Run Defense, Jaguars' Weakness?
The Jaguars' run defense was embarrassed on Sunday in front of a hometown crowd. The Falcons ran the ball 29 times for 149 yards and two scores on the day. Their first-year head coach Arthur Smith (former Titans' offensive coordinator) has had a ton of success running the ball against the Jaguars over the years, and Sunday was a continuation of that. Instead of Derrick Henry gashing the Big Cats, it was a heavy dose of Cordarrelle Patterson, who toted the rock 16 times for 108 yards, averaging nearly seven yards per carry. He ran through and past the Jaguars' defense for much of the day, resembling King Henry in a variety of ways. The Jaguars' run defense was perhaps THE strength of this team through the first eight games, but over the last three, the Jaguars are allowing opponents to rush for 149 yards per game on 4.6 yards per carry. Malcom Brown and DaVon Hamilton are not doing a good enough job eating up space, and the linebackers and safeties have struggled to consistently fill and tackle. While the pass defense finds life, the run defense is reeling.
Poor Offensive Game Plan
Far too often this season, Darrell Bevell has asked his receivers to run vertical iso routes. In theory, this could lead to a bevy of explosive plays. But with receivers that struggle to get open and catch the ball in tight windows, this vertical offense is falling flat and setting Trevor Lawrence up to fail. There's no one open for Trevor to target on a regular basis. No, an offensive coordinator shouldn't have to overcome a receiving corps that is this pathetic. But that's the job Darrell Bevell has to do right now. And it's not as if we haven't seen some things that consistently work. Bunch formations, rub and pick routes, and motion, have all helped the Jaguars' offense this year, but for some reason, Darrell Bevell is intent on making this offense a vertical attack despite having no vertical weapons. He's attempting to force a square peg in a round hole.
A Legitimate Breakout for Tyson Campbell
The 33rd overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, rookie cornerback Tyson Campbell, played a masterful game. He picked up two key pass deflections in man coverage and baited Matt Ryan into a dangerous pass that Campbell intercepted in zone coverage. He also attacked in pursuit, helping the Jaguars' defense get off the field on more than one occasion. He was targeted six times in coverage and surrendered just three catches for 33 yards. Campbell did give up a touchdown on a pick route, but it was the perfect play call to beat the Jaguars' man coverage. Since Campbell's return from injury in week eight, he's allowed just 14 completions on 25 targets with five PBUs and an interception. If Campbell continues his upward trajectory, the Jaguars will have two quality starting cornerbacks locked down for 2022 and beyond.
Special Teams Reeling
Nick Sorensen's special teams units have struggled in recent weeks. Against the 49ers, Tavon Austin muffed a punt. This week, two special teams penalties kept the Falcons' offense on the field. Jaguars' head coach Urban Meyer is a special teams maniac, and if these issues persist, it's hard to imagine Sorensen will be on the job after 2021.
Rudy Ford Regressing?
Rudy Ford injected some juice into the Jaguars' defense when he started taking the majority of reps at nickel in week eight. But over the last few weeks, teams have figured out that he's not great in coverage. Ford is an excellent blitzer and is generally good in pursuit, but his lack of ability as a pure coverage player is putting the Jaguars' defense in a bind. Moving beyond 2021, the Jaguars' will need to find someone who can bring more to the defense in coverage for the nickel spot. I'm not suggesting the staff eliminates Ford's role entirely, but they need to be able to insert someone that can be an asset to the secondary in coverage.
Still Need Edge Help
I'm a huge fan of edge rushers Josh Allen and Dawuane Smoot. There's no question that Allen is an ascending pass rusher and run defender on the edge for the Jaguars. But Smoot is best suited as a rotational pass rusher. The duo struggled greatly against the Falcons, failing to pick up a sack, and recording just one QB pressure between them. The Jaguars still need to find guys that can win one on ones more consistently. Adding a young pass rusher in the 2022 NFL Draft should be a priority.
Big Time Grabs!
The Jaguars do not boast a super talented group of receivers, but there were some highlight-reel grabs in this one. Marvin Jones landed a lunging one-handed catch on a bullet from Trevor Lawrence in the red zone. James Robinson hauled in a one-hander of his own later in the game. And Tavon Austin showed off some elevation and a sweet toe-drag swag in the back of the endzone for the Jaguars' only touchdown of the day. This isn't a great bunch of receivers, but they made a few spectacular grabs in this one.
No Quit In Trevor, Jaguars Team
Despite a severe lack of talent at receiver and an offensive coordinator that fails to play to the strengths of his personnel, Trevor Lawrence refuses to quit. After an ugly first half, Lawrence continued to scrap, leading the Jaguars on an impressive touchdown drive capped off by a two-point conversion. The Jaguars' young quarterback believes in himself and his teammates, and it showed in this one. They came up short, but the first overall pick fought to the bitter end. Perhaps if a blatant pass interference was called on the final Jaguars' third down of the game, we'd be talking about an entirely different result. Regardless, his future is bright.
While I do take umbrage with Urban Meyer refusing to micromanage when necessary, I have to give the first-year NFL head coach credit for keeping these guys together. This is a team that could have very easily quit many times over the past couple of months. But the young leaders believe in what Urban Meyer preaches, and they fight for him and each other every week. There's something to be said for that.
The Jaguars' lost Dan Arnold early in this one with an MCL sprain. The Jaguars' top receiving tight end will be out 4-6 weeks, which means he might not play again in 2021 with just six weeks left in the season.
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