Urban Meyer is ready to get up and go. The Jacksonville Jaguars head coach is used to fast strike offenses that pelt a defense into submission. He feels his offense didn’t show that in the 23-13 loss to the Cleveland Browns in the preseason week one game on Saturday night.
“Just disappointed offensively,” Meyer lamented on Saturday after the game. “I don't like slow offenses, and I told those—I thought the third quarter was better with just tempo, getting up the line of scrimmage, snap the ball. I don't want to be one of those slow, wallowing offenses, and we'll go and get that fixed.”
Tempo often refers to the speed with with a play is sent in, absorbed, translated for the players on the field and then when the ball is snapped. With little to do with the speed of the play itself, Meyer is taking blame for the issue.
“It was on us [coaches]. We've just got to get it and go, go, go, and emphasize that.”
The Jaguars have a rookie quarterback under center, No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence. The Heisman finalist has talked about adjusting to getting the play call in the helmet versus sideline signals (as is custom in college) but told reporters last week he feels much more comfortable with that process now.
Still, in a game where scenarios are taken out of your control, the tempo can get lost at times as the new passer becomes accustomed to the differences in when the play clock starts, the nature of receiving the calls and more, even a veteran coach like Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell can find himself instinctually slowing down.
“Sometimes you're not going to be able to get the play call in really quick, like Coach Bev has got a tough job to get the right call for that situation that changes every play. So sometimes it could be that, but I thought we did a good job getting the call in,” explained quarterback Trevor Lawrence on Saturday night.
There are other factors as well. For one, the sheer size of the Jaguars roster (currently at 90 players until Tuesday’s first cut-down deadline to 85) and the nature of preseason games to get every single player an opportunity on the field. Simply by sheering the roster, the tempo will increase according to Lawrence.
“It's more so now like early when you have different personnels coming in and you're playing a lot of different guys, you've got to get used to the flow of substitutions and we've got a big roster right now, so a lot of guys are playing, so it's not always the easiest thing just to come in and out and stay on the ball really fast.”
For Meyer, the first time NFL head coach, the process can be frustrating, especially when the number of plays and opportunities are limited as well. The Jaguars ran 26 plays in the first half on Saturday night. Their time of possession during that half was 11:07. Typically a smaller time of possession would indicate moving the ball at a brisk pace, and therefore scoring and/or punting it back with less time off the clock. But the Jaguars time of possession relative to the number of plays ran means they took on average, 27 seconds to run each play in the first half, based on time of possession.
It also took the Browns 27 seconds on average to run a play in the first half. But Cleveland ran the ball more (every 3.5 plays compared to the Jags 4.3 plays). Running the ball milks the clock and eats up the play clock as well when resetting. If the Browns were able to average just three seconds more per play than the Jaguars, while running more plays on the ground, Meyer’s frustration becomes more clear.
“I remember looking up and was like my gosh, we’re in the middle of the second quarter and we’ve had three drives, I think. In college, you have three drives in the first quarter or four if you are really cooking. I knew that but now that I did it, it’s on you quick,” admitted Meyer on Monday.
"When you’re only talking about 60 plays, three hours of football, that’s a big change for a lot of players and coaches. You only get a couple of drives a half. In college, you’re [getting] 80,90 plays a lot of times, so every play has to count, every drive has to count.”
During Meyer’s tenure at Ohio State, the Buckeye’s were consistently one of the quicker teams in college football. In the 2018 season, his last in college ball, Meyer’s Buckeye’s ran the most offensive plays in college football. Based on their average time of possession, Ohio State was running an offensive play every 24 seconds. The clock does stop more in college than the NFL, specifically for first downs, something that does have to be taken into consideration.
Lawrence’s Clemson Tigers ran the second most number of offensive plays in college football every year he quarterbacked the team.
Translating that style of offense to the NFL will take time. It will likely take even longer than the next two preseason games, considering those on the Jaguars staff who are used to the NFL offseason are asking their new head coach to keep his playbook close to the chest for now.
“So much I hear, ‘We can’t show this, can’t show this, can’t show this.’ I don’t want to get into it, but I want to go some tempo and I’m used to some certain things,” Meyer explained on Monday. “I get it, we’re right out of the shoot. I think sometimes coaches [say], ‘We can’t show this, we can’t show that’ and I’m like, ‘Why? Tell me, explain to me why.’”
The tempo will also come as their rookie passer becomes more accustomed to the speed of the NFL and becomes more apt at reading NFL defenses.
Said Lawrence on Saturday, “That’s something we definitely need to work and get better at and in practice having the play clock emphasis, like when I get the call, let's get it out, get up there quick, try to ID it so we can make adjustments because that's what you don't want is to get up there late and not be able to react to what the defense is doing. You're just snapping it because you've got to hurry and beat the play clock.”