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 an 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).
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.
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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 hole.
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 are published across the Scout.com network and are syndicated through FOXSports.com's NFL team pages. You can contact him by email through this link.
Statistics referenced in this article are provided by STATS, LLC. Copyright 2007 by STATS, LLC. Any use or distribution of such Licensed Materials without the express written consent of STATS is strictly prohibited.