In case you missed it, the Jaguars have lost four straight contests. Yeah, nothing like a full month of losses to get your fan base fired up. And by fired up, I mean ready to burn the whole thing down.
But the Jaguars have been close(ish) in three of their four losses. While they seemingly find new ways to lose on a weekly basis, they're not that far away from being close in the fourth quarter. Before injuries ravaged their roster, these same Jaguars were within a couple of plays (and missed calls — yes, I'm looking at you, Jadeveon Clowney) of taking down the still undefeated Titans in Nashville. I'm not trying to sit here and convince you that the Jaguars are a good football team; they're clearly not that. But they are a team that, with a few minor tweaks, could compete to win some games in the near future.
How could this godforsaken (I jest) organization possibly win a game? I'm glad you asked.
Here are five things that need to take place for the Jaguars to compete with the Lions in week six and the Chargers after that.
Despite the perception that says otherwise, Jaguars have actually been very well balanced between the run and the pass in the first half of ball games. The Jaguars have a pass to run ratio of 60/40 in the first half of games, and while I might like to see it closer to 55/45, that's actually right in the middle of the league rankings at 15. The league average is 59/41 for the first half of games. I have two main issues with the balance, or lack thereof, from the Jaguars' offense. In the third quarter of games, the Jaguars have been more pass-heavy than most teams and have the 10th highest pass rate. They need to run the ball more in the third quarter, plain and simple. James Robinson is an excellent running back, and in most games, the Jags have been within striking distance in the third quarter. A bigger issue still is that the Jaguars almost completely abandon the run in the red zone, especially lately. The Jaguars have passed the ball 78% of the time in the red zone. Defenses are beginning to key in on that, and it's resulted in a steep decline in red zone scoring efficiency over the last three weeks. J-Rob is the sixth highest-rated rusher (min. 40 attempts) per Pro Football Focus. Jay Gruden needs to start calling his number more often.
Chark (ankle) may or may not be able to suit up against the Lions, but this is more of a philosophical point anyway. When Chark is on the field, he needs to be featured; like a starting shooting guard in basketball, Chark needs volume. He's played in four games this year and has just 20 targets to show for it. Guess how many of those targets he's hauled in?! 18, that's right, DJ is catching 90% of his targets this year. Throwing the ball to your most talented offensive player just five times a game is not going to get the job done. For context, the top 10 receivers in football this year are being targeted an average of 9.7 times per game, nearly double the usage DJ has seen. He's currently tied for 102nd in targets this season. The Jaguars need to get this man the ball.
The Jaguars may have found a diamond in the rough in Sidney Jones. Sure, he's a known commodity, a former second-round pick that would have gone in round one but for injuries, but the Jaguars scooped Jones off the scrap heap this summer when the Eagles released him after a string of, you guessed it, injuries. Jones is healthy now and playing some of the best football we've seen from a cornerback since, well, Jalen Ramsey. He's only played in two games for the Jaguars, but he's shown the smooth feet, quick trigger, and ball skills that made him a top draft prospect. The man has been targeted six times in coverage and surrendered just one completion. He's created two turnovers, one interception, and one tipped pass to Jarrod Wilson. His passer rating allowed is zero. On Wednesday morning, I asked Doug Marrone if he planned on starting Sidney Jones this week, and he didn't give a direct answer. "He's had the ability to earn all those things you mentioned," said Marrone. "I think you saw what he has the ability to do, so when you see someone go out there and perform like that, and do a lot of really good things, obviously you're going to look to him and see 'hey, listen is he going to play more? What are we going to do?' So we'll work on that during the week." Marrone didn't come out and say that Jones would start, but the Jaguars need him out on the field opposite CJ Henderson, who should return this week. Chris Claybrooks has been a liability in coverage and in run defense, so getting Jones out there instead of Claybrooks could be a massive win for the Jaguars.
You hate to use health as an excuse, but when you have your best defensive lineman, Josh Allen, your best linebacker, Myles Jack, and your best cornerback, CJ Henderson, all out with injuries, your team is going to have a hard time competing for 60 minutes. All three are expected to practice Wednesday and should be in line to return to the playing field for the Jaguars this weekend. Add in the fact that starting free safety and team captain Jarrod Wilson returned from his hamstring injury, and starting strong safety Josh Jones will be back in the lineup after being ejected early in the third quarter last week, and this defense should be the healthiest it has been since week one.
PLAY CALLING IN THE REDZONE
I mentioned it before, but the Jaguars have been very pass-happy in the red zone, especially over the last three weeks. Defenses appear ready for every look they see from Jay Gruden's offense. It's challenging to be an efficient scoring offense in the red zone, but Gruden can do a better job installing plays down there and attacking defensive schemes. Last week he called a halfback pass on 4th and 1 in the red zone instead of just letting J-Rob plow ahead for the first down. On another second-quarter drive, he also called a swing pass to Laviska Shenault on third down that was four to five yards behind the line of scrimmage that the Texans' defense was waiting for it. Gruden needs to run the ball more in the red zone and call plays that keep the opposing defense off balance. Had the Viska pass been designed as a pump fake to Shenault, someone else likely would have been wide open. It's easy to be critical, but the bottom line is Jay Gruden needs his offense to score touchdowns in the red zone, and he needs to put them in a better position. Gruden is a well-respected play-caller and should be able to get this thing turned around. He was candid about his regrets with both of the play calls I mentioned before, and said the J-Rob pass play "keeps him up at night." It was just a few weeks ago that Jacksonville and the entire NFL world was singing his praises.
BONUS: Chris Conley and Tyler Eifert are significantly reducing the Jaguars' offensive efficiency. Whether it's their fault, or Minshew's fault, or just a lack of chemistry, the Jaguars' offense isn't effective when targeting Conley and Eifert. The pair have been targeted a combined 42 times and only caught 24 passes. The Jaguars would be wise to feature them less often in favor of players like Keelan Cole, Laviska Shenault, James O'Shaughnessy, James Robinson, and obviously DJ Chark.
The Jaguars aren't far away from at least being competitive into the fourth quarter of games. We've all seen what Gardner Minshew is capable of late in close ball games, so let's just get there and see what happens; why don't we? If the Jaguars can get healthy and follow these steps, they'll have a shot.
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