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Why Dan Arnold Didn't Receive a Target in the Jaguars' Loss to 49ers

The Jaguars' leading receiver over the last month was an afterthought in the Jaguars' loss to the 49ers, but why exactly do the coaches think this was the result of a week of game planning?

There was an abundance of questions for the Jacksonville Jaguars' offense -- and team in general -- following Week 11's 30-10 beatdown at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers. 

The questions ranged from why the Jaguars couldn't find the end-zone, to why they couldn't support quarterback Trevor Lawrence, to why the Jaguars couldn't stop a 20-play opening drive by the 49ers. 

But one question in particular has been posed over the days as the Jaguars dissect what went so wrong in Week 11 -- where was Dan Arnold?

"It’s our obligation – he’s one of our better players – get him the ball," Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer summed up on Monday.

After a five-game period from Weeks 5 through 10 in which Arnold led the Jaguars' offense in targets (39), receptions (25), receiving yards (286), and first downs (15), the athletic tight end didn't register a single target against the 49ers. In a day in which the Jaguars had four of their first six drives end in punts, the Jaguars' most productive skill player didn't see a single ball thrown his way. 

So, why exactly did Arnold not catch a pass or even register a target in a game in which the Jaguars needed offensive firepower in the worst way? As Urban Meyer explained Monday, it was a simple case of the 49ers taking away what the Jaguars wanted to do when it came to Arnold, a sign of Arnold becoming the focal point of defensive game plans. 

"We had run a couple option routes to him and they bracketed him, and the ball went somewhere else. That’s why I always like to hand the ball to your best players at times because when you hand the ball to Laviska [Shenault Jr.], you can’t take that away, you’re going to hand the ball to him," Meyer said. 

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"They can take him away in the throw game and that’s what they did a little bit. I give them credit. They bracketed him a few times and they realized the same thing [that] he’s one of our best targets and we weren’t able to defeat that. So no, we were aware of it. The conversation’s more about this coming week.”

To the 49ers' credit, their defense rarely gave anything up to the Jaguars through the air. Lawrence had just 78 air yards on 30 dropbacks, with the Jaguars mostly being limited to underneath routes. The Jaguars also made Laviska Shenault a focus point of the offense, throwing several designed screens to the second-year receiver early in the game, which is exactly the type of play Arnold has thrived on at times this year.

With that said, the Jaguars saw eight players get targeted on Sunday, including Carlos Hyde, John Brown, Tavon Austin, and Laquon Treadwell. Add in Shenault's five targets and Marvin Jones' six, and there wasn't much room left for Arnold to make an impact once the 49ers made it a point to eliminate him.

"Well I mean there’s plays in there [the playbook] that are designed to go to him and the defense ends up either covering it or we continue to move on through our progression," Jaguars offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said on Wednesday. "That’s on me, I have to make sure that we continue to get him in there and make sure the ball is going in his direction."

"We are always looking to add things to the offense and really what we add is what can help a certain player be successful. We look for plays – how do we get [Jamal] Agnew the ball, how do we get Twolive [Laviska Shenault Jr.], how do we get Dan [Arnold] the ball? You know all those types of things, we look at other teams. We have a lot of experience on our staff as well and [ask each other] what have you done to do this? We look for that every week, sometimes it does not fit for the specific week or specific scheme, but we’re always looking.”

The onus of getting Arnold the ball goes beyond Meyer and Bevell, too. It will also depend on Lawrence ensuring he is able to get his best playmakers the ball with a chance to do what they do best. Against the 49ers, Lawrence looked elsewhere with the ball, never throwing to Arnold once while the Jaguars' lone designed play for Arnold -- a tight end screen -- was blown up and resulted in Lawrence throwing the ball into the dirt.

"It can be tough. Obviously, that’s when you have to find your other guys and make plays. That’s something that we’re still continuing to figure out, what we’re really good at, and the next step to this offense," Lawrence said on Wednesday. 

"But yeah, there’s always ways to get him the ball and [we] didn’t really do that for last week for whatever reason. [It was] just how the game went. They did a good job of trying to take him away, so that’s something you always have to have a plan for. They played a lot of man coverage last week. We have to beat man and you have to be really accurate when you’re playing man coverage, so those are the two things.”