Sand Castles

What’s Right with the Jaguars?


“What’s right with the Jaguars?” Guessing you haven’t asked or been asked that this fall. More likely it’s the opposite: “What’s wrong with the Jaguars?”

The list is longer than you’d like, but much shorter than it was last spring. Don’t let the record fool you; they’re not good enough to challenge yet, but they’re better than they were.

Let’s be honest, this edition of the Jaguars was going to struggle this season. A rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback have a lot to learn, and with a roster that won only a single game last season, that learning curve was going to be steep. Urban Meyer’s credentials and Trevor Lawrence’s track record fooled even these eyes, which have seen nearly 600 NFL games in almost 30 seasons. I forgot how hard it is for guys who have coached and played on Sundays for years to win – let alone two men new to the professional game.

That said, there is real progress being made and all you have to look at is the line of scrimmage. You don’t win in professional football – you can’t win in the NFL – if your offense can’t control the line of scrimmage with the running game. And if your defense can’t shut it down, you’re in a world of trouble.

The Jaguars didn’t get off to a good start running the ball against the Texans and Broncos. They either fell too far behind or simply lost patience, which happens to the most veteran of coaches.

But James Robinson is so patient and has great vision, which you saw against the Cardinals and in Cincinnati – the kind of awareness of what’s going on around him that allows him to find the soft spot in the defense and make a big play. When he gets going, he’s a hammer that just keeps loosening the other team up. Carlos Hyde, then, is an excellent second punch of power to Robinson’s patience. When the Jaguars were trying to get past the Cardinals, his 18-yard run into the teeth of the defense was a great blend of power to get through the line and then speed to set up a game-tying touchdown.

The Jaguars’ 4.9 yard per carry average, which is the best measure of a team’s ability to run the football, was fifth best in the NFL after Week Four. They’re running the ball and that keeps a defense honest, which gives Lawrence time in the pocket when he drops back to throw.

That’s a good sign – a very good sign of what’s possible.

Dramatic improvement on the other side of the ball is a much bigger story for this team. From the mid-point of the 2019 season in Cincinnati when All Pro defensive tackle Marcell Dareus was injured, until the end of 2020, a span of 24 games, the Jaguars couldn’t stop the run. They allowed their opponents run for an average of 157 yards per game, by far the worst in the NFL.

Worse than that was their yard-per-carry average of 4.7 yards every time they touched it! You don’t need to be a math major to figure out teams won’t risk throwing when they don’t have to. Seven teams ran for more than 200 yards in that stretch, while the Jaguars held only three to fewer than 100. It was a desperate situation for a defense that was literally powerless. 

Enter new defensive coordinator Joe Cullen, who brought with him from Baltimore a three-man defensive front featuring four linebackers, which is widely considered a good scheme to stop the run.

Through four games that 157 yards allowed had been winnowed down to only 106 and that yards per carry average stat that means so much to an offense…down to just 3.5, which puts this defense squarely in the top five among in football. They’re getting teams off the field and giving it back to the offense. Already, that has resulted in closer games in the fourth quarter, which is helpful when you have a franchise quarterback waiting on the sidelines.

Lawrence is a generational talent who should, in time, lift the Jaguars like Patrick Mahomes has the Chiefs, Joe Burrow the Bengals and Justin Herbert the Chargers. But you won’t see this team transform from pretender to contender until it can establish the run and keep the other team from running.

They’re not winning games yet. But they’re winning a few key battles that should set them up for a few wins before this season is through.