After the Jacksonville Jaguars opened the 2020 season with a 27-20 win over the Indianapolis Colts, the changes made by new Offensive Coordinator Jay Gruden were lauded. Even after the Week 2 loss to the Tennessee Titans, the performances by second-year quarterback Gardner Minshew II and rookie running back James Robinson provided hope for the rest of the season.
The Week 3 loss versus the Miami Dolphins was tossed around as a bad loss on a short week…but during that Miami loss and the course of the next three weeks—all losses—the Jaguars averaged 17 points a game. This while scoring is up around the league. Along with the absence of the run game, the question naturally arose, is this offense regressing?
On Monday, head coach Doug Marrone told local media that he’s looking at the performance more on a week by week basis, not overall…but that is a sobering reality as well.
“It’s difficult to go back and reflect like three, four weeks ago. You’re kind of just dealing [with] it in what you’re seeing right now and so my focus is on, ‘Okay we played a team. They played us a little bit differently. Here was the outcome. We didn’t perform up to standards, all of us.’”
Much of the onus of the offensive performance has now been placed solely on the shoulders of Minshew. One issue is the defense giving up scores and Minshew and company being forced to play from behind. It leads to obvious throwing situations. That has shown up in better performances from the receivers, like Keelan Cole (143 yards versus the Lions). And rookie Laviska Shenault, who has lined up at every position but offensive line.
But the flashes of promise have yet to lead to a consistent performance from the team overall.
“I don’t think we did a good job upfront on either side of the ball,” Marrone told reporters when evaluating the offense’s performance against the Detroit Lions.
“I thought that they got the best of us and I give them credit. We did not play as well on either side and there was some good individual play at times, but it wasn’t consistent enough. But we didn’t play well enough because you think about when you run the football, everyone’s talking about how great of a job the offensive line did and when you don’t run the football, then obviously the people that are involved in that didn’t play as well. I think that’s what happened yesterday. Those guys didn’t play as well, and Detroit got the better of us.”
But even when the defense has been able to give Minshew and the offense good field position—like on Sunday against the Detroit Lions with a turnover or forcing three-and-outs—the offense hasn’t been able to capitalize.
“How can we do a better job putting the players [in the right place], kind of like how Demetrius was talking about how we put them in better position so that they can make plays.’ That’s our job and when the time comes up in the course of a game, make plays. I think when I looked at it, these key points in the game where we need to make plays, we haven’t.
“I understand a lot when it’s, I guess, the analytics are against you, meaning like down and distance and everything, but there’s times where down and distance is on our side and we’re not able to come up with the play. Offensively, it’s the same way too where we’re getting what we want, we’re getting the look we want, we just can’t make that play.”
Then there is of course the lack of run game. We dove into the numbers here at Jaguar Report last week, examining how Jacksonville is the least balanced offense in the league. Essentially, following the Titans game, the Jags run game took a nose dive. That’s not to say Robinson’s production has dwindled. Gruden and staff simply aren’t calling as many run plays.
After averaging 16 touches through the first two games, Robinson has received an average of 12.5 touches the last two games. As explained in the piece, some of that has to do with the aforementioned reasons of playing from behind.
Marrone also feels targeting the clear bell-cow on the offense is the oldest defensive strategy in the book.
“Everyone goes into a game saying, ‘Okay, we’re going to take away the run.’ I’ve been in this for like 20 years or however long I’ve been coaching. Even though I’ve been a head coach for 10 and an offensive coach the rest of the time, that’s what I’ve always heard from defensive coaches, so everyone tries to do that and then really try to force you to make plays and force you to protect. Until you start making those plays, that’s how any team, I really believe, is going to be able to play you and that’s one of the things we have to do a better job of.”
So what’s the solution?
Not being one-dimensional, according to Marrone. That is of course easier said than done and something the Jaguars have struggled with to this point. But at the end of the day, “that goes back to the same thing, just trying to make those plays at the right time and making sure that we’re putting them in a position to do that and that’s what we’re all working for.”