The Jaguars suffered their second straight second-half collapse, this time, it was in front of a national television audience. Leading 14-0 at halftime, Urban Meyer's Jaguars fell to the Bengals in Cincinnati by a score of 24-21 and didn't trail until the final play of the game.
The Jaguars' offense clicked in the first half, moving the ball with ease. And the defense's play was equally impressive. They had answers for everything the Bengals threw at them.
So, what went wrong?
It started at the end of the first half. The Jaguars were in the red zone, looking to take a commanding 21-0 lead. On first and goal, we have a short run by Ogunbowale, followed up by a throwaway from Trevor with no one open. Next, Lawrence finds Shenault on a slant, who reels in the pass and attempts to make his defender miss. Shenault bullied his way down to the half-yard line. Fourth and goal. Of course, the Jaguars went for it, and I don't blame them. And then they run the option. Yeah, probably not the best call there. You've got a hammer in James Robinson. When you have less than half a yard to gain, give it to J-Rob or QB sneak it. The option has too many things that can go wrong. Still, if Jawaan Taylor sustains his block for a tad bit longer, Lawrence at least has a one-on-one with linebacker Logan Wilson. Instead, he tried to force his way through two Bengals, to no avail. That score would have made this an entirely different game.
Still, you're up 14-0 at halftime and feeling good. What's next?
Bengals ball to start the third. They're doing well. They pick up a chunk gain when Joe Burrow hits Ja'Marr Chase in single coverage (Tyson Campbell) down the sideline. The Bengals begin to work the outside zone to the right side. Then boom, they run the tendency breaker. Play action roll-out from under center, Myles Jack bites like he's never seen this before in his life, which sets up CJ Uzomah for an easy touchdown. Jack has to be more disciplined with his eyes. I get that you want to stop Joe Mixon, but you've got other responsibilities too.
Trevor Lawrence's next drive features two James Robinson runs and then a third-down play where no receivers get open. Punt.
Logan Cooke pins the Bengals back at their own 14. It doesn't matter. They get the outsize zone cooking with Joe Mixon. Then, from the gun with a fresh set of downs, Burrow targets — you guessed it — cornerback Tyson Campbell on the left side. Another first down, and the Bengals have the ball near the 50. After an incomplete screen pass, the Bengals isolate slot receiver Tyler Boyd on nickel cornerback Tre Herndon, a total mismatch. Burrow hits him on the out breaking right, and the Bengals are on the move again. The Jaguars finally get the Bengals into a third-down situation. Third and five from the Jags' 20. Guess who? Tyler Boyd beats Myles Jack with ease over the middle of the field. The blitz-heavy Jaguars presented a four-man rush. You can love Myles Jack and also realize that's not a good match-up. First and goal from the eight. A couple of Joe Mixon runs later, and the game is tied 14-14.
Not only do the Jaguars not have the answers schematically, but they also don't have the players to win one-on-one against receivers like Tyler Boyd and Ja'Marr Chase.
The next offensive drive starts out well for the Jaguars. A medium-gain on a screen to Viska. Then an absolute dime from Trevor to Jamal Agnew down the left side. Agnew pulls out his toe-drag-swag, and the Jaguars are cooking with the ball in Bengals territory. Lawrence calls his own number on first down and picks up eight yards. Unfortunately, he does the same on second but trips and gets stuffed at the line of scrimmage. Third down, another unsuccessful pass play. Lawrence could've squeezed it in over the middle to Marvin Jones, who sat down in the zone, but he didn't pull the trigger and instead kind of threw it away to the left side. On fourth down, Laviska Shenault gets open, beating man coverage on an out route. First down. The Jaguars continue to move the ball through the air with completions to Jacob Hollister and Laviska Shenault. The Jaguars punch it in the end zone with James Robinson for the second time and regain the lead 21-14.
That was the most impressive drive of the night for Lawrence. Not because it was perfect, but because it wasn't. He fought through a lot of adversity to put his team back up on the scoreboard.
The Bengals come roaring back. They're moving the ball with ease, and Joe Cullen doesn't have an answer for it. On this drive, Cullen rushed three, four, or five every time the Bengals came out in the gun, perhaps worrying that Burrow would pick the defense apart if he sent more. Guess what, Joe? He's picking you apart anyways. On the drive's final play, another Uzomah touchdown, Cullen drops eight defenders and only rushes three. There's a miscommunication on the back end. Like I said, you're guys aren't getting the job done in coverage; why get conservative now?
We're tied up again at 21.
Trevor gets the ball moving early on in the drive. He finds Marvin Jones Jr. on the left side, Viska over the middle, and you're feeling good. On second and six, Lawrence is in the gun, he fakes the handoff to Robinson and rolls right. He keeps his eyes locked downfield, looking for the big play, but it never opens up, and he has to eat it for a one-yard gain. Lawrence had Viska, who was sprinting to the right side, on this one. This is a classic PA high-low game where Lawrence probably needed to take the first down instead of the touchdown. Still, it was only second down. On third down, Trevor doesn't see anyone open and is forced to throw the ball away. The Jaguars punt from mid-field with 5:33 left in the game.
The Bengals are again moving the ball as Joe Cullen continues to call a conservative second half. He's content to rush three, four, or five, and let Joe Burrow pick his defense apart. And the run defense is struggling to slow down Joe Mixon on the stretch plays at this point. They're gassed. The Jaguars actually get home on third and two, bringing Joe Burrow down in the backfield. But a holding penalty on Tre Herndon down the field gives the Bengals life. Sigh. Cullen continues to send four rushers at Joe Burrow, that is until the game's most fateful play. Cullen sends five rushers to go get Burrow, but the Bengals are ready for it. They've got a receiver screen called for — guess who — CJ Uzomah. He catches the ball close to the sideline on the LOS, and his receivers turn into blockers, paving the way for a first down and a win. The Bengals run the clock out and their rookie kicker from Florida, Evan McPherson, delivers the final blow.
So, what went wrong?
Three, four, and five-man rushes were largely ineffective in the second half. Instead of attempting to switch it up against Joe Burrow at some point, Joe Cullen continued to give him looks that he was ready for. And outside of Shaq Griffin, the Jaguars' coverage players got whooped throughout the second half. The one time Cullen dialed up a blitz in the second half, and it actually worked, you get a Tre Herndon penalty. The Jaguars inability to cover is putting Joe Cullen in between a rock and a hard place as a play caller.
Were they tired? Probably. This team played in a tough contest just four days prior. Doesn't matter.
Were they overmatched? Yep. If you've got Tyson Campbell and Tre Herndon covering Ja'Marr Chase and Tyler Boyd, it's only a matter of time before the levee breaks.
Was Myles Jack at the heart of a couple big plays? Yep. Your fearless leader at linebacker has to be able to play more fundamentally sound football. I'd give the headset to someone else and let Jack free his mind of the worries that come with being the defender that communicates the plays.
Did Joe Cullen fail to adjust? He sure did. Joe Burrow knew where to go with the ball every time he was in the gun in the second half. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. He ate that defense alive.
Trevor only got three cracks in the second half and led a scoring drive on one of them. The defense has to be able to give their quarterback more opportunities to win the game.
This one stings. But it's now as clear as ever: Trevor Lawrence is 1,000% that dude. This young team, led by a rookie head coach and rookie quarterback, has gotten better each and every week.
I don't love some of the play calling in this one, and the lack of adjustments by Joe Cullen is a little alarming, to say the least. But the most important things for the future health of this franchise are happening. Players are buying into what Urban Meyer is selling, and Trevor Lawrence is becoming a star before our very eyes.
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