One of the biggest critiques former Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley ever received was that he was stubborn when it came to his defensive philosophy. He would often run the same scheme and coverages, try to fit square pegs into round holes in terms of position fits, and most importantly, never adapt and adjust to the offenses the team would play against.
While the leadership of the Jacksonville Jaguars isn’t anything like it was in the Bradley era, the coaching philosophies on the defensive side of the ball are drawing parallels to those dark days.
Todd Wash, the Jaguars defensive coordinator and disciple of Bradley and Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, is the problem with the Jaguars defense, a unit that has given up 63 points in the past two weeks, including 40 to the 25th ranked offense in the NFL in Dallas this past Sunday.
On paper, the Jaguars defense is star studded. On the injury report, the Jaguars defense is pretty healthy other than nickel cornerback D.J. hayden, who is dealing with a toe injury. On Pro Football Focus, the Jaguars defense is getting credited with 110 QB pressures through six games, tied for 10th most in the NFL.
However, despite an All-Pro caliber secondary, the Jaguars coverage scheming has been incredibly poor and bland, specifically over the past few weeks. They run a heavy mix of primarily Cover 3 and off-man coverage with sprinkles of “prevent” defense, which they have been doing since the Bradley era first began. While NFL offenses struggled against it last year in Jacksonville’s first season as a dominant defense, teams now know what to expect. They scheme around the openings and space that these coverages allow, which is preventing the defense from being able to create turnovers and record more sacks. And Todd Wash isn’t doing a thing about it.
Let’s dive into the film from the Cowboys game to get a better understanding.
We start off with a Cover 3 look. Three deep defensive backs splitting the field into thirds, with “inside” linebackers responsible for underneath routes and dump-offs, and the outside linebacker (Leon Jacobs) and nickel (Ronnie Harrison) taking the flats and outside receivers if they come back to the QB.
Middle linebacker Myles Jack drops way too deep and appears to alert free safety Tashaun Gipson of the slot WR running a seam, something Gipson was already aware and responsible of. Jack’s miscues lead to an easy dump-off to Ezekiel Elliott turns into a 10 yard gain. This is a prime example of how teams beat up Jacksonville’s Cover 3, attacking the underneath. As fans love to say, JAX struggles against pass-catching RBs. Well, this is part of that problem.
This play has been debated by media and fans alike as to who is responsible for slot WR Cole Beasley. A narrative has been built that the Jaguars are in off-man and FS Tashaun Gipson should have broke down and followed Beasley to the sideline.
Wrong. Even in off-man, Gipson is too far removed from the line of scrimmage to be in off-man, and A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey line up with outside leverage pre-snap: This is zone. With four defensive backs playing deep, it’s Cover 4, the most basic coverage in football: Prevent defense. The field is split into deep quarters for the DBs, and the LBs/nickel take on routes within about 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.
Beasley and Allen Hurns time their cuts to catch Ramsey and Gipson off guard, and Ramsey bites. He follows Hurns on a skinny post into Gipson’s zone and opens up the boundary for Beasley to bring this ball in with loads of separation. Ramsey knows it too, because he turns back as soon as he sees Gipson, as the ball leaves Dak Prescott’s hand: Too late. While Gipson points at himself after the play, it’s hard not to see that Ramsey is at fault here considering the makeup of how Cover 4 works.
In fairness to Ramsey, however, this secondary is not a “prevent” group of players. They carry an aggressive mantra. They feed off of matchup battles. They like playing man and getting in receivers faces, forcing receivers to beat them. This is not a Cover 4 group of players. They are so much better than a boring, conservative coverage that high schoolers are taught on day one of Summer Football Camp.
There really isn’t much to say about these two clips, other than simply asking “Why?”.
Why on Earth are defensive tackles dropping into coverage? On the first play, in the redzone, Wash sends two edge rushers and drops nine into coverage, including a pair of 290 and 331 lb DEFENSIVE TACKLES. Yes, the underneath is being covered by Malik Jackson and Marcell Dareus. There’s room for creativity in football, always. But this… this is too far.
While the rest of the clip isn’t shown (the emphasis was on Jackson/Dareus), the Jaguars were in off-man once again, and Cole Beasley beat Tyler Patmon for a touchdown, utilizing exactly what off-man gives you: Space.
