The Gus Bradley Problem
This week, after spending a few days recovering from the 3 hours of disgusting Jaguars football from Sunday’s game, I want to look at the reasons behind our team’s unacceptable performance against the Chargers. The game was so miserable that I couldn’t even write my Superlatives piece because every player, coach and ball-boy would just be considered a Dud. Somehow, we made this massive switch between a team filled with hope that took the game versus Green Bay to the final minute to a team that looked like it could legitimately finish the season with less than 3 wins IN JUST ONE WEEK’S TIME.
The purpose of this article is to discuss what Gus Bradley is doing wrong, especially compared to other NFL head coaches, and how we can hope to improve it.
The excuse throughout the last 3 years for Gus Bradley has been that he doesn’t have the talent necessary to compete with the majority of NFL teams. This was true from the beginning of his tenure until the end of 2015 (although you could argue that his team last year was talented enough to do better than it did, I don’t believe that is the case). He has not had a team with a legitimately complete starting roster until this year. The excuse just doesn’t work anymore.
The On-Field Product
Now that we’ve established that Bradley has the talent on paper to make a good NFL team, we need to see if those players are actually playing up to their normal standards. Sometimes, players have bad seasons that should not be blamed on the coaching staff or anyone but the player themselves.
However, this really isn’t the case for the Jaguars right now. The areas of the team that I would have expected to play poorly (the offensive line and the cornerbacks, primarily) are actually having solid seasons. Considering that Aaron Colvin has been suspended and Prince Amukamura didn’t play last game, the DB’s have looked like they’re playing with proper technique and not making blatantly obvious errors. The offensive line has impressed me, even though they aren’t dominant at making holes in the run game. For what it’s worth, PFF thinks that our entire offensive line is playing at least at an average level right now. So, if these players are playing well, why do their units still give up bad plays consistently?
Before moving on, I will say that there are four players who I believe have actually played at a sub-par level: Blake Bortles, TJ Yeldon, Marqise Lee and Paul Posluszny. I’ll be getting to these three players later in the article.
A lot of angry Jaguars fans are blaming the offensive play-calling for the woes that we’re having as a team, primarily focusing on the high amount of screen passes that we tend to throw. I charted this week’s passes, finding that 20% of our throws were screens or one-read throws behind the LOS (does not include legitimate check-down plays). We also only ran 8 intentional running plays, despite the fact that they were more successful than the screens.
While I think the number of screens is slightly high, it really is just a piece of the overall problem. When I watched this game again, I noticed that Greg Olsen is trying to make Blake Bortles into a timing passer. There is an insane amount of 1-read throws that he’s trying to get Bortles to make, and it looks like Bortles is really trying to execute the play as designed. As a result, he’s throwing passes that look almost errant, but I think it’s just that he’s not comfortable running plays without reading the defense. Another thing I noticed was that they are making him throw to Marqise Lee and Rashad Greene when he is clearly more comfortable throwing to the Allens and Julius Thomas. Despite how good Thomas looked this game, Olsen was still telling Bortles to throw a 1-read route to Marqise Lee that would be dropped or whiff. Olsen needs to realize that Bortles is not a Tom Brady-type thrower and needs to be treated as the dynamic quarterback he is.
I want to take a minute to discuss TJ Yeldon. Yeldon has put up some less-than-desirable statistics while filling in for the ill Chris Ivory. He’s averaging 2.4 yards per carry after a horrible Week 1 where he ran 21 times for 39 yards. He also has been the primary receiver in our screen-heavy offense, catching 12 passes (which leads the team) for 40 yards, including this week’s game against SD where he caught 8 passes for…. 10 yards. I’ll also add that one of these receptions was for 8 yards, meaning his other 7 catches combined for 2 yards. As discussed before, the play-calling in this offense is… questionable, to say the least. While his Week 1 performance was pretty bad, Yeldon wasn’t given the chance to succeed in Week 2 because of the offense’s inability to run a logical system.
