Each year there is one singular week in which teams are able to take a step back, get healthy and do some honest self-evaluation of where they can get better. For the Jacksonville Jaguars, that is their Week 8 bye.
Following a 1-6 start, six consecutive losses and several blowout defeats, the bye week couldn't have come at a better time for the Jaguars. They have a lot of reflection to do and a lot of areas to clean up, both schematically and from an execution standpoint.
Among the areas the team should focus its most attention to? Finding a way to get Gardner Minshew and DJ Chark back on the same page after three weeks of unproductivity.
In 2019, Chark and Minshew were a dynamic duo. Chark was one of the league's best young receivers, catching 73 passes for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns in 15 games, earning him a trip to the Pro Bowl.
According to PFF, Minshew posted 9.3 yards per attempt, a 109.0 passer rating and 0.38 EPA per play when targeting Chark in 2019. When targeting all other Jaguars receivers, Minshew produced 7.2 yards per attempt, a 97.0 passer rating and 0.12 EPA per play. Chark was, by all accounts and possible metrics, his go-to guy.
But through seven weeks, Chark and Minshew have failed more often than not to find their 2019 magic. Chark currently has just 26 catches for 291 yards and three touchdowns in six games. His passer rating when targeted by Minshew has dipped from 109.0 to 98.7, but that is inflated by Chark's early-season success.
As of now, Chark's yards per reception, receptions per game, receiving yards per game and yards per target are all projected to be lower than they were last season. Chark is currently tied for 45th in the NFL in receptions, 52nd in yards and 104th out of 223 in passer rating when targeted.
Things didn't start off badly for the Chark and Minshew connection in 2020, which is maybe what is most perplexing about their recent inability to connect. In Chark's first three games, Minshew completed 15-of-16 targets (93.75%) to Chark for 204 yards and three touchdowns, giving him a passer rating of 136.63 when targeting the third-year receiver. Through Chark's first three games this year, he had 14.71 yards per target.
But over the last three games, the connection has completely fallen apart as the offense has struggled to consistently put up points or convert on key downs. In Weeks 5-7, Minshew has completed only 11-of-25 targets (44%) to Chark for 87 yards and zero touchdowns. Over the last three games, Minshew has an average passer rating of 51.4 when targeting Chark, while Chark is gaining just 3.48 yards per target.
The struggles were highlighted against the Detroit Lions in Week 6. Minshew threw an interception when targeting Chark as the two connected on just seven catches on 14 targets for 45 yards, resulting in a dreadful 3.21 yards per target mark.
“We tried, we did some things. I felt like there was a play, a post, that I should have had. But yeah, I feel like their defense came out, they played well, but I felt like, as receivers, we got open," Chark said after the Lions game.
"We have to get on the same page and we have to move the ball more efficiently so we don’t get to a point where we’re just throwing the ball and they can just sit back and not do anything. I don’t think there’s a DB in the league that can just sit there and follow every play and just completely shut down (a wide receiver) without any help. I think, when we get behind, and you’re up by a touchdown or two, you play safe as a defense. You play off, you force everything underneath, you send pressure and I think that’s what they did.”
“Yeah, I don’t know. You look at times, those few times like I was off a little bit, he was off a little bit. We just couldn’t seem to get in get in a rhythm and I think that’s one of the big things with DJ [Chark Jr.] is you think if you get him involved, get him going early, then he can be really good for you and he has that confidence going," Minshew said last Wednesday. "That’s something we’re going to try to do a better job of is just getting him involved in the game because we know what he can be and the player he is for us.”
After a week of speculation how the two could get back on the same page following their bad performances in Week 6, things got no better for the Jaguars in Week 7. The Jaguars wideouts caught just seven passes on the day, with only one of those going to Chark.
Sunday's 39-29 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers was perhaps the greatest example yet of how Chark and Minshew are nowhere near where they need to be in terms of chemistry. Chark caught one pass for 26 yards on seven targets, with at least three of those tagets being woefully inaccurate passes. It was the ninth-lowest passer rating when targeted of Chark's career (42.6) , as well as his 10th-lowest yards per target (3.71)
"I don't know. We need to make an effort to get him the ball because we know how dynamic he can be," Minshew said after Sunday's game when asked about the lack of a connection between the two.
"It's frustrating. I know he's frustrated. He just wants to help the team win. We have to give him the opportunity to do that. The bye week will be a good opportunity to take a look at it and get him back to the Pro Bowl level he really is."
A simple solution would be to not only get Chark going early but to give him easy targets to build rhythm and get yards after the catch. Chark currently has an average depth of target of 13.2 yards, however, demonstrating that most of his targets have a higher degree of difficulty due to them being further from the line of scrimmage.
If Jacksonville is to reverse the course of their offense and season, they will need Minshew and Chark to find their chemistry again. We have seen it before, even as recently as in Week 4.
But over the last month, something changed. During the bye week, the Jaguars should make it a priority to find out what that was and how they can fix it. If not, it will be a long nine games to close out the season.