After studying the Jaguars' defense earlier this week, it’s now time to take a closer look at the Jacksonville offense. This is a group that’s starving to find its identity. The Jaguars rank in the bottom third of the league in most passing categories, which could be overcome in theory by a powerful running game like they had in 2017. That has not been the case this year, however, as running back Leonard Fournette has missed a large majority of this season with a hamstring injury.
The Jags rank 23rd in rushing yards per game (98.6), 17th in yards per carry (4.26), and 20th in runs of 10-plus yards (17) with just two rushing touchdowns in the entire year (last in the league). With no clarity on the Fournette injury situation, the team traded a draft pick for veteran Carlos Hyde to come in and provide some physicality to a rushing attack desperately in need of it. They’ll roll Hyde out for the first time this week against the Eagles. In an ideal world, this offense runs through the ground attack (they ran the ball more than anyone a year ago), and that’s what they’ll try and do on Sunday morning.
If they can’t get the ground game going against the Eagles, who still own one of the best run defenses in football, then they will have to rely on the passing game. Quarterback Blake Bortles was benched last week after two fumbles, and he’s been giving the ball away at an alarming rate. The fourth-year passer leads the league in turnovers at the quarterback position, something Jacksonville hopes to correct moving forward as he regains his starting spot going into this game.
We know that Bortles is not a perfect passer, but he can impact the game as a runner. An athletic quarterback who can get outside the pocket and threaten the perimeter with his feet and his arm, that’s one of the best things he brings to this offense.
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Last week, the Eagles struggled at times containing Cam Newton, a scrambler who can make defenses pay with his feet as well. Now, Blake isn’t Cam – no one is – but the Eagles' defense still needs to be judicious in the rush lanes in trying to keep Bortles contained in the pocket. The Eagles can’t let Bortles get comfortable breaking the rush and making throws outside of structure. That’s an area where Bortles has succeeded in the past.
When Bortles plays within structure, he does like to stress defenses down the field. The Jaguars actually rank 11th in the league with 24 catches of 20-plus yards, and they rank ninth with five touchdowns of 20-plus yards through the air. Here’s how they like to push the ball downfield.
Bortles has faith in his receivers, namely Keelan Cole and Donte Moncrief, to go up and make plays one-on-one down the field. The Eagles' corners can’t be lulled to sleep with the quick game because they will try and take their shots in this game.
I mention the quick game because that’s really the staple of the passing attack. Jacksonville loves shallow crossing routes, rub concepts, mesh concepts, anything to get receivers on the move in space against man coverage so that they can run away from defenders. Linebackers and safeties have to be wary of intersecting these routes and throwing off the timing with Bortles in this area of the field.
The game-breaker for this Jacksonville passing game is Dede Westbrook. An explosive player out of Oklahoma two years ago, Westbrook is undersized but he can impact the game in a number of ways both down the field as a deep threat and as a gadget guy on trick plays. With the Eagles giving up a couple of big plays on reverses last week, I’d watch out for Westbrook in this game to see if Jacksonville tries to have similar success against this unit.
The other critical injury for this Jaguars team outside of Leonard Fournette was Cam Robinson. The left tackle was lost back in Week 1, and the second-year player from Alabama was playing at a high level this summer. Backup Josh Wells also went on Injured Reserve recently, and third-string tackle Josh Walker struggled last week against Houston. This is a sore spot for the Jaguars, but don’t get it twisted ... this Jaguars offensive line is no joke.
I’ve been watching this group since the summer and this group gets after it with left guard Andrew Norwell (the free agent prize of the offseason), center Brandon Linder (who the team recently extended long term), right guard A.J. Cann (a physical road grader the team drafted a couple of years ago), and right tackle Jermey Parnell (a high-upside free agent signee from Dallas three offseasons ago). The right side of the line, in particular, has impressed me during my study of this group over the last few months. I know they’ll give up some pressure in pass protection, but these players fit the identity the Jaguars want to have up front. They’ll try to make it a long day for the Eagles' defensive front on Sunday.
Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominated Eagles Game Plan show which can be seen every gameday during the season on NBC10 in Philadelphia. He is also the host of two Eagles-related podcasts, Eagle Eye in the Sky, which examines the team from an X's and O's angle each and every week as well as the Journey to the Draft podcast, which covers college football and the NFL Draft all year round. Fran also authors the Eagle Eye in the Sky column, which runs four times a week during the football season to serve as a recap for the previous game and to preview the upcoming matchup. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging, and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team’s games, practices, and opponents.