Jaguars beginning to excel utilizing play-action in the Gardner Minshew-led offense

John Shipley

Whenever an offense undergoes a quarterback change, it is a radical adjustment for the entire unit. From the head coach, to the play caller, to all of the players around the new quarterback at the helm, it takes time to figure out the offense's new identity. 

This was the case for the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-3) when prized free agent addition Nick Foles went down with a clavicle injury on the second offensive possession of the season. The injury landed Foles on injured reserve and rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew was thrust into his role on the offense. 

Due to the fact Foles was not able to play a quarter in offensive coordinator John DeFilippo's scheme in Jacksonville, there is no true sample size for what the offense would have looked like with him orchestrating it. 

But Minshew has now played 19 1/2 quarters as DeFilippo's signal caller, and we can begin to see what the offense's strengths and weaknesses are with him at the helm. 

One of the offense's most potent traits during the Minshew-era has been the usage of play-action. Through his four starts and time in relief of Foles in week 1, Minshew has put up some outstanding numbers when throwing after play-action, per Pro Football Reference.

  • 15-of-18 passing (83.33% completion).
  • 258 yards
  • Two touchdowns
  • Nine first downs
  • 155.8 quarterback rating

For offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, dialing up play-action in recent weeks, specifically on first down, has been an important part of the Jaguars explosive offense. It makes things easier on his rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew while at the same time adding stress to a defense.

“It’s very important for a couple of reasons. Obviously, anytime you can get the defense’s eyes in another spot, I think that’s a good thing," DeFilippo said Thursday. 

Why has the Jaguars offense been both efficient and explosive while using play-action? It comes down to a few factors and every position group has contributed to the success. 

Minshew's accuracy and ability to read the field well as a rookie has been a huge boost to the play-action offense, but so has a run game that has improved drastically over recent weeks. And it isn't just Leonard Fournette contributing to this, but instead the entire offensive line.

"I think the things that you have seen us have success with, at least statistically – running the football the last couple of weeks. I think that obviously doesn’t hurt. That doesn’t hurt at all," DeFilippo said. "Our guys do a good job with it and they do a good job up front and selling out the run and making it look as close to the run as we can."

One Jaguar not named Minshew who has benefited greatly from the effective play-action usage has been second-year wide receiver DJ Chark. Chark's first touchdown against the Carolina Panthers in week 5 came via a play-action pass, which allows him to use his speed to beat coverage when defenders have to think for a split-second about whether it is run or pass.

"They were playing man coverage and DJ’s [Chark Jr.] fast and he’s going to outrun most people, so that’s what happened," Minshew said this week.

“It’s huge. Anytime we can get the linebackers sucked in, or get that eighth guy in the box, it gives us one-on-ones on the outside, and I’ll take our guys one-on-one with about anybody that we go against, so that’s huge for us."

As the Jaguars season progresses, expect the usage of play-action to not only continue but increase. Outside of Chark, Jacksonville has two other receivers who can stretch the field and beat man coverage with their speed in Chris Conley and Dede Westbrook. 

Tight end James O'Shaughnessy was a frequent target on play-action before tearing his ACL in week 5 and being ruled out for the rest of the season, but if DeFilippo's past tendencies show us anything it is that he will adjust his offense around the loss of his playmaking tight end. 

"Obviously, I think whenever we have the playmakers on the outside who are bigger guys who can run, you give them a little bit more space and a little bit more time to work. I think that’s advantage: Jaguars, when we are going against the defense," DeFilippo said.That’s kind of how we look at play-action.”

Ultimately, play-action should remain a staple of the Minshew/DeFilippo offense moving forward. Why wouldn't it?

When you have a quarterback who is a decisive decision maker and knows where to place the ball in addition to a running game that can make defenses question what they are seeing and a few speed demons on the outside, you are set up for success.

And so far, the Jaguars have shown they know how to make all of those ingredients work to make play-action a part of their new offensive identity.