The Good, the Bad and the Ugly From Jaguars' Loss to Titans
The Jacksonville Jaguars’ (1-1) players said, clearly, after the 33-30 loss to the Tennessee Titans (2-0) that this was not to be a moral victory. It was a loss and should be treated as such.
Still, wasn’t there some good that should be acknowledged?
Well, yes. There was also some bad…and some downright ugly. Do you see where we’re going with this?
At the explicit request of defensive lineman Abry Jones, this will not be chalked up to a moral victory. Nor will the Jaguars leave Nashville with nothing to work on. Here is the good, the bad and the ugly from the Jaguars Week 2 loss to divisional rival Titans.
The Jaguars took a massive risk this offseason, cutting former first-round pick Leonard Fournette, and starting undrafted free agent rookie James Robinson in his place. Yes, it’s early, and yes, Robinson will need to produce once defenses have more tape on his game. But two games in, what a move this was.
Robinson had 120 yards from scrimmage on Sunday (102 rushing; 18 receiving). He was a mere four yards short of having the most scrimmage yards by a UDFA rookie in his team’s first two games in NFL history.
He was productive in every way on Sunday. He lowered his shoulders and barreled through scrums. He squared his shoulders with a head full of steam and bounced outside. He hauled in passes, cut through lanes with incredible vision, and turned on the burners for chunk yardage. Each run is also igniting the Jaguars offense.
“Oh, he's our running back,” says receiver DJ Chark.
“He’s running the ball between the tackles, and you have to respect it. As long as he's doing that, we're going to be on the outside blocking, and he makes blocking fun because you're blocking for two, three seconds, then you see him running by you. It makes you want to go out there and get you a pancake or something.
Gruden’s Play-calling and the Chris Thompson Touchdown
We will spend much more time on Jay Gruden’s play-calling when there is ample more space to do so, but what he has cooked up for Minshew and this offense the past two weeks has been nothing short of revolutionary. And it’s revolutionary in its simplicity…meaning, he lets them do what they do best instead of forcing them into his playbook.
Take Minshew’s 14-yard touchdown pass to running back Chris Thompson. The passer had receiver Laviska Shenault and Robinson in the backfield with him, with the back Thompson out wide. Minshew went right on a bootleg and had multiple options open to him with how Gruden surrounded him with playmakers in the red zone. He was patient and arced it to Thompson. It was a perfect throw and an even better catch.
“It was kind of an alert right there,” Minshew explained, continuing, “I knew they were hitting me up, had a good matchup with him on a linebacker, and that's a matchup we expect to win any time we get Chris (Thompson) on a linebacker.
“[Gruden is] going to put us in a situation to win. We had a lot of guys around the offense get the ball, step up, make plays with the ball in their hands. We're very excited to have Coach Gruden and just to build on the things we've done well so far.”
The Run Defense
The Jaguars defense talked all offseason about focusing on the run defense. It had been abysmal in 2019 and this Week 2 game against Derrick Henry could serve as a coming-out party for the new look.
At the end of the day, Henry had 84 yards…which is significantly low for the NFL’s reigning leading rusher.
On the Titans' first drive of the 4th quarter, facing a 3rd and 1, they expectedly handed the ball off to Henry. He bounced out left and was headed for a seam on the sideline. It’s a play he’s made 1,000 times. Middle linebacker Joe Schobert got there first, with Myles Jack flying in on his heels. For good measure, K’Lavon Chaisson, CJ Henderson, and Timmy Jernigan all piled on for the gang tackle that forced the Titans to punt.
“We just committed to the game plan,” explained defensive lineman Abry Jones.
"I mean, coming up here, you know what Tennessee is going to do. You know who their bell cow is, and it just comes down to a commitment by every player on this team that's going to say we want to stop the run, and I feel like we came out here and tried to accomplish that.”
Minshew Spreads It Around and Sets Records
Much like with Gruden’s playcalling, we’re not going to try to limit all Minshew did today at quarterback into 150 words here. Suffice to say, he had a couple of bad plays—and granted they were really bad and we’ll discuss them below—but he was also the reason they were in a position to win at the end of the game. He was the reason they were in the game in the first place.
According to Next Gen Stats, Minshew is 3rd in the NFL right in completion percentage above expectation. In layman’s terms, this means he’s consistently completing passes that have little probability of being made. His 45-yard completion down-field to DJ Chark was the 5th most improbable completion of the day across the league.
But Minshew didn’t rely just on the Pro-Bowl receiver. He targeted 10 different receivers, completing passes to eight, for 339 yards and three touchdowns. His 30 completions were a new career-high for the second-year passer.
Dating back to Week 17 of the 2019 season, Minshew is the first player in Jaguars history to throw at least three TD passes in three consecutive games and is now the first player in franchise history to throw six touchdown passes through the team’s first two games of the season.
The Flip Side of the Run Defense
Oh but yes there was bad. And for as good as the run defense was, it was also, sort of a detriment. The Jaguars defense focused so hard on the run, that Ryan Tannehill picked them apart off the play action. Defensive coordinator Todd Wash mentioned Tannehill’s play-action during the week, so it was a point of emphasis in practice. But because the Jaguars sold out so hard to stop the run, their priorities were skewed.
Tannehill went 18-24 for 239 yards (100 less than Minshew ironically) and four touchdowns with no turnovers.
“You always want to try and make a team one-dimensional, so we know we want to stop the run with Derrick Henry, but we want to stop the run with every team to get on the pass. As far as the pressure on Tannehill, I think we've just got to do better getting off the play-action blocks and things like that,” explains Jones.