On the second play, again Malik Jackson drops into coverage. He is tasked with getting off his block and following the tight end on an underneath route on a play action boot to his side. 10/10 times, unless Jackson or any defensive tackle pancakes his blocker before he releases from his block, the tight end will win this coverage matchup.
A taste of “off-man”. Bouye, Ramsey, and Jack are all taken out by the routes they defend and the middle of the field opens up. Cole Beasley runs a crosser, that Tashaun Gipson (starts on left hash) fails to break on, despite Beasley being his man (Patmon is playing back-side spy, likely watching for a Prescott scramble). If Gipson plays closer to the line of scrimmage, this play ends on a different note with no other receivers getting open. But off-man causes a ton of pre-snap separation that can be hard for even the best DBs to close.
Another off-man play, where Gipson is 10 yards removed from his responsibility pre-snap. Is he trying to disguise off-man as a 2-deep safety? Perhaps. Is that smart when you’re playing man coverage, especially with the nickel corner in front of you blitzing to force a quick release? No. Gipson comes down after Hurns breaks outside with about six yards of separation in between the two. If Patmon doesn’t knock this ball away, Hurns made the wide open catch.
There were plenty of short plays that added up throughout the game that exposed the Jaguars repetitive Cover 3/off-man coverages, but the above clips should give you a solid idea of what happened (as if the scoreboard wasn’t enough). Now, let’s look at the couple of plays that did work.
Tight man coverage. Not necessarily press, but playing close to the line and allowing the defensive backs to mirror footwork and slow a route down is what the Jaguars secondary does best. In this instance, it’s Ramsey vs. Hurns on a fade route, and Jalen Ramsey never loses on fade routes.
A Cover 1 look with cornerbacks playing tight man and a deep safety. While this play ended in a 10 yard scramble, receivers were shut down across the board and an Abry Jones pressure forced Prescott to bail. If we saw these looks all game, Prescott may not have found a rhythm in the pass game and things could have been much different. The coverage looks great, and with that, the pass rush looks great too.
However, we didn’t see many of these tight man, Cover 1 looks on Sunday, and we don’t see Todd Wash call it much in general. Which doesn’t make sense considering the elite skill-sets that his personnel provides. The secondary is athletic and physical enough to play more tight man, which can allow for more blitzing by the pass rush. But when spacing is consistently allowed by poor coverage calls, QBs will release the ball before the pass rush can make a mark, and there isn’t much the DBs can do about it.
Until Todd Wash starts to adjust to the strengths his defense provides, offenses will continue to carve up the Jaguars via the space in his consistent coverage calls. Opposing offenses study this defense and know what Wash likes to run, and target the space that keeps getting put on film.
No matter how talented this Jaguars defense is, they can only do so much behind repetitive, low-variance play-calling. We saw it in the Bradley era, where there was a clear mold that the staff tried to force players into. Right now, Todd Wash is doing much of the same with his defense, and it’s holding a truly elite group of players back from the domination they’re used to bringing out on Sundays.
Jaguars 2019 position group breakdown: Running Backs
Similar to their quarterback situation, the Jacksonville Jaguars have attempted to answer some questions in terms of the run game in this year’s offseason. Jacksonville went through a full remodel in an attempt to add veteran presence that can sustain the ground attack if injury strikes the team yet again in 2019.
Two years ago, the Jaguars were a team that led the NFL in rushing at 527 attempts throughout the regular season. Nearly 50 carries ahead of any other team in the league. On those 527 attempted the Jaguars saw heights in production not seen since the Maurice Jones-Drew.
That production staggered in yardage and overall sustainability of the offense with their lackluster quarterback play last season. This was all due to the injuries of star running back Leonard Fournette and the majority of the offensive line. Without Fournette, the Jaguars only accumulated half the yardage in 2018 Fournette produced in 2017 with T.J. Yeldon and Carlos Hyde leading the affair.
Being a strong part of the offensive system, the Jaguars win total saw a sharp decrease and the team swagger that carried them to the 2017 AFC playoffs had vanished.
Jacksonville looked to replenish their running back room and get back to the strong, effective run game they saw in 2017 that made them so successful.
Adding Alfred Blue, Benny Cunningham, Thomas Rawls and more through free agency, as well as, drafting former Temple running back, Ryquell Armstead the Jaguars made a good move in adding reliable to back up Fournette in the backfield.
