The Jacksonville Jaguars, led by Urban Meyer, are 0-4. But their troubles started long before Urban's arrival. The franchise has lost nineteen straight games, the third-longest losing streak in NFL history. But to truly understand just how inept this club has been, all you need to do is take a look at their record under current owner Shad Khan. 41-110. The Jaguars have won just 41 games since Shad Khan purchased the team in 2012. They've had exactly one winning record and one playoff appearance during that time.
When college football legend Urban Meyer signed on to be the head coach of this wayward franchise, he knew it would be tough sledding. Did he expect to start 0-4? Certainly not.
But even with that winless record through roughly one-quarter of his first season as a professional head coach, there is hope in Duval county.
Trevor Lawrence. The generational talent was the Jags' reward for finishing with the worst record in football last season. And despite his many early-season turnovers, very few doubt his potential, which after an impressive performance against a tough Bengals' defense, looks limitless.
He and running back James Robinson put the team on their collective back and nearly led the lowly Jaguars to their first victory in over a calendar year. Of course, a second-half defensive collapse meant another gut-wrenching loss.
But the Jags are moving in the right direction, inching closer and closer to victory each week.
Their next opponent is their long-time AFC South foe, the Tennessee Titans.
While the Jaguars appear to be on the verge of picking up their first win of the Urban Meyer and Trevor Lawrence era, I can't help but think about what's missing on this team. Why were they unable to take down the Bengals, despite leading 14-0 at halftime and 21-14 in the fourth quarter.
You could undoubtedly question coaching. A defensive collapse of that magnitude is tough to stomach. But for me, I keep going back to the players. Almost universally, the teams with the best players find success. Of course, teaching and play-calling have a major impact on each game. Still, from my perch, it appears that, for the most part, the players on the Jaguars' roster have been put in a position to find success. Ultimately some of them either don't have the mental aptitude, understanding of schemes and play designs, or overall talent to get the job done.
While several areas of the team have been faulty throughout the first month of the season, there are two position groups in particular that are preventing this team from winning games.
Let's take a look at the defensive side of the ball first. The Jaguars' front seven has been excellent against the run, especially when you look back at how porous this group was in 2020. This defense is allowing just 3.5 yards per carry in 2021, the fifth-best mark in football. And they've certainly grown as a team in the pass rush department with 67 pressures in four games, even if there is still a ton of room to improve there, as they boast just five sacks.
To understand the most glaring issue with this defense, you need to understand what Joe Cullen's defense is designed to do. At its core, this defense is all about manufacturing pressure with numbers, aka blitzing the crap out of your opponent. For this to work, coverage players, specifically cornerbacks, must be able to stick with receivers for 2-3 seconds after the snap, and they occasionally need to, you know, make a play on the ball. They need to excel in man coverage. If you have the type of players on the back end that can do that, it gives you the freedom to be more aggressive and creative with your blitz packages.
Unfortunately, outside of Shaquill Griffin, the Jaguars do not have the corners that will allow this defense to thrive. They probably don't have the pass rushers, either, but that deficiency can be overcome with numbers. The problem here is, without quality play on the back end, Joe Cullen can't send waves and waves of defenders at the passer because the coverage isn't holding up.
Shaquill Griffin has certainly done his part. The 2021 free agent signing isn't perfect, but he's gotten his hands on passes several times this year and has allowed just 14 completions on 22 targets in primary coverage.
Unfortunately for the Jaguars, Griffin is the only cornerback on the back end holding up his end of the bargain. Over the last couple of months, Jacksonville has traded away their top two cornerbacks from 2020. This means behind Griffin, they have rookie Tyson Campbell, veteran Tre Herndon, second-year undrafted free agent Chris Claybrooks, and Nevin Lawson, who the team signed just over a week ago.
As you probably know, Tyson Campbell isn't getting the job done so far. He's sticky in coverage, but opposing teams know he struggles with the ball in the air. And I mean STRUGGLE. Campbell started out the year in the slot, but with CJ Henderson gone, he's been working more on the perimeter. Unfortunately, neither spot has been friendly for the 33rd overall pick in the draft. He's allowed 21 completions on 26 targets for 345 yards in three games. That's a completion percentage of 81; a QB rating of 131.6. Campbell has lacked ball skills dating back to his college days, so I'm not expecting him to magically improve in this area overnight. Still, he's young and could develop down the road.
But after that, the roster is barren when it comes to cover corners. Tre Herndon is a hard worker, and the team loves him, but the proof is in the pudding. In his first game back from a sprained MCL, Herndon allowed seven completions on eight targets in the slot. It shouldn't come as a major surprise, considering he allowed 47 completions on 69 targets in 2020. And his holding penalty on the game's most fateful play against the Bengals is also commonplace for Herndon. He's been a penalty magnet for much of his career.
Chris Claybrooks entered the league as a return specialist by trade, so he's extremely raw as a cornerback. He's had flashes and brings tremendous speed and energy to the field, but he's not ready to contribute in a major way.
Nevin Lawson is nothing more than a veteran insurance policy at the position.
So, yeah, the Jaguars have some problems at cornerback.
Even if you're counting on Tyson Campbell developing into a quality starter, which is anything but certain at this point, there's still a glaring need for talent in the slot and depth throughout the room.
This is a pass-happy league, so every team needs quality cover corners, but Joe Cullen's defensive scheme needs them more than most. They need to be good enough for Cullen to call blitzes aggressively. Otherwise, this scheme is rendered largely ineffective. See: second half of week four.
So, yes, cornerback is easily the most pressing need on the roster. And don't forget, I'm not giving the rest of the defense a free pass. There have been a multitude of issues. But having quality coverage players on the outside and in the slot would mask some of the other areas of concern.
Switching sides of the ball, the Jaguars also need someone who can overcome quality coverage. They need a true X receiver — a guy with size, speed, toughness, and ball skills. They were hoping DJ Chark could become that. But with a fractured ankle and an expiring contract, his future in Jacksonville is anything but clear.
Marvin Jones and Laviska Shenault are excellent at what they do, but neither profile as a true X. Jones is more of a Y, while Shenault is a moving chess piece. They're both valuable, but on third down when the game is on the line, Trevor Lawrence needs a stud.
Again, this is a PASSING league. The Jaguars have been excellent through four games when it comes to running the ball and stopping the run, but they need to help Trevor reach his full potential. To do that, he'll need a legitimate WR1.
This team is far from perfect. But if they can get more proven talent in the cornerback room and add a legit number one receiver before 2022, this could be a dangerous team. It's easier said than done, to be sure. But with a go-to target, Trevor Lawrence can become an upper-echelon quarterback sooner rather than later. And with a couple more cornerbacks that can really lock it down, this Joe Cullen defense would be able to function as intended.
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