“I think this game we was probably a little locked in a little bit too into the run, kind of bared our eyes and kind of worked out late to work against the pass. But I think that's just how it is with every game. I think moving forward we're going to try to focus on that more because I really think that was a real big part of the game. I think our DBs do a good job but we just can't leave them out there covering for about six to ten seconds, so we've got to do a better job getting off those blocks.”
While the defense tightened up as the game went on, the writing was on the wall of what Tannehill would do from the opening play. The very first snap from scrimmage saw Tannehill off play-action hit tight end Jonnu Smith, who was on an island. There was no one in sight and Smith had moved the chains 63-yards in one play.
Jones says the defense missed it because they were preparing for the run.
“I think just with that first play just having it be the first play of the game, definitely thinking of setting the tone early and them showing run, I think we just kind of all downhill, wanted to stop Derrick Henry, wanted to stop the run, and I think it was just a good play call because he was two play side. I mean, you can run down and play side to stop the run, then you see the boot, everyone is moving towards the quarterback, all he has to do is really hideout and come out late and get the play.
“I think that was a pretty good first play call by them, but I think as the game went on, we just made sure that everyone on the back end communicated and made sure we were on the same page so we wouldn't just have any easy bombs come and hurt us.”
Myles Jack DPI
Linebacker Myles Jack is clearly in the position he should have been playing the entire time—weakside LB—and he proved it again on Sunday with a team leading (and game tying) 11 tackles. But his defensive pass interference penalty at the end of the game was bad. If you want to believe it was bad because it shouldn’t have been called in the first place, we won’t stop you.
The Titans were facing a 3rd and 5 from the Jaguars 44 yard line. They were not yet in Stephen Gostkowski’s range and were already under the two-minute warning. Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill dropped back and aimed for tight end Anthony Firkser on a crossing route. Jags linebacker Myles Jack broke it up on what looked at first to be an excellent defensive play.
But it was bad, whichever way you look at it, if for no other reason than the spot foul moved the Titans 12 yards and into field goal range. They would take advantage and kick the game-winner.
“They told me that it was a hold, that when the ball went in the air it turned into a defensive pass interference. I couldn't see early on in the route, and I had a bad view of it from where I was. But the back judge should have a great view of it,” explained Marrone.
Added Jones, “a lot of us don't believe that was really a pass interference, but the ref is going to make his call. Myles is, I wouldn't say emotional, but he's very passionate about this team and about this game, so definitely he's going to let it show after an important play like that, especially with the game on the line.”
Minshew's Two Interceptions
Upon further review, Gardner’s Minshew’s interceptions weren’t horrible, at least as far as how they unfolded. What hurt the most about the two turnovers were when they happened. The first came on the Jaguars' very first offensive drive. The Jags were marching downfield were just outside the red zone. Minshew was looking for a chunk play when rookie 6’6” receiver Collin Johnson jumped for the ball. He tipped it, into the hands of the Titans rookie corner Kristian Fulton.
“I was throwing [tight end] James [O’Shaughnessy) on that corner kind of flattening him off, and I don't blame Collin at all. He went up, he was trying to make a play. Just super unlucky, man. Felt good with the ball, felt good with the decision. It's one of those deals sometimes the balls don't bounce your way.”
The second interception was even more of a stab in the back. With less than a minute to play (after two Jags plays were unable to get out of bounds and stop the clock), Minshew dropped back and was close, facing a 3rd and 1.
The ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage and bounced back to outside linebacker Harold Landry.
“We felt really good going into that last drive,” Minshew told reporters after the loss.
“Got a few completions, that's always good to get it started the right way. You know, that last one, it sucks. I feel like I had [Keelan] Cole coming underneath, and ball got tipped up in the air, just a bad way to lose. But you know, there's a lot of good and we're going to learn from it and move forward.”
The Squib Kick
Then of course there’s the squib kick. After kicking a 35-yard field goal as time—seemingly—was expiring, the Jaguars pulled with two possessions, trailing 31-10.
Then Josh Lambo, who has won games for the Jaguars in the past, pulled a squib kick, I.e., kicking it low to roll past the defense. At least in theory. But on Sunday Lambo pulled it and the ball hit a front defender after traveling only 16-yards. Tennessee took back over at the Jags 49-yard line. One quick Tannehill pass to Firkser and the Titans were in range for Gostkowski, who answered with a 51-yard to make it a 14-point game once again as time expired in the half.
Titans linebacker Harold Landry knew his team was ready for the Lambo kick.
“I am not surprised. [Safety Joshua] Kalu takes what he does very seriously. The staff does a great job of preparing us for all situations throughout the week. So, it’s not surprising when the game comes, we execute it in key situations in a game like Kalu did.”
Marrone says though the execution was poor, it still wasn’t a bad decision in and of itself by Lambo (who also missed an extra point).
“There's a lot of things that can go on, and we just felt comfortable during that week that we have it in every week that we just power kick it through and we knew we were going to power kick it, which way we were going to go, and there's distance between those two players, and you've just got to in between it.
"He's a guy that works his butt off. We have confidence in him, and it's just one of those things that it just wasn't executed right. It wasn't like trying to make something happen or anything like that. Just didn't get into the right area.”
The Jacksonville Jaguars will turn around a short week and welcome the Miami Dolphins to TIAA Bank Field for a Thursday night, 8 p.m. kickoff.