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The Jacksonville Jaguars ranked 15th in yards per play and 25th in points scored from weeks 1-6, but since its bye each of those ranks has dropped to 30th. The offense has suffered dramatically following James Robinson’s heel bruise -- when Robinson is off the field, the Jaguars are performing like the worst offense of the past two decades per Sports Info Solutions.

The aerial attack has clearly been unable to carry the load sans a healthy Robinson, and plenty of blame has gone around. Multiple coaches and position groups have been receiving heavy criticism, but while there’s flaws in every area of Jacksonville’s passing game, one stands out the most: the pass-catchers.

This 1:53 compilation is from just one game! There are a few busts in pass protection, but Lawrence consistently got zero help from his receivers.

The same issues that have existed all season carried over to week 11 against the Niners. Let’s break down a few of these incompletions.

Jacksonville is facing a 3rd-and-5 on its first possession of the game. San Francisco lines up with six defenders on the line of scrimmage and press coverage across the field, fully indicating a man blitz with a single-high safety.

Lawrence correctly identifies his best matchup against press man coverage: the only route over five yards downfield, a slot fade that drifts away from the safety playing center field. (Yes, Shenault is open at the bottom of the screen, but the fade was the right pre-snap read given San Francisco’s alignment and Lawrence didn’t reasonably have time with six defenders blitzing to check multiple reads after the snap.) Unfortunately, the receiver running the fade route is 31-year-old John Brown, who’s on his fifth team in the same number of seasons.

After the ball is snapped, Lawrence glances left to confirm the coverage and then stares straight ahead to hold the safety in his place. But when Lawrence looks back to Brown and releases the ball, the defender is hip-and-hip with Brown after an uninspiring release from the line of scrimmage, and Lawrence is forced into an overthrow to avoid an interception.

Lawrence called this a missed throw in the postgame press conference, but there’s nowhere that he could’ve placed this ball for a potential completion. His receiver didn’t give him any room to inspire a catchable pass.

The second incompletion of the game came in a similar situation. Jacksonville runs a stick concept (traditionally a zone-beater) on the top of the screen and another fade route (traditionally a man-beater) on the bottom of the screen. Again, Lawrence makes the correct pre-snap read after seeing San Francisco’s press alignment, and again, a 31-year-old receiver creates no separation after a slow release. Lawrence gives his receiver an opportunity to catch this one on a back-shoulder throw (whereas he had to lead the smaller-bodied Brown) but Marvin Jones can’t come down with the contested catch.

On the opening play of the second half, Lawrence has pressure in his face but delivers another catchable ball to the dig route on the dagger concept. Jones creates good initial separation, but he drifts nearly five more yards downfield following his break, making it easier for the defender to close in and defend the pass. Instead of staying grounded and catching with his hands, Jones jumps in the air to slow his momentum and unsuccessfully attempts a body catch.

These aren’t easy catches to make, but they are the types of catches that starting NFL players should be expected to make more often than not.

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Two plays later, Jacksonville faces a 3rd-and-10 following a blown-up tight end screen. Laquon Treadwell runs straight downfield without causing any sideline threat, allowing the unconflicted cornerback to easily keep outside leverage and stay over the top of the route in his cover 3 shell. Treadwell’s rounded break results in a semicircle to come back to the ball, but he’s still in decent position to make a catch if Laviska Shenault wasn’t in the same area.

It’s hard to confidently pin any blame on this play, but based on the location of the ball it appears that Lawrence was targeting Treadwell and Shenault may have run the wrong route -- it’s doubtful that the original play design would purposefully make that small area of the field so densely populated.

On a later third quarter sack, Lawrence was seen after the play motioning towards Jamal Agnew and then talking to him on the sidelines, and there’s been several other instances of clear miscommunication throughout the season (so even if this particular play wasn’t a miscommunication error it has been a known issue for the Jaguars).

Lastly, the simplest explanation: a slipped route and dropped pass by Tavon Austin, who brings our “Jaguars receivers over 30” tally to three!

Drops have tormented Jacksonville throughout the year, as the team ranks fourth in total drops and second in drop rate per SIS. It also ranks 25th in completion percentage on on-target throws, 31st in missed/broken tackles per reception, and 32nd in Pro Football Focus team receiving grade.

Lawrence mentioned after the game that the Niners played more man coverage than they would’ve expected from a zone-heavy team such as San Francisco -- and he’s right, as the Niners more than doubled its typical usage of man coverage per SIS. This hasn’t been a new development, as each team that Jacksonville has faced since its bye (all of which are well-known for deploying zone-heavy defenses) played man coverage at a higher rate against the Jaguars than their respective season averages before playing the Jaguars.

Opposing teams have recognized that Jacksonville’s receivers aren’t legitimate threats downfield. They’ve accordingly played tight coverage to take away short easy completions and dare the Jaguars to win one-on-one, a gamble that has rarely failed this season.

Lawrence himself has dealt with some inaccuracy issues and typical rookie mistakes, but he’s shown far more flashes of proof than glimpses of doubt that he should’ve been the first overall pick. He may have been the problem to start the season as suggested in the first edition of this article, but he’s now putting his pass-catchers in positions to succeed more often with no accompanying rise in production. Wide receiver is undoubtedly Jacksonville’s no. 1 need this upcoming offseason.

Other Thoughts

  • Here are each of Walker Little’s seven snaps on Sunday in relief of Cam Robinson, who briefly exited the game due to a knee injury. Little allowed a pressure and a knockdown in five pass-rushing reps.

Shaquill Griffin has been ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Falcons due to a concussion, which has massive implications for the Jaguars secondary. Jacksonville has maybe the worst cornerback depth in the league after Griffin, and now Atlanta’s wide receivers will have much more room for production in addition to the threat of tight end Kyle Pitts over the middle. The Jaguars offense must shape up in a hurry to score enough points to hang with the Falcons.

  • -Shenault backfield snaps update: after lining up as a running back zero times before the bye, Shenault has now gotten multiple snaps out of the backfield in three of the past four games per PFF. When asked this week about adding creativity to the offense, Urban Meyer mentioned that getting Shenault in the backfield as one possible solution (here’s a compilation of his 2020 rushing attempts). Shenault may also get more snaps out of the slot following Agnew’s season-ending hip injury, which would cater much better to his skill set as a yards-after-catch weapon.
  • My George Kittle prop bet flopped last week but here’s another one for this Sunday: James Robinson over 68.5 rushing yards, a number he surpassed four straight games prior to his injury. I think Jacksonville’s offensive line will have a much better performance this week against Atlanta, which does not roster Nick Bosa and has a far less dominant defensive line than San Francisco. This is a good buy-low opportunity on Robinson, especially with the potential return of center Brandon Linder, against a Falcons defense that ranks 29th in ESPN’s run stop