So how do we fix this problem? There are ways that the coaching staff can change the performance of the offense without changing the level the players are playing at (although it wouldn’t hurt to see Bortles play a little bit smarter in whatever offense he’s running). First, call plays that are geared towards the offensive talent that we have. Olsen needs to try to get our receivers vertical, even when they are getting focused on by the defense. This opens up the running game, an OCCASIONAL screen pass, and gives Julius Thomas and Rashad Greene room to work in the middle of the field. Second, they have to take Marqise Lee off of the field once and for all. Lee has earned his chance and has done nothing with it outside of a few flashy plays. There is nothing that he does better than anyone else on our offense and is clearly replaceable. Finally, Olsen needs to try to establish the run more when it has a chance of working. The running game didn’t actually look horrible on Sunday, but we never gave it the chance to succeed. If the run game looks like it did in Week 1, abandon it, but give it a legitimate shot every week before making life exponentially harder on Blake Bortles by getting rid of it. These simple fixes, combined with improved play from the players, could easily bring us back to last year’s form (or better).
The defense was a major disappointment in Week 2 after a Week 1 game that had Jags fans ecstatic about the unit’s potential. While the injury to Prince Amukamura clearly hurt the team, there were several flaws that were signs of coaching failure that caused our unit to look awful this week.
First, I want to talk about the cornerback group, as I was so thrilled with their Week 1 performance. This week, with Amukamura out and Aaron Colvin still serving a 4-game suspension, the three primary corners were Jalen Ramsey, Davon House and Dwayne Gratz. Ramsey had an okay game but wasn’t nearly as good as his debut. Davon House was putrid in this game and Dwayne Gratz (despite what PFF thinks) played at his normal subpar level. However, they deserve a bit of a pass this week, as they were depleted and facing a very good QB. The only thing that concerned me was that they didn’t seem to know the defensive sets, which I’ll discuss in a minute.
My biggest problem with the defense this year is that the defenders don’t know where they’re supposed to be or what they’re supposed to do. I blame Gus Bradley and the coaching staff for this. Granted, we’re starting several players who have never played in this defense before until this season. You’d expect there to be a few plays where the corner and safety get confused on when to hand off a receiver or a defensive end crashes when he’s supposed to contain. What our defense has shown isn’t rust or inexperience, it’s not understanding what the calls are or where they’re supposed to be. You see DBs and LBs completely out of position, linebackers constantly hitting wrong gaps and defensive linemen not understanding what their roles are. This is a consistent problem that caused this game to be lost from the first drive on. The coaching staff just seems to be doing something wrong, and this is causing players to not know what’s going on. If a player doesn’t have a complete understanding of the playbook, WHY THE HELL ARE THEY PLAYING? This is Coaching-101. The guys who know their roles and study the most always have the best opportunity to play.
Now, I have to piss off some hardcore Jags fans and talk about a fan favorite being the single-most detrimental piece of the defense. Yes, I’m talking about LB Paul Posluszny. He has been awful this year. I’ve often criticized his pass coverage, but I thought the acquisition of Myles Jack would allow the team to use Poz properly. However, he’s been awful in every aspect of his game this year. He can’t tackle for some reason, misses gaps and just looks incredibly slow. He can’t cover TEs or RBs in the NFL anymore, which is vital for a modern NFL LB to do consistently. The coaches and his fans say that he’s the leader of the defense and helps set them into plays and such, both of which are ridiculous excuses. There is no situation where being the “leader” should make up for horrendous play and, as discussed previously, the defense isn’t set anyways, so he’s not doing a great job at that either.
Fixing the defense is very simple: get Poz off the field and play players who know what they’re executing. This staff has been loyal to bad players for too long and needs to learn to let go. If this were the Patriots or the Seahawks staffs, Poz probably wouldn’t even be on the roster anymore and players would understand what they’re executing, even if they can’t always perform at a high level.
Gus Bradley has nearly blown his chance in Jacksonville. His leash cannot be any shorter than it already is and it shouldn’t be, as he’s shown nothing besides a positive attitude to show that he can be an NFL head coach. However, fixing this team isn’t that hard of a task. Gus just needs to take some simple steps to completely change the course of this season. Please do it, Gus, you owe us that much after all you’ve talked about the “process”.
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