During the Jacksonville Jaguars' bye week, one aspect of their offensive
attack that certainly had to be at the forefront of concern was how to get the
running game back on track.
As they head into their fourth game of the season against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Jaguars' rushing offense is
averaging 124.7 yards per game -- 13th-best in the NFL. As committed to the run as ever, the Jaguars are rushing
average of 32.7 times per game this year compared to 32.1 rushing attempts per
game last year.
But the results have been much different.
In 2006, Jacksonville posted 158.8 yards-per-game rushing, third-best in the league while averaging 4.95 yards per
carry (second-best in the league).
This year, they're only averaging 3.82 yards per carry (21st in the league) even though they're
featuring the same two running backs -- Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew.
Instead of being a feared as one of the league's leading rushing attacks, the
Jaguars' early-season results have been rather ... well, ordinary. Without
significant progress in their passing attack to compensate for it, Jacksonville
appears to have lost some ground offensively since last year. And they need to
get it fixed if they don't want to slip far behind the 4-0 Colts.
That said, the wheels haven't totally fallen off the cart. The Jaguars
are still doing some things well in the rushing arena.
They haven't lost the ability to break big runs of 10-plus yards. After the
first three weeks of play, (when all teams had just three games under their
belts) Jacksonville's 11 big-play runs put them in the top ten in that category
out of the league's 32 teams.
NFL teams generally consider any run of more than 4 yards to be a successful
play. Jacksonville is just barely above the league median (midpoint result),
gaining at least 5 yards on 43.9 percent of their runs, 15th-best in the NFL.
And they've been effective on second-down, averaging a 4.56 yards-per-carry --
thirteenth-best in the league -- roughly half-a-yard higher per-carry than the
average NFL team.
But Jacksonville is having a tougher time avoiding stuffs that result in
negative yardage plays. Excluding kneel-down plays by the quarterback to kill
the clock, the Jaguars have had ten negative yardage rushing plays already this
season. So on 10.6 percent of their runs, they've been losing ground -- the
13th-highest rate in the league. Last year, they only lost yardage on 7.6
percent of their plays. Nine of those ten stuffs have been almost equally at the
expense of Taylor (5) and Jones-Drew (4).
But what's really haunting the team is their poor results on first down. Is
there anyone in an NFL stadium who doesn't expect to see the Jaguars running the
ball on first down these days? Their lack of creativity and confidence in their
passing game has been an anchor around the ankles of Taylor and Jones-Drew.
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
While the Jaguars ran the ball 60.8 percent of the time on first-down last
year (sixth-highest in the league), they've upped that to 68 percent so far this
year (second-highest) despite results that are telling them it's not a very
smart decision. The Jaguars are getting a successful run play of 5 yards or more
just 37.3 percent of the time -- ninth worst in the league, despite having two
talented running backs. Meanwhile, the average NFL team is hitting roughly 43-44
percent. And guess what? Six of the Jaguars' 10 negative-yardage rushing plays
this year have come on first-down plays.
And if there's any doubt that the team's lack of creativity on first down is
contributing to their rushing game woes, consider this -- they've managed two
yards or less on 21 of their first-down runs. That was the worst record in the
league in that category until the Jaguars got to sit out last week while some
other teams racked up a few more of those plays in Week 4 action.
Bottom line? Last year, the Jaguars averaged 5.55 yards per run on first down
(third-best in the NFL). This year they're averaging 3.16 yards, dropping them
to 24th in the league.
But maybe where they are focusing their attack is playing a role in the
lackluster results as well.
This year the Jaguars are running 65 percent of their plays between the
inside shoulders of the guards versus 61 percent last year. They've run to
the right 18 percent of the time versus 21 percent last year, and to the left 17
percent of the time versus 18 percent last year. So the distribution of runs
isn't wildly different.
But here's something that really sticks out. While their rushing average per
play is down 0.7 yards to left side versus last year and 0.3 yards to the right,
their average gain up the middle behind the interior line is down almost 1.5
yards per carry (3.67 this year versus 5.16 last year). And that's particularly
problematic when you're choosing to run the ball between the guards 65 percent
of the time and even slightly more often than last year.
The Jaguars are simply violating the "First Law of Holes" as stated
years ago by British politician Denis Healey.
"If you are in one, stop digging," he said.
Wise words. But for some bizarre reason, the Jaguars are running more
often on first downs and continuing to run a high-percent of their rushing
attempts up the middle even though it's putting their rushing attack in a deeper
It'll be interesting to see if and how head coach Jack Del Rio has adjusted
his offensive game plan after two weeks of evaluating the misfires in the
running game during the opening weeks of the 2007. Will he have David Garrard
throw more on first down? Will he test the perimeters with his rushing attack a
bit more often?
Or will he keep on violating the "First Law of Holes"?
Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features
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