At 9-4, the Jaguars are among the best teams in the NFL. Their victory and crushing defeat of the Pittsburgh Steelers several weeks ago was their coming-out party. The Jags’ defense, which has vaulted itself into the conversation about who’s the best in the league, did not allow a TD that game.
Now, after beating the Seahawks last week, there is no denying the new powerhouse in the AFC South. The wild fight that broke out between the two teams in my estimation was a statement from the Jags that they will not be bullied by the giants in the league any more. When the Jags last lost three weeks ago against the Cardinals, many thought that Doug Marrone’s squad had been finally figured out. To the contrary, the Jaguars have come out and put on two dominating performances. This week, they face the injury-ravaged Texans, who will attempt to hold up against a rising Jacksonville team. Through my research and some stats from NextGenStats via the NFL, here’s what I would consider the rules for beating the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Rule 1: Be winning at halftime.
In the four games that Jacksonville has lost, they were either losing or tied at halftime. Their offense under Blake Bortles does not run as efficiently once they have to lean on him more. The Jags are in their comfort zone when they run the ball about 35-40 times in the game. That means that Bortles - as you will see later - is relied upon less. When winning at halftime, the teams that beat the Jags held them in check the entire game and generally limited the Jacksonville Jaguars to field goals.
Rule 2: Allow no receiver to have over 100 yards.
The Jags’ biggest weakness is their passing attack. When you limit the big plays and offense to move the ball, the Jags shut down as a team. Marrone harps on complementary football as much as Bill O’Brien does, and any way to put more stress on the Jacksonville defense is a plus.
Jacksonville never had a receiver go for more than 83 yards in any of their losses. The Jags rarely test defenses deep, so limiting when they do is a crucial point to beating them. With Houston’s lack of depth in the secondary, they need to be on their B game (assuming we do not have an A game) to lock down the Jags’ receivers.
Rule 3: Pick a sideline to throw at.
Breaking down Jared Goff’s and Blaine Gabbert’s victories over Jacksonville demonstrates a preference for one side of the field when throwing the ball down the field. Both teams rarely tested the deep ball, which is wise since Jacksonville has such a great secondary.
Rule 4: Make Blake Bortles throw 30+ passes and an interception.
When Bortles has to throw over 30 passes in a game, there are two stats that stand out. First, Jacksonville is 5-4 and has lost all their games when that happens. Bortles flat out cannot carry this team on his back. It’s fortunate for the Jags that they drafted a RB in Leonard Fournette who can carry such a load.
The second stat is that Bortles’ completion percentage over his first 30 passes is 63%, which is about on par with the NFL average. When he throws his 30+ passes in the game, that percentage drops to 40%. Bortles has also thrown an interception in each and every loss Jacksonville has suffered this season. He has eight on the season, five of them coming in losses.
Rule 5: Give a cushion to Marcedes Lewis.
In Week 3, Jacksonville crushed Baltimore 44-7. Lewis had three TDs in the game. Here is a video of that matchup.
Let’s break down that route tree.
On all of his routes this game, Lewis lined up on the right side of the field, mostly from a position on the line. He works well with his size advantage, which is demonstrated by his lack of route cutting and limited yards after catch. On average, Lewis gets 4.6 yards of cushion on his route, which is third-lowest among WR/TEs with a minimum of 38 targets. The Ravens pressured him more often, and they were burned quickly on four of five passes. Lewis is a threat to the Texans since we have always struggled against teams with TE - except when we had A.J. Bouye.
Rule 6: Dink-and-dunk to stop the rush.
This is Marcus Mariota’s game against the Jags. Let’s disregard the fact that Mariota is not the most effective QB and doesn’t have the biggest arm. You can see that the Titans won by rarely throwing the ball down field. They refused to test the secondary, and honestly, they were rewarded for it.
Unlike what I said earlier, they focused over the middle, but I will attribute that to Miles Jack still developing and the Titans relying on Delanie Walker more than other teams rely on their TEs. The Titans focused on short passes. After the Jags racked up 10 sacks against the Texans in Week One, the Titans only allowed one when they played Jacksonville. This strategy worked well; if you look at the other passing patterns, many of the throws are fast in order to stop a vaunted rush that’s the best in the league.
Rule 7: Stop Calais Campbell.
He murdered the Texans in Week One. His combination of size and speed are among the most elite in the league. He collected four sacks by himself against Houston. In Jacksonville’s losses, he has only three sacks. Both the Titans and Cardinals held him to zero sacks, and that was a major factor in those wins for the opposition.
Jacksonville’s pass rush is one of the best in the history of the NFL. Combine Calias with Yannick Ngakoue, Dante Fowler Jr., and Malik Jackson, and you have the best in the NFL. Stopping all is not going to happen, especially with our offensive line and injured TEs, but managing to limit Campbell then will give T.J. Yates (I cannot believe it is 2017 and I am still saying that name) more time to find DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are going to threaten the league’s powerhouses in the weeks to come. They are healthy, strong, young, and hungry. However, when teams utilize these seven rules, they are more likely than not to win and beat the newcomer than not. I don’t know if the Texans are healthy enough to to pull off all seven of these goals, but if they follow the game plan and especially get out in front early, they may have a chance.