Projected Running Back Depth Chart:
*italicized indicates starter, underline indicates picked up via draft/free agency
Leonard Fournette, Alfred Blue, Benny Cunningham, Ryquell Armstead.
Leading the pack coming into 2019 is Leonard Fournette. Fournette is a player that has all the major attributes to be a star player in the NFL if he could just stay healthy. Fournette missed eight games last season and seven due to injury which caused the Jaguars offense to stall in his absence.
He is a player that combines strong downhill running with game-breaking speed. Abilities not many can combine nevertheless replace. He is a generational talent who looks to return to his rookie form in 2019.
Fournette looks to be getting back on track this season and “refocused on football.” Him being able to stay on the field will be a huge plus for a Jaguars team that has struggled offensively for many years.
The next two players on the depth chart are veteran backs Alfred Blue and Benny Cunningham.
Blue being a signee from the Houston Texans roster and an experienced back who knows how to get yardage necessary to sustain drives. While receiving very little touches in the Houston offense he played the backup role well and was a reliable source of receiving out of the backfield.
Blue will be used more as a third-down back in the Jaguars offense.
The same goes for Cunningham. Coming over from the Bears, which last season saw two top-caliber running backs in Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen sharing carries, Cunningham got lost in the shuffle. Cunningham is a great receiving threat out of the backfield and can play solid minutes in his role on his new team.
Having two players that can play roles, and play them well is vital for any team in the NFL. Taking fatigue and potential injury into account getting Cunningham and Blue was one of the more important moves the Jaguars made this offseason. The Jaguars acquired two reliable backs for new quarterback Nick Foles to work with on downs where Fournette is not in the game.
Next on the team’s depth chart is the Jaguars 2019 fifth-round pick out of Temple, Ryquell Armstead. In his senior year, Armstead scored 13 touchdowns and averaged nearly 6.5 yards per carry. Armstead’s progression through his college career was a sight to see. After starting his career as a bulkier strong runner, Armstead slimmed down to become a more complete back and utilized his opportunity at Temple to make it to the NFL.
Posting 2,987 yards and 34 touchdowns over his career, Armstead looks to carry on those impressive numbers at the next level. Armstead is a runner with great field vision and patience behind the line of scrimmage. He bursts through the open hole and is willing to lower the shoulder to gain extra yardage. Armstead says that he models his game after former Giants running back Brandon Jacobs.
He describes himself as an angry runner. “I run angry, I run violent. I look for contact— that’s something that makes me unique.” Armstead stated in an interview with CBS sports.
The type of physical running Armstead brings to the table is something the Jaguars have had success within recent memory. That willingness to create contact and run hard for his team to succeed is an attribute any team would love to have with their running back.
A player that very strongly resembles Leonard Fournette in terms of running style was a guy the Jaguars looked at as a potential steal in the fifth round. An aggressive, one-cut runner who can run over opponents or bounce it to the outside and take off down the sideline.
Armstead had the second-fastest time in the 40-yard dash among eligible running backs at the 2019 NFL combine at 4.49 seconds. Being a player with blazing speed mixed with a downhill running style, Armstead could see minutes directly behind Fournette later in the season. Armstead is an intriguing prospect but his development as a pass-catcher out of the backfield will need to improve for him to solidify the playing time this season.
While the Jaguars have many running backs on the roster, all of them cannot stay. Unless there is a huge jump of progression when training camp starts later in the month, Thomas Rawls and Taj McGowan have very little shot of making the team.
After last season, the Jaguars have done whatever it takes to assure they have depth at this position. Being able to provide multiple sources of production is important for any team. By providing this depth, the Jaguars hope it can get the job done and they can return to the success seen in the running game just two seasons ago.
REPORT: Jaguars to sign former WVU WR Marcus Simms
The Jacksonville Jaguars have made a roster move signing former West Virginia WR Marcus Simms according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network. Simms was slated to participate in the supplemental draft after filing the paperwork on June 20th.
