It began on the very first play for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Looking to line up for the opening offensive snap, a flag was thrown. Illegal formation, against the Jaguars, five-yard penalty.
It set the tone for the day, as the Jaguars racked up 10 penalties total, for 82 yards.
"Self-inflicted errors on offense were crucial but nine penalties on offense which is unheard of and absolutely unacceptable," bemoaned Head Coach Urban Meyer on Monday.
Even when the Jacksonville Jaguars were technically still in striking distance of the Houston Texans, looking to close a one-possession deficit early in the game, procedural errors haunted the Jags and holding penalties negated big runs. Like James Robinson's 12-yard pickup that was brought back for a Brandon Linder holding, or Carlos Hyde's nine-yard gain waved off for D.J. Chark's holding call.
They were inexcusable mistakes in a game in which the Jaguars couldn't afford them, in hindsight. It was always going to be a concern on how Meyer handled the jump from college—when you could stock-pile the top recruits in the country—to the NFL, where the roster across the field was given the same number of draft picks and cap space (in theory).
At the college level, Meyer's teams were consistently some of the most penalized. While with the Florida Gators, in route to two National Championships, the Gators finished in the top 11 in most penalties five of the six years he was in Gainesville. While at Ohio State, the numbers were better, albeit still in the latter half of the country. His final two years, the Buckeyes finished 27th in the FBS and sixth, respectively.
The coach received a first-hand lesson in how those penalties make a bigger difference in the NFL on Sunday.
“I always tell people, I’ve always told teams that when talent becomes equated, there is no margin for error. You’re sitting there driving the ball, I want to say it’s 14-7 and we get a 13-yard run and then the back judge throws a flag in there and then we get a holding penalty, goes back to first-and-20.
"I just watched it, we went through it again, I was watching with [General Manager] Trent [Baalke], another time, [it’s] just the margin of error. You have a nice run, another flag pops out there, then all of a sudden, another pick. So, it’s just consistency and any time you’re facing talented teams, the margin of error is very minimal.”
After the first weekend of games, the Jaguars finished as the fifth-most penalized team in the NFL (the Ravens and Raiders have yet to play their Monday night showdown as of print).
Some of the holding penalties—while coachable and costly—happen every game, especially in the trenches, where linemen attempt to get away with things that aren't always seen.
But the procedural penalties—too many men in the huddle or illegal formations, etc.—are the result of coaching and issues that are ironed out in training camp and the offseason, or at the very least, preseason games. The Jaguars exhibited an undisciplined team in Houston with multiple flags.
"It’s just discipline," admitted Meyer. "It’s power of the unit we call it. It’s the coach in charge of that unit spending time and making sure that we get those things [fixed].
"I always ask, I know what happened, but why? Was it some call in that game plan that made that happen or just lack of discipline? Like why was, we did a couple times, the tackle? Well, turned out the guard was little bit back too far and that’s how the tackle gets lined up. So, those are all things you have to work and get fixed.”
The Jaguars hope to have a home advantage in the calls next week, as they welcome the Denver Broncos to TIAA Bank Field. But easily avoidable mistakes can continue to prove costly for a rehabbing team if not addressed immediately.