The Jaguars are getting ready to enter one of the most pivotal seasons in franchise history. What's at stake? The jobs of the head coach, general manager, and many more within the organization. It's a win or pack your bags season in Duval County.
With that in mind, I wanted to examine just how the Jaguars could become a more competitive team, beyond improving their roster throughout free agency and the draft.
What can the coaches do to give this team a better chance of winning, based on play calling and preparation? I want to start by updating the offense.
Let's take a look.
This one is obvious — the Jaguars should run play-action (PA for short) more. That is, let Gardner Minshew fake a handoff to a running back before attempting a pass. It's one of the oldest and most basic play designs in football. But it's coming back in a big, big way. PA Numbers are up around the league.
There are several reasons the Jaguars should become a more play-action heavy offense in 2020. The first is that Gardner Minshew excels as a play-action passer. As a rookie, Minshew averaged 9.4 yards per play-action pass. You probably don't need me to tell you this, but averaging nearly a first-down per passing attempt on PA is very good.
There's no guarantee that the Jaguars' coaching, specifically Jay Gruden, will want to implement a ton of play-action. In his final two full seasons as Washington's head coach, Gruden's teams ran PA on about 21% of their pass plays each year. That number is closer to the bottom of the NFL than I'd like. But with some time to take a step back and re-evaluate after being fired by the Redskins five weeks into the 2019 season, Gruden may see the light.
And the advantage of play-action offense shouldn't be lost on the Jaguars' head coach, Doug Marrone. In 2017, when Jacksonville's offense was actually effective (for much of the season), they utilized play-action more than they have since then. The Jaguars made it all the way to the AFC Championship that year, thanks in large part to employing play-action on 23% of their snaps, good for the 12th highest percentage in football.
I'm not suggesting that the Jaguars should run PA exclusively, or even half the time, but if they make a concerted effort to run play-action on 25-35% of their passing plays next season, they should see positive results. With Leonard Fournette in the backfield, it's sure to keep defensive backs on their toes, and Gardner Minshew thrives when running play-action.
The Jaguars should also run more pre-snap motion — this another trend that's sweeping across the NFL. Sending a receiver, tight end, or running back in motion is a highly effective tactic, both on passing and running plays. Under John DeFilippo, the Jaguars rarely employed the strategic advantage. In fact, the Jaguars used pre-snap motion the least of any team in the NFL last year. But clubs like Baltimore, Kansas City, and San Francisco consistently sent players in motion and reaped the benefits.
Sending a man in motion before the snap is much more than a gimmick. It allows the QB to see how defensive players react to the movement before the snap, giving the QB an advantage. It also puts defenders, particularly those in man defense, at a significant disadvantage, forcing them to make a split-second adjustment to their assignment.
Creating confusion on the defensive side of the ball and giving clarity to the QB should be a no brainer. Hopefully, the Jaguars will use pre-snap motions much more often in 2020. Jay Gruden has undoubtedly shown more willingness in the past to run pre-snap motions than his predecessor did in Jacksonville.
Finding more balance will also be key. The Jaguars were one of the most unbalanced offenses in the NFL in 2019. John DeFilippo seemingly didn't learn all that much from his firing in Minnesota. The former Jaguars' offensive coordinator called a pass-happy offense yet again in 2020. The Jaguars passed the ball on 65% of their offensive plays in 2019, the third-most in football. I don't think the Jaguars should overcorrect too much in this department. The passing game is still king in the NFL, and using RBs out of the backfield is essentially just an extension of the run game. But getting that number closer to the 55-60% range may yield better results in 2020.
The good news for the Jaguars' offense is that Gruden is a progressive NFL mind. He's not going to rest on his laurels as so many coaches have seemingly done in Jacksonville. He wasn't blessed with much to work with in Washington over the years, but with an active offseason of talent acquisition on the offensive side of the ball AND an updated offensive philosophy, Gruden and the Jaguars' offense could have a resurgent 2020 campaign.
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