Source: The #Jaguars are signing former West Virginia WR Marcus Simms, pending a physical tomorrow. Had several offers after today's supplemental draft ended. One to watch in camp.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) July 10, 2019
Simms will make for interesting competition for the Jaguars as we inch closer to training camp. Simms accumulated 87 receptions for 1457 yards and eight touchdowns in his three-year career at West Virginia. Simms has also made his name known in the return game totaling 992 yards as a kick returner. According to reports, Simms ran the 40-yard dash in 4.4-4.49 seconds, with a vertical jump of 36″, a broad jump of 10-2 and three-cone time of 6.91 seconds. After his physical tomorrow, the Jaguars will have to make a corresponding move.
Simms will look to compete for a bottom-of-the-roster position with players such as Terrelle Pryor and Keelan Cole. If the Jaguars intend on retaining six receivers Simms will have a good shot at making the roster. By all accounts, Simms was a draftable player.
2019 Jacksonville Jaguars Fantasy Football: Nick Foles Preview
Quarterback Nick Foles signed a four-year, $88 million dollar contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason. Foles is a much-needed upgrade behind center and may be the best signal-caller the franchise has had in the past decade. Jaguars fans have high expectations for how he’ll do on his new team. Here’s what you should expect how he’ll do on your fantasy team.
Poor Fantasy History
Throughout the entirety of Foles’ career, his fantasy football production has been underwhelming. Foles has only finished as a top-25 fantasy quarterback once in his seven years in the league.
Part of the reason Foles never produced solid fantasy numbers due to the fact he has never played a full 16-game season — the most games he’s played is 13 back in 2013 when he was fantasy’s QB9. Foles played more than eight games just one other season. To remove the effect of the number of games played, we can look at fantasy points per game (PPG), but those statistics are also disappointing:
-Foles averaged 20.46 PPG in 2013, his best fantasy season. His second-best fantasy season was last year when he scored 15.00 fantasy PPG, which was tied for 24th — with Eli Manning. His career mark is 13.04 fantasy PPG.
-For comparison, Blake Bortles’ best fantasy season was in 2015, when he finished with 20.25 fantasy PPG. In 2018, he scored 13.31 fantasy PPG, which was 28th. His career mark is 15.88 fantasy PPG.
Bortles has been a viable fantasy option partly because of garbage-time opportunities in his first couple years and increased rushing production in the last couple years, but it’s still a tough look for Foles to have worse career fantasy numbers than Bortles by over two points. Long story short, Foles has frankly been a bad fantasy quarterback throughout his career save for one good season.
Fewer Passing Attempts
Another warning sign for Foles is a likely decrease in passing attempts after playing for the Philadelphia Eagles the past two seasons.
-In five regular-season starts last season, Foles had 39.0 attempts per game and averaged 15.04 fantasy points per game.
-In 12 regular-season starts last season, Bortles had 33.0 attempts per game and averaged 13.32 fantasy points per game.
-Foles and Bortles each averaged 0.35 fantasy points per dropback, per Player Profiler.
Foles finished with more fantasy points per game than Bortles, which was partly due to Foles simply throwing the ball more often. Foles’ higher passing rate can essentially be boiled down to two factors: team defense and rushing rate. Jacksonville’s 8thranked defense last season allowed the Jaguars the freedom to run more often and Philadelphia’s 18thranked defense sometimes forced the Eagles to pass more often (weighted defensive efficiency rankings via Football Outsiders). Additionally, Jacksonville (49%) ran at a higher rate than Philadelphia (43%) in game-script positive situations (rushing rates via Sharp Football Stats). To summarize, due to differences in defensive production and offensive play calling, the Eagles pass a lot more than the Jaguars.
Despite the new additions of Foles and offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, the Jaguars will likely continue to rely on running and defense. As a result of transitioning from Philadelphia to Jacksonville, Foles will almost certainly throw fewer passes, and therefore is unlikely to produce numbers like he did last season- which already weren’t exceptional.
Fewer Red Zone Opportunities
Foles also isn’t likely to have as many opportunities to score in the red zone as he did with the Eagles, which is another fantasy red flag.
-In the past two seasons, 36.1% of Foles’ fantasy points have come from in the red zone, while 32.5% of Bortles’ fantasy points have come from in the red zone, per fantasy data.
-In the past two seasons, the Eagles passed on 53% of red-zone plays, while the Jaguars passed on 47% of red-zone plays. The Eagles passed on 57% of red-zone plays in games Foles started, and the Jaguars passed on 42% of red-zone plays in games Leonard Fournette started.
