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Jaguars Search for a Balanced Offense With an Unbalanced Preseason Plan

Jacksonville Jaguars Head Coach Urban Meyer has been handcuffed in the preseason, unable to play call his offense the way he'd normally like. Will that open up in the regular season? The Jaguars promise it will; and based on the preseason game plan thus far, it will have to if there is any hope of success.

Urban Meyer has always been known for his offensive prowess. It’s what thrust him onto the national state at Utah, reforming Alex Smith into a No. 1 overall pick. It’s what defined him with the Florida Gators, creating one of the best college football teams of all time in line to two National Championships. It’s what saved him at Ohio State, when he returned to coaching after a brief retirement and proved he could win another championship.

And it’s why he’s visibly frustrated now, watching his Jaguars team bumble its way through the preseason.

“Just disappointed offensively,” he lamented after the opening preseason loss against the Cleveland Browns. “I don't like slow offenses, and I told those—I thought the third quarter was better with just tempo, getting up the line of scrimmage, snap the ball. I don't want to be one of those slow, wallowing offenses, and we'll go and get that fixed.”

Meyer, a first time NFL coach, has voiced repeatedly his dependency on offensive coordinate Darrell Bevell and passing game coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. The two came to Jacksonville from the Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks respectively. Bevell previously was with the Seahawks as well, and both have shaped Russell Wilson’s career, molding a balanced offense that leans on the run—from backs and the quarterback—to open up short passes, and more importantly, quick passes.

“[In] free agency I think you see we hit that really hard with Carlos [Hyde] and [Chris] Manhertz and in the draft with Luke Farrell. We thought he was the best blocker in college. That’s one way to extend [the] run, extend the formation,” Meyer explained. “I’m a big believer, I’ve always been a big believer in that, and so is Bev [Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell]. We’ve had that conversation, not recently but when I hired him, and I saw his history of balanced offense and he believes in that as well.”

Added Bevell, “The league is changing and the way that football’s being played, even at the lower levels, is changing, so you kind of need to evolve with the game. But for me, the run game is always an important part of a football game. I think it allows you to exert your will on your opponent, and then it opens up things in a different way. You can spread them out or you can try to bring them all in, so there are just different philosophies with that.

"I always want to be as balanced as I can be and the one thing we’re looking for is always [be balanced]. [If] a defensive opponent can hang their hat on, I don’t want to get in those situations. If we’re throwing it 90 percent of the time, then I think we are giving the opponent an advantage, so I want to be as mixed as I can.” 

On Monday night against the Saints, the Jags ran 80 total plays. Only 20 were rushing plays, 25%. Granted in the first half, when the first-team offense was on the field, the rushing percentage was 29%. The increase in pass plays helped increase the tempo versus the New Orleans Saints—like Meyer had asked—although that was sometimes to a detriment, running a play purely because it was called versus in response to the defense. 

Still, we must ask ourselves if the need to be balanced is actually what is causing the somewhat bumbled play calling. Sure, this is an offense in which Lawrence can succeed, given his surprising mobility and the presence of running back James Robinson. But Lawrence is also a pocket passer with generational talent. So the Jaguars are not only trying to strike a balanced offense and a balance between what they can and can't show in preseason, but also a balance between Lawrence's skill set and wanting to be, well, balanced.

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Meyer himself admitted the game plan overall—the more pass-heavy game plan that clicked along at a smoother pace when the jaguars opened a drive with a pass versus a run—was more opened up on Monday night. 

“It didn’t look like [we opened] it, but we did. We’ve just got to keep swinging. We are going to swing,” promised Meyer after the game. “It was a matter of execution and some missed assignments. There were composition groups that didn’t play very well, and we have to get that right.”

Lawrence took the blame himself saying, “we definitely opened it up more. Like I said, I thought we had a good game plan, we just did not execute it very well. That is more on us as players and everyone just has to play better and prepare better. It is all of those things, it is a lot of different things we have to get better at but I think we have a really good plan moving forward and it is just one thing at a time. Addressing it, fixing it and moving forward so I feel really good about it and I know the guys feel good so we are ready.”

There is a continued promise of something coming, some new offense revealing itself “moving forward,” more in line with what Meyer has shown on the field. It would stand to reason if he’s leading on Bevell and Schottenheimer for the time being, they are making those calls. So one could assume, once Meyer feels his sea legs are under him, he takes over those duties. Because for now, he talks like a man handcuffed by what he can and can’t do during the preseason.

“So much I hear, ‘We can’t show this, can’t show this, can’t show this.’ I don’t want to get into it, but I want to go some tempo and I’m used to some certain things,” he said after the Browns game. “You’ll see more of it as we get moving forward and what you saw is not what we’re going to be. I get it, we’re right out of the shoot. I think sometimes coaches [say], ‘We can’t show this, we can’t show that’ and I’m like, ‘Why? Tell me, explain to me why.’”

The why, according to Bevell, is gamesmanship. This is a new head coach and a rookie quarterback with a revamped system. No one knows what the Jaguars are holding right now, unless it’s what they’ve shown in preseason. And given both Meyer’s and Lawrence’s comments, there would seem to be more. 

It’s a risk, trying to get through one more preseason game without revealing much. Or going into the regular season without testing out the playbook on the field. But Bevell promises there is more, asking for patience.

“We want our guys to be able to be successful, but right now we’re at an advantage. [Opponents] don’t know exactly what we’re going to do, so we’re going to try to hold that as close as we can.”

For now, Jaguars fans can do little but trust there is in fact a plan in place...even if it's yet to be revealed.