Perhaps the most potent offense in the National Football League, the Kansas City Chiefs will present several issues for the Jacksonville Jaguars this week.
Entering week five in 2018, the Jaguars defense still looked to be as exceptional. Going into the week with only one starter — nickel corner D.J. Hayden — out, the Jaguars seemed prime to take on one of the league’s most electrifying offenses.
Against the Chiefs, the Jaguars defense did everything but look exceptional. They struggled to match up against the Chiefs’ speed and were lost on several occasions. The Chiefs changed the way the Jaguars were used to defending and exploited their pass defense perfectly.
Now in 2019, the Jaguars will face off, once again, against the Kansas City Chiefs. However, if they have not learned from their mistakes, and how the Chiefs offense dictates a defense, they may not fare better than they did just a season ago.
How will the Jaguars figuratively — and literally — tackle the combination of quarterback Patrick Mahomes, tight end Travis Kelce, and wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Tyreek Hill? To answer that, we must first take a look at what makes the Chiefs offense so great.
No. 1: Misdirection:
Starting out with the first play of the game by the Chiefs offense. The Chiefs start out with, (now Jaguars wide receiver) Chris Conley and Kelce in the backfield. Sending Conley in motion forces the Jaguars defense to shift slightly to the right allowing free reign on the left side of the defense. After the snap, Hill races into the backfield on an end-around right into the open field provided by a simple misdirection and pump fake.
The Jaguars defense is nowhere to be found, leaving (former Jaguars safety) Barry Church all alone to take on Hill. With a lead blocker in front of him, Hill was off to the races. Luckily for the Jaguars, the play was called back due to a hold.
Bonus: Marcell Dareus shows off his effort by chasing down Hill, ultimately making the tackle.
To start the play, Kelce runs a misdirect-motion in which he moves closer to the line-of-scrimmage in the direction of the play fake set up by Mahomes and Kareem Hunt. Conley hunkers down as if he is going to block for the run then fades out slightly getting wide open against a very confused Jaguars defense.
This play works on the Jaguars defense perfectly. Motioning Watkins to the right, and then back left exposed man-to-man coverage, and shifts the defense to the right (left from offensive perspective). With no time to re-adjust the Jaguars are caught in a mismatch at the top of the screen and Watkins gains a hard-fought first down.
The Chiefs ran a total of 68 plays against the Jaguars, with 33 of those plays involving motion of some sort. 21 of those motion-involved plays came in the first half.
If the Jaguars need to focus on one aspect of the Chiefs’ offense this week it will be misdirection along with their own ability to remain disciplined and stay in their gaps.
No.2: Mahomes’ scramble ability
Mahomes is an underrated scrambler. Although he doesn’t do it often (60 rushes for 272 yard during 2018 regular season), it should not be discounted.
Twice during this game, the Jaguars allowed him to get into the open field. The first play goes for an easy score, and the second play — thanks to a Malik Jackson fall — nearly allows Mahomes to get into the endzone for a second time.
Again, a lack of discipline and respecting Mahomes’ scrambling ability burns the Jaguars quick defense. With no Telvin Smith on the team anymore, who knows if anyone even gets close to stopping him on the first play.
The Jaguars must stay disciplined in their assignments and potentially put a spy on Mahomes to thwart the threat of him running.
No. 3: Smash concept variation
A heavier version of a smash concept — outside hook/slot corner in a two defensive back look –, Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey is lined up outside isolated against Hill. Conley is lined up close to the line of scrimmage in the slot with Watkins in the slot closer to the boundary.
Hill runs a deep post route as a decoy, which forces Ramsey to trail him even though Gipson is there for help over the top. Former Jaguars nickel corner Tyler Patmon is stuck deciding between covering Watkins or the underneath drag route ran by Conley.
His responsibility is more to Conley, so he crashes down leaving Watkins all alone at the Jaguars 25 yard line. The play resulted in a 33-yard gain.
This was a deadly play for the Jaguars defense, and if they are going to isolate Ramsey on Hill again, it will be one to watch on Sunday. Ramsey should have crashed down to Watkins once he saw Hill pushing his route inside which would have stopped the play from ever happening.
No. 4: Speed
Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash told reporters last week that Ramsey will “match-up” with Hill. This means speed on speed, but it may not always work. As evidenced here, Ramsey was beaten deep by Hill on a simple go-route. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do, and without any contact at the line of scrimmage, giving Hill a free run resulted in a big game down the left sideline.
Of course, Hill is not the only one with speed on the team. The Chiefs drafted receiver Mecole Hardman in the second round this year, and he has similar wheels.
If Ramsey is going to follow/shadow Hill during their matchup this week, he will need to get his hands on the speedy receiver. Similarly to how he did in the above clip.
No. 5: Kelce
Kelce deserves his own section. Against the Jaguars last year he dominated posting a five-reception, 100-yard game against some of the best defenders in football.
On both of these plays, Kelce is lined up in the slot man-to-man against a Jaguars defender. Both times he makes them look silly in their efforts. Against Smith, Kelce gives him a bit of a head fake outside, goes back inside and gets wide-open as a result.
