (32) this season in large part because it also ranks 30th in average yards to go on third downs (8.4, per Sharp Football Stats).

The reason the Jaguars average so many yards to go on third down is due to poor performance on early downs: it ranks 30th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings on first down offensive efficiency and 32nd on second down. Per Sharp, it ranks 26th in success rate on first down and 29th on second down.

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Rushing on early downs is typically overrated. The #analytics tell us that it’s more efficient for teams to pass, especially with play action, on first and second down. That tends to be true, but not for Jacksonville so far this season.

As the table above shows, the Jaguars are average to above-average in early down rushing efficiency but rank bottom-two in each early down passing category.

So, Jacksonville’s offense has struggled largely because of early down passes. We’ve got that down.

Why these early down passes aren’t succeeding is a question with limitless answers, including drops by receivers, blown blocks by pass protectors, questionable playcalling, and erratic quarterbacking, not to mention tough opposing defenses, inconsistent weather, team youth, etc., etc., etc.

It’s important to recognize that there isn’t one sole reason, but if there’s an issue that has popped up more than the others, it’s likely the play of quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

Yes, Lawrence has shown flashes of outrageous talent and a deep understanding of what’s happening in front of him- in fact, his performance mentally to start his career has easily been the most impressive and promising part of his game to date. From coverage recognition to RPO decisions to setting pass protection, Lawrence rarely has a mental hiccup and it’s astonishing to see how advanced his football mind is so early in his career.

But when it comes time to deliver the football, Lawrence has looked slightly more human, if not too human. Among 35 qualifying quarterbacks, he ranks bottom-five in on-target percentage, yards per attempt and pass rating per Sports Info Solutions. To be fair: his 10.0 average intended air yards ranks second-highest and his 62.5 expected completion percentage ranks fifth-lowest according to Next Gen Stats, so his inefficiencies are largely the result of difficult throws.

But when we look at shorter throws (under ten yards to be exact) on those aforementioned early down passes, Lawrence’s efficiency remains low. 87.5% of his 35 passes on such plays were deemed catchable by SIS- which doesn’t seem too bad until you realize that ranks 31st among 33 quarterbacks, whileJameis Winston is one of four quarterbacks with a 100% catchable ball rate on over 20 pass attempts. (Lawrence was also pressured on just 18.9% of such throws, which ranks sixth-lowest.)

Cue the music!

Not every clip is an uncatchable early down short throw, but these are all relatively short passes that could’ve been caughtwith better accuracy, even if the receiver was also to blame on a few of them. It may feel nitpicky and maybe a little harsh, but simply put, they’re examples of a first overall draft pick not making his receivers’ jobs easier.

Lawrence’s deep throws and third down dropbacks are another story for another day. In those areas, he’s still seeing what he can and can’t get away with, and it typically ends with throws that either take your breath away or leave you shaking your head (or both). But before Lawrence discourse focuses on the processes and results of those big boy throws, it should be known that there are more pressing areas to clean up first- while Lawrence isn’t solely responsible, he still has room to grow to help the Jaguars sustain drives.

It’s easy to get caught up in the throws he makes that only a few other people on the planet can attempt, but maybe we need to focus more on the throws that many people on the planet canattempt when analyzing Lawrence. Or maybe we’re in the overreaction part of the calendar and by midseason Lawrence will be permanently stuck on Game 6 Klay mode. Either way:it’s important to remember that while this team will go as far as Lawrence takes it, it will also sink as far as Lawrence lets it.

Other Thoughts

-Yes, Darrell Bevell could do a better job with situational playcalling- but the overall structure of the offense isn’t going to change. Lawrence’s average depth of target is high because the receivers’ average route depth is high. The Jaguars should run the ball more, but unless Bevell suddenly calls much more short game concepts, it’ll mostly be on Lawrence’s shoulders to work on his accuracy and aggressiveness if the offense is going to reach its potential in its current form, especially since the screens and RPOs that substitute for quick game in Jacksonville’s offense have been largely ineffective.

-Shaq Quarterman played a career-high 29% of snaps last Sunday per John’s Week 2 Snap Analysis- maybe the coaching staff saw enough of Damien Wilson after he allowed a Noah Fant catch, broken tackle and touchdown early in the third quarter. I’m as interested as the rest of Jacksonville by the safety rotation between Andrew Wingard, Andre Cisco and Rudy Ford, but Mike linebacker could be another position to watch.

-It’s about time for the Jaguars to get a dang takeaway. I’m betting on Shaq Griffin to get his first as a Jaguar this week.