Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Football Laundromat: Jacksonville Jaguars Edition

Dziękuję, Readers. TC Fleming here. With the city buzzing about the impending arrival of the Jacksonville Jaguars for their game with the Cowboys, I figured it would be a great time to look at one aspect of the Jaguars offense.

It's kind of tough to talk about something concerning the Jaguars' offense, mainly because they don't have much of one. Maurice Jones-Drew is really awesome, but with defenses keying on him, his yards per carry has dipped to 3.8 this year. As for the passing element, they have had some reasonably efficient performances (In three of Garrard's six games, he has had a passer rating over 100). They are not willing, however, to rely on passing overly much. Garrard has averaged 21 attempts a game with a season high of 30. Garrard has missed a little time, but he has about 80 fewer throws this season than Romo, over 100 fewer than the league leader in the category, Drew Brees. Watching those attempts, they tend to be short and safe. There's not too much down-the-field passing in the Jaguars' offense. Given all that, I think we have a pretty clear case of the coaches not trusting the quarterback.

So what does a team do when they have a running game that draws the attention of the defense but a quarterback you don't trust to make opponents pay for it? Well, the first answer is that you suck, and the Jaguars do. Another answer is that you can make the quarterback a threat to run. If the opposing team becomes worried about the quarterback picking up yards with his feet, they are a little more hesitant to jump at the running back in the run game and a little more hesitant to just turn and run after receivers in the passing game.

Now, Garrard's not going to run for 100 yard or rush 10 or more times or anything like that. He's pretty consistently been a good bet to run four or five times for about 20 yards. Never more than 9 rushes for 60 yards or so. Garrard's rushing is not about moving the ball. They aren't going to string drives together based on his legs. It's about giving the defense something else to consider. It's a matter of getting the defense guessing when he's going to take off. Garrard is not necessarily fast, he has just enough speed to get this done. What he does have though is a little bit of wiggle to him. He doesn't have jukes or anything, but he makes guys miss. I think you'll be able to see what I'm talking about in the videos below.

The first way that Garrard runs from the quarterback position is the very conventional scramble when no passing options open up. For formations, the Jaguars seem to be very one thing or the other. They're either lined up in the I from 21 personnel or they're in the shotgun with three wide receivers. On this play, it's the former. The tight end, Marcedes Lewis, and both wide receivers, Mike Sims-Walker and Mike Thomas, go deep.

The TV angle makes it impossible to tell the specifics of their routes, just that they're going deep. And I guess for our purposes, that's all that matters. It matters for two reasons: 1) With the deeper patterns, the offense complements the routes by leaving in extra pass protecters, who turn into extra blockers when Garrard takes off, and 2) the deep routes take the defenders with them, giving Garrard the room to run underneath.

The Colts rush four and drop seven. They're playing zone, and the deep receivers draw them deep into those zones. It also means no one is hanging around the line or scrimmage in case Maurice Jones-Drew goes out on a pass route. That probably isn't a design of the play. Someone was probably supposed to be more alert about that, but it's certainly something they're more susceptible to because of the coverage.

With seven blockers against four rushers, Garrard has time to let the receivers get deep. With seven dropping defenders, however, none of the receivers are open. Against most quarterbacks, that means the play has failed. With Garrard, it means there's a chance to scramble. The advantage in numbers enjoyed by the blockers allows them to maul the pass rushers, even getting one defeinsive end on the ground without making it look too much like holding. That's the side Garrard runs to, and he has six yards before one of the linebackers can come up and tackle him. Now when the Jaguars run this play, the linebackers have cause to be a little more hesitant in dropping, opening the passing windows a little wider.

This is the most common form of David Garrard running, but it's also the most plain. These next two plays are less common but more exotic. The Jaguars ran this first play twice against the Colts, then ran the second one the one time you see detailed here. I would bet that three represents the season high for how often the Jags will trot out plays like these. Still, they're something most teams are not doing. You will not see these run in every game. The Cowboys will not run either of these once this season.

In this second play, the Jags are again in the I. This play is one I've mentioned before. Tennessee probably gets the credit for coming up with it, but if the Jaguars steal it from them, those yards they get from the play still count. It's the counter-option. Garrard and MJD act as if they're going for a handoff on the left side before reversing field and running side-by-side the other way with Garrard keeping the ball but ready to flip it to Jones-Drew if he needs to.

The fake causes the defense to be moving in the direction opposite of where the play is going, making them much easier to deal with. The play-side defensive end in this case goes very aggressively after the presumed handoff, and once his momentum is going the wrong way, the fullback is able to block him one-on-one without difficulty. I think we've seen that if a play caller can do something to give a running back or wide receiver the leverage to block a defensive lineman one-on-one, that is a very solid foundation.

There's a lot of other neat things going on with the blocking here. The Jags don't do anything to block the backside defensive end, they just let him pursue the handoff and take himself out of the play. It also takes that defensive tackle a second or two to maneuver around the blocks happening on either side of him, and that helps the play succeed. The left tackle and guard both block the backside defensive end. The right guard blocks the other defensive tackle, and as mentioned, the fullback blocks the play-side defensive end. That leaves the tight end, center and right tackle free to go and get linebackers, which they do. The receiver to that side gets an effective block on his cornerback, and David Garrard is alone with the safeties. Both safeties over-run the play horribly. That's part of what I mean by Garrard having wiggle: he presses one way before running the other, he hesitates to give a defender a chance to over-run the play, he just generally does things to make defenders miss without relying on jukes or spins or anything. And the defender has a harder time not falling for it because they know he could pitch it to MJD at any time. As a result, this play goes for 25 yards and a touchdown.

On the final play, we see the other, more college-ish way that the Jaguars incorporate the option into their play-book, punishing teams for keying on Jones-Drew without asking their quarterback to make too many throws. This is the zone read. I don't know of how often NFL teams will run the zone read, but I can tell you I've only seen it one other time this season (the Eagles did it with Vick against the Redskins).

The play always happens in shotgun. The quarterback takes the snap and offers the ball out to the running back who is crossing in front of him, heading inside while the quarterback's momentum is taking him outside.

The offensive line entirely ignores the defensive end that the running back will be running away from. If that end chases the running back, the quarterback will keep the ball and run around him and into the open field. If the defensive end stays wide and respects the run threat of the quarterback, the quarterback will hand the ball off. That frees up an extra blocker on the offense, allowing for double-teams along the line. So either the quarterback will have a lot of open space or the running back will have a lot of blockers.

Talking about this play specifically, the Colts are in a 3-4 look, possibly as some sort of nickel package to combat the three-wide shotgun look the Jags were throwing down, so instead of leaving an unblocked defensive end, the Jaguars left an unblocked outside linebacker. In general, that means he was probably a little quicker than your average defensive end, but he bit pretty hard going after the running back and could only dive at Garrard's feet as he went by. The same could be said of the other linebackers, who were all sucked in by the fake to the back.

In this instance, the Jaguars are very bold with their timing. They called this on third down with two yards to go just outside the red zone on a third-quarter drive with the score tied. It paid off with seven yards and the first down. David Garrard threw a touchdown to Marcedes Lewis on the next play.

These plays are pretty ballsy by NFL standards. They make the quarterback a run threat in a way that few teams are willing to. While it does present the additional challenges that we've outlined, it also opens the quarterbacks to hits. Tony Romo's clavicle would like you to know that hits on the quarterback are bad. But the Jags need to do something and have the personnel to make this work. And all that said, they still suck. These plays have the potential to enhance both the running and the passing games, but judging by the Jaguars' offensive numbers, they aren't doing either very well at the moment. Still, I find these group of plays (especially the last two)

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