-In the past two seasons, the Eagles averaged 3.4 red zone attempts per game, while the Jaguars averaged 2.6 red zone attempts per game, per Team Rankings.
Based on the 2017-18 seasons, Foles may not reach the red zone as much nor pass in the red zone as much as he was accustomed to in Philadelphia.
Offensive Talent Downgrade
One of the more talked about storylines regarding Foles’ signing with the Jaguars is his prior supporting cast in Philadelphia compared to his current one in Jacksonville. Foles must transition from a receiving core of Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffery, and Nelson Agholor to Dede Westbrook, Marquise Lee, and rookie tight end Josh Oliver. The difference in each group’s production is obvious:
-Ertz, Jeffery, Agholor, and Golden Tate (who played for Philadelphia in the second half of last season) all surpassed 100 fantasy points and 60 receptions last season. They have four combined career Pro-Bowl appearances.
-Westbrook was the only Jacksonville receiver to surpass 100 fantasy points and 60 receptions last season. In fact, he is the only player on the current roster who caught over 40 passes last season. The Jaguars receivers have zero combined career Pro-Bowl appearances.
The argument that Westbrook is as good as Agholor is feasible, but Agholor was Philadelphia’s third receiving option at best last season, and Jacksonville has no weapons who can come close to the skillset or production of Ertz and Jeffery. Additionally, Foles targeted Ertz a lot and he generated impressive numbers – which creates a lot of buzz for the imminent Foles-Oliver connection – but Ertz’s success was likely due more to his own talent than Foles’ supposed rapport with tight ends:
Per Sports Info Solutions, Foles targeted tight ends at the highest rate in the league (35%) last season. However, he posted a worse completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdown percentage, interception percentage, and quarterback rating when throwing to a tight end than the wide receiver or running back last season. Foles also ranked 42ndamong all quarterbacks (min. 10 attempts) in passer rating when targeting tight ends. Ertz finished top-three in targets, receptions, yards, touchdowns, and total fantasy points among tight ends last season. However, he ranked only 20thin fantasy points per target and 18thin yards per target among tight ends (per Player Profiler), which suggests that his massive target volume was a big benefactor towards his production. That large target volume combined with Ertz’s individual talent masked Foles’ below-average efficiency when targeting tight ends.
Now Foles is in Jacksonville, and his top tight end has yet to play an NFL snap. 2019 third-round pick Josh Oliver has a lot of potential to succeed in John DeFilippo’s tight end-friendly offense, but it is unreasonable to expect him to approach Ertz’s skill level or production in his first season. It should also be noted that rookie tight ends historically don’t have a large impact– in the past 15 years, only two rookie tight ends have surpassed 600 receiving yards, and only two have finished as a top-five fantasy tight end. Consequently, Foles may have even worse ratings when targeting tight ends this year. Foles’ supposed strength of throwing to tight ends could be revealed to simply be a result of having an All-Pro tight end to throw to ten times a game in Philadelphia. Overall, Foles is leaving a group of proven/productive receivers and joining a group of young/inconsistent receivers.
One last personnel issue to consider is the strength of Foles’ offensive lines. According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles ranked 17thin pass protection last season and gave up 40 sacks. The Jaguars ranked 27thin pass protection and gave up 53 sacks. Jacksonville’s linemen couldn’t stay healthy as it seemed like backups of backups were starting late in the season. If rookie tackle Jawaan Taylor makes an impact and the starters stay healthy this season there shouldn’t be too much of a problem, but it is worth mentioning that Foles’ new offensive line is just one more variable that could hypothetically make 2019 harder on him and hinge his fantasy potential.
Foles Overall Outlook
Foles ranks 12thin career winning percentage (per Football Database) but 34thin career fantasy points per game among all active quarterbacks (minimum 10 starts). Foles can win games without having to put up lucrative passing numbers, which is exactly what the Jaguars are expecting of him. Based on his past fantasy performances and his new environment in Jacksonville, Foles doesn’t have much of a fantasy ceiling and should not be drafted in single quarterback leagues. He has value as a streaming option/cheap DFS play when he has favorable matchups against weak pass defenses, but for the most part, it’d be wise to look elsewhere when finding a fantasy quarterback.
Note: All fantasy numbers are in standard format (non-PPR). Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are via Pro Football Reference.
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