Using EPA Data to Review the Jaguars' Success to Date Since 2013

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Since 2013, the Jacksonville Jaguars have largely been commanded by general manager Dave Caldwell, with a three-year reign from former executive vice president Tom Coughlin sprinkled in. 

Since then, the Jaguars have made it to the postseason just once, advancing to the AFC Championship in 2017 after a 10-6 regular season and two playoff wins. But how has the Jaguars' success, or lack thereof, stacked up against the rest of the NFL since 2013? To find the answer, we dive into data.

Expected Points Added (EPA) is an efficiency metric used to analyze how much any given play is likely to result in points at the end of a drive. For example, a 20-yard gain will generate a positive offensive EPA, and a sack will result in a negative offensive EPA. EPA considers factors like down and distance, field position and time remaining, which is why it is generally a good representation of team performance and popular in the football analytics community. ESPN has a more in-depth explanation of EPA.

The following is a review of the Jacksonville Jaguars team performance to date since Dave Caldwell was hired as general manager in 2013 using EPA, with the help of data from nflscrapR. 

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The Jaguars have been among the worst teams in the NFL in the past seven seasons, ranking better in net EPA per play above only the Cleveland Browns, Las Vegas Raiders and Miami Dolphins. Those three organizations have all cycled through at least two general managers and three head coaches, while Jacksonville has had just one general manager and two head coaches since 2013.

The Jaguars rank above only the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns in offensive EPA per play. Jacksonville has been a below-average offense in six of the past seven years, including last place finishes in offensive EPA per play in both 2013 and 2014. Since 2013, Jacksonville ranks 32nd in rushing EPA per play and 30th in passing EPA per play.

Jacksonville ranks higher on the defensive side of the ball, but that was in large part due to one outlier season in 2017 when it ranked first in defensive EPA per play after ranking no better than 12th the previous four years.

Multiple studies by football analysts have concluded that offensive performance correlates more with winning than defensive performance. This is partly because defensive performance tends to be volatile since turnovers, which are largely unpredictable, have a large impact on the result of games. Based on this information, it is not a surprise to see that Jacksonville’s defensive performance in 2017 was unsustainable and was not able to produce consistent wins.

Defenses can be dominant in the short-term, but in the long-term offenses are more stable and tend to be the driving factor behind successful franchises. This is apparent when studying Jacksonville’s recent history. Since 2013, the Jaguars rank 15th in defensive EPA per play but 30th in offensive EPA per play and 31st in wins.

The upcoming season will determine if quarterback Gardner Minshew is able to be a franchise quarterback capable of delivering long term offensive success, or if Jacksonville must continue to search for hope through the 2021 NFL Draft and beyond.

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