In the second play, Church is on a bit of an island against Kelce running after hauling in the football. Church was no match for Kelce’s agility and he embarrasses him in the process.
The Jaguars are going to have to find an answer for Kelce. Either by bracketing him with safety Ronnie Harrison and linebacker Myles Jack or by doubling him, to begin with. Either way, he is the man to watch this week, not Hill.
No. 6: Where the Jaguars succeeded
The Jaguars defense was not completely inept against the Chiefs a year ago, in fact, they held the Chiefs to their lowest point total of the season — 23 (Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles threw a pick-six during the game).
The Jaguars were also successful at defending the run, holding then-Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt to a mere 87 yards (four yards-per-carry).
The Jaguars put in a lot of work during last year, and during the offseason reshaping the core of their defense releasing safeties Gipson and Church, trading defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., and replacing now-retired linebacker Smith.
With the additions of defensive end/outside linebacker Josh Allen, and linebacker Quincy Williams, along with the emergence of second-year safety Ronnie Harrison will it be enough to combat the Chiefs potent offense?
The Jaguars will find out quickly on Sunday.
Sports Illustrated’s Zach Goodall contributed to this report.
FILM ROOM: 2019 Leonard Fournette looks faster, more decisive for Jaguars
After being held back due to an injury in 2018, the former LSU star, Leonard Fournette seems primed for a breakout year.
Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette has gone through plenty of documented adversity since being drafted fourth overall by the team in 2017. Whether it be injuries, lack of control, or simply inability, the running back has been through it all.
Now entering his third year in the league, the issues of reported tardiness, hamstring injuries, and lack of burst and decisiveness seemed to be fading away. While it may take a minute for Fournette to get going through the season, as of right now, he is off to a fantastic start.
In 2018, Fournette missed a staggering eight games due to a hamstring injury and a suspension which stemmed from an on-field boxing match the running back had with a member of the Buffalo Bills. Last season, Fournette rushed for a mere 439 yards (3.3 yards-per-carry) and five touchdowns.
In a new offense which finds ways to get him the ball in more creative ways, Fournette is off to a great start. Against the Chiefs, the running back carried the ball 13 times rushing for 66 yards (5.3 yards-per-carry), and had four receptions for 28 yards. While those statistics aren’t exciting, it was how he got those yards which point to his ability and change in mindset.
Into the film room:
Free at last. After not being very utilized in the passing game in his first couple of years in the NFL (78 targets in 21 games), Fournette got his opportunity last week against the Chiefs (six targets). On a simple screen, Fournette quickly makes Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark miss before turning upfield in a decisive manner gaining 11 yards on the play.
This play stands out for two reasons. For one, Fournette’s ability to make a man miss isn’t exactly what you think of when you envision his playstyle, but the most important aspect of this play is his ability to quickly make a turn upfield and gain momentum to turn what probably should have been a loss of two yards into a first down.
Fournette will get plenty of targets in the passing game this season. If you extrapolate his six targets over 16 games, he will net 96 total targets, which is a dramatic change in the offense, and his utilization.
Here, Fournette shows off his vision. In years past this run would go for one, maybe two yards because he would have initially attempted to ride up the backside of the interior offensive line. Instead, Fournette sees the hole to his left and hits it with finesse.
In order to be successful, Fournette must improve his vision, especially without a fullback. He does so here, effortlessly.
Similar to the previous clip, Fournette shows off his vision to hit the hole and gain a first down on third-and-three. Running perfectly behind the crease set up by Jaguars offensive linemen Andrew Norwell and Brandon Linder, Fournette is able to gain 15 yards.
However, this isn’t the most interesting aspect of the play. With the Jaguars set to play in the shotgun formation for a decent chunk of offensive snaps this season, many believed it spelled trouble for the old-school, i-formation running back.
This was not the case on Sunday. Fournette showed great vision, and decisiveness operating out of shotgun. If the trend continues, the Jaguars will be able to get far more creative on first down without spelling out exactly what the team will do.
The burst is back. In years prior, due to various ankle/hamstring issues, Fournette has looked more like a plodder than the runner he was at LSU. Last week against the Chiefs, it was quite the opposite. Getting a handoff with a lead blocker operating out of the fullback position, Fournette is able to take the rock and sprint around the edge, gaining a first down.
If not for a key shoelace tackle by the safety, Fournette is off to the races and cutting the Chiefs’ lead to three with a touchdown. Fournette’s ability to burst once he gets to the edge will be key to opening up the inside run as more defenders will become hesitant, and begin to cheat outside later in the game.
As the Jaguars running game goes this season, so does the team. If Fournette has truly turned the corner in his career and stays healthy, the Jaguars offense will remain a threat, even without Nick Foles.
Especially now with a rookie quarterback (Gardner Minshew) at the helm, the Jaguars need to get the most out of Fournette and the rest of the backs on the roster.
The next test will come Sunday in Houston against the Texans, which includes future hall-of-fame defensive lineman J.J. Watt.
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