Man to Man: Jaguars Looking for Solutions to Counters to Man Coverages

Jacksonville played man-to-man coverage on nearly every single snap against the Houston Texans, which was used against them. How can they improve moving forward in this area?
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There are two defining traits to the Jacksonville Jaguars' defense through three preseason games and one regular-season game: they are going to mix things up at the line of scrimmage, and they are going to play man coverage. 

Through one game, the Jaguars and first-year defensive coordinator Joe Cullen have seen mixed results from the retooled unit. The Jaguars finished high in pressure rate and yards per carry allowed, but finished on the lower end of the NFL's spectrum in terms of adjusted yards per attempt allowed and third-down conversion rate.

A big reason the Jaguars gave up big plays at moments in which they had the Texans with their back to the wall was the Texans' natural counters to the Jaguars' man-heavy defense. The Jaguars rarely mixed up coverages to a large extent, frequently inviting the Texans to attempt to beat their cornerbacks in one-on-one matchups.

But through rub routes, natural picks, tight formations, and pre-snap motions, the Texans won those matchups, with many of those wins coming on third-down and in the red-zone.

Now, the Jaguars are moving their focus past the Texans, but with the lasting impression of their offensive counters in mind. In essence, the Jaguars are moving forward while looking for answers to what Cullen calls an "age-old problem,".

“First of all, the one thing, communication always starts with getting the call, echoing the call, everybody being on the same page and then knowing that is what you’re going to get," Cullen said. 

"So, we get rub routes, you play in and out, we do certain things, you mix up the zones, so you are a man team. It’s an age-old problem. The one there down in the low red, we can use certain schematic things that help. I mean, the ball is out right now, so you’re not going to get a rush. The ball is on the 40-yard line, but change up the coverage, use your [defensive] ends, and then obviously, be on point because the margin for error down there is like one step on those.”

The Jaguars won't be getting much of a different offense in Week 2. The Denver Broncos' scheme under Pat Shurmur places an emphasis on play-action and using natural spacing in the offensive route tree to beat man coverage. The Jaguars will have to trust their reads and communicate to defeat the Broncos' man-coverage beaters, but it will also take an entire effort from the defense, from the secondary to the linebackers to the edge rushers.

But this is a solution Cullen seems to understand. He said on Thursday that it wasn't frustrating to see the Jaguars struggle in coverage, because he knows the defense has natural answers.

"No, it wasn’t, not at all. Like I said, when you drop guys on the edge, it’s to help with the picks and the slants," Cullen said. 

How the Jaguars address offenses attacking their man coverage scheme will be paramount to their defensive success moving forward. The Jaguars finished No. 15 in defensive DVOA and did a number of encouraging things in the 38-21 loss, but the Jaguars also need to prove they can win on the money downs when teams know what they are doing.

But if there is anything to give Cullen solace, it is that he didn't see any of the issues the Jaguars' had as issues that can't be fixed. Instead, he sees them as problems with answers.

“Absolutely. Everything is correctable and it’s a copycat league, so whatever we show on tape, someone’s going to keep doing it until you stop it," Cullen said.