THE JAGUARS ARE WINNING IN THE TRENCHES, SO WHY AREN'T THEY WINNING ON THE SCOREBOARD?
Not much was expected locally or nationally from the Jaguars' lines of scrimmage in 2021. The team returned all five starters on the offensive line from a season ago. On the defensive side of the ball, the Jags signed defensive linemen Robertson-Harris and Jihad Ward and re-signed defensive ends Dawuane Smoot and Adam Gotsis. They also traded for interior defensive lineman Malcom Brown. In the draft, they picked two fourth-rounders up front, Jay Tufele and Jordan Smith. And at linebacker, the Jaguars traded out the more balanced Joe Schobert for a true thumper in Damien Wilson.
None of these moves suggested that the Jaguars would blossom into a quality group when it comes to the lines of scrimmage. Last year, the Jaguars' offensive line leaked like a sieve, and the defense struggled to stop the run and generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks. But through two games, the Jaguars have been much improved on the lines of scrimmage. In fact, they're among the top ten in several critical statistical categories. Of course, it's only been two games, and they haven't faced the most explosive offenses in football, but the Jaguars look much, much better in the trenches.
The offensive line has done the job in pass protection, surrendering two sacks in as many games and allowing rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence to operate from reasonably clean pockets. They're tied for second in the NFL when it comes to sacks allowed. And while the Jaguars have not opted to run the ball often this season, they're averaging 4.7 yards per carry, the ninth-best mark in football. The offensive line has had one glaring issue to this point: penalties. They weren't as much of a problem in week two, so perhaps this group is working the kinks out. Still, they've racked up seven offensive line penalties in just two contests. But on the whole, it appears that Urban Meyer's faith in this group's development is paying off in a big way. They're not anywhere close to elite, but they are currently performing at a top ten level. Having a quarterback with a quick trigger, and players like tight ends Chris Manhertz and Luke Farrell, and running back James Robinson, that can aid in pass pro, has helped dramatically. So has another year of continuity under O-Line coach George Warhop.
On the defensive side of the line, the Jaguars have been stout against the run, allowing only 3.6 yards per carry. And that's against two quality rushing teams. That number is even more impressive if you take away Texans' quarterback Tyrod Taylor's 29-yard scamper on a busted play in week one. This defense is also getting after the passer, with 44 QB pressures, the fifth most in football, and four sacks through two games. They're coming off of a three-sack performance against the Broncos. With guys like Malcom Brown, Roy Robertson-Harris, and Jihad Ward signing on, plus the return of Josh Allen and DaVon Hamilton from injury, it's not surprising to see the Jaguars' run defense improve significantly (I predicted they would finish the season as a fringe top ten unit). And with three guys that can thump at linebacker in Damien Wilson, Myles Jack, and Shaq Quarterman, this run defense looks for real. The bigger surprise here is the pass rush. The defensive front has been active in both games this season, but while they have applied loads of pressure, the secondary has struggled to make plays on the ball. Joe Cullen's blitz-heavy scheme has allowed the Jaguars to get free runners at the quarterback, but players like Dawuane Smoot, Josh Allen, and Jihad Ward, have also been winning their one-on-ones with consistency. Put all that together, and you've got the makings of an above-average to good defensive front.
So, if Urban Meyer's Jaguars have been handling their business at the line of scrimmage, why are they losing games?
They've got a rookie quarterback in Trevor Lawrence who is still feeling his way out in the NFL. Lawrence doesn't always know when to take shots vs. checking the ball down. He hasn't gotten his legs going enough, either. He's still getting the hang of reading these complex NFL defenses. And adjusting to the speed of the game takes some time. He's managing all that while trying to establish chemistry with receivers he hasn't worked with all that much.
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell could help his young quarterback out with heavier doses of running the ball, pre-snap motion, and play-action. Moving the ball with James Robinson will take a load of Trevor Lawrence's shoulders, while using pre-snap motion and play-action will allow Trevor to gain a mental advantage over the defense.
On defense, the secondary is struggling to stick with receivers and make plays on the ball consistently. Many of their issues appear to be communication because when opposing offenses use man-beaters like rub routes and shallow crossers, the Jaguars' don't seem to have an answer. That should come with time, although I'm still not sure they'll be able to turn the page on this rough start in 2021 entirely due to a lack of talent and skill beyond the top two cornerbacks.
From a special teams stand point, kicker Josh Lambo has left nine points on the board in two games.
Regardless, the play on the line of scrimmage for the Jaguars is encouraging. On offense, they're running the ball well and protecting their quarterback, and on defense, they're stopping the run and applying pressure to opposing passers. If the "skill positions" can catch up, this team will have a shot to play in some more competitive games throughout the season. If not, this team will continue to look disjointed and unprepared.
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