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Everything you need to know about the LA Rams’ next opponent: Jacksonville Jaguars

Are these Jaguars any different than “those” Jaguars?

Atlanta Falcons v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

The Jacksonville Jaguars are a bad football team this season. We expected that to be the case and that’s something that, unfortunately for the people of Jacksonville, has become as annual as Christmas.

Even though the Jaguars did clear out much of the house from the previous regime, bringing in a new head coach and a number one overall quarterback, will this Jaguars team be any different than almost all Jacksonville teams of the last 20 years?

So far, the answer to that is an emphatic “No” but we knew that would be the case. Will that be the case again in 2022?

For the Rams, the answer to that question is pretty irrelevant. They are set to face Jacksonville on Sunday and while a non-conference game against a 2-9 opponent is rarely considered “must-win”, Sean McVay knows he can’t have the same slipup vs Meyer that Sean McDermott had a month ago.

Here’s everything you need to know about the 2021 Jaguars.

Jacksonville Jaguars

2020 record: 2-14

2021 record: 2-9

Head coach: Urban Meyer (2-9) (187-32 in 17 college seasons)

Philosophy: “My vision, my dream, is always to be the fastest team on the field

The hiring of Urban Meyer was met with equal parts skepticism and trash talk. Ultimately, Meyer’s level of fame as a first time NFL head coach is something rarely seen and most pro football fans had some opinion of him prior to 2021. And if he didn’t help your team win a national championship in college, you probably didn’t have much good to say about him.

At 2-9 with a number of confusing moves and embarrassing moments under his belt already in the NFL, the noise of “Fire Urban” hasn’t gotten any quieter over the last three months of football.

Atlanta Falcons v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

But at this time, I’ll treat Urban Meyer like I would any other first-year head coach who took over the worst team in the NFL. And arguably the worst-run franchise that we have in the league. Jacksonville will likely finish somewhere between 2-15 and 4-13, neither of which would be surprising regardless of who the coach happened to be in 2021. The team has finished with at least 10 losses in nine of the last 10 years.

The question is whether or not the team appears to be improving and making the most of what they have on the roster—which is no more and no less than “debatable” right now. Is the team at least “fast” like Meyer hoped?

That was clearly reflected in Jacksonville’s 2021 draft strategy: past getting Trevor Lawrence with the number one pick, the Jaguars also selected RB Travis Etienne (4.45), CB Tyson Campbell (4.40), S Andre Cisco (reported, unofficial 4.33), OLB Jordan Smith (4.8 at 264 lbs), and TE Luke Farrell (4.79 at 251 lbs). But Etienne and Smith haven’t played a down in the NFL yet. Cisco’s not seeing the field. Farrell isn’t ready to be out there either. Campbell’s just getting his feet wet.

Atlanta Falcons v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

None of this was meant to work immediately and the evaluation of Jacksonville’s attempt to “find speed” will have to wait until 2022. Whether Urban Meyer is still the head coach or not.

OC: Darrell Bevell

Meyer’s decision to hire Bevell to run the offense likely has most to do with his history of working with good quarterbacks. A former four-year starter at the University of Wisconsin, Bevell has coached the likes of Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre again (with the Vikings), Russell Wilson, and then he spent the last two years with Matthew Stafford in Detroit.

While he was really only involved in the development of Wilson—and Rodgers’ rookie season in Green Bay—Bevell is a quarterbacks’ coach first and foremost. Additionally, Meyer hired Brian Schottenheimer to be Jacksonville’s actual QB coach and not only will Rams fans remember Schottenheimer, he also spent three years as Wilson’s OC in Seattle.

Bevell and Schottenheimer were hired to help turn Trevor Lawrence into a future NFL MVP. Whether that works or not mostly still depends on Lawrence.

Changes on Offense from 2020:

QB - Gardner Minshew to Trevor Lawrence

RG - A.J. Cann to Ben Bartch

WR - Keelan Cole to Marvin Jones

WR - D.J. Chark to Laviska Shenault*

TE - Tyler Eifert to James O’Shaugnessy/Chris Manhertz

*injury related

Part of the vision for Trevor Lawrence’s season was of course to have D.J. Chark as the team’s number one receiver, but a broken ankle in Week 4 put that plan to a halt after 22 targets. The result, whether it is the fault of Meyer, Bevell, Lawrence, or the receivers, is that no pass catcher on the Jaguars is having an ideal season.

Marvin Jones leads the team with 46 catches, 79 targets, 529 yards, and three touchdowns. He is averaging only 6.7 yards per target, a considerable dip from the 9.0 Y/T that he posted in five seasons with Matthew Stafford and the Lions.

Shenault, a second round pick in 2020 with an increased role this year, has caught 45 passes for 441 yards and is averaging only 6.2 Y/T, but there’s a huge difference between how the two are utilized by Bevell: Jones has an average depth of target of 12.5 yards, while Shenault sits at 6.1 ADOT. Another weapon, tight end Dan Arnold, was added in a midseason trade that sent C.J. Henderson to the Panthers, but he went on IR this week as the team’s third-leading receiver.

This lack of success is in spite of unusual continuity for the offensive line from last season.

What to expect from the Jaguars offense

Draft/tackle dodgers

Despite claims that running backs off the street are as valuable as ones drafted in the top three rounds, James Robinson is a rarity. Undrafted out of Illinois State in 2020, Robinson has rushed for 1,724 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 4.7 YPC in 24 career games, as well as posting 76 receptions for 542 yards.

Robinson and Austin Ekeler are the only players in the top 45 for rushing yards this season who went undrafted, and most of their counterparts were taken in the top four rounds of the draft. He is ranked 14th among running backs in total yards from scrimmage in 2021, with Ekeler (fourth) and Aaron Jones (13th) being the only players ahead of him not drafted on day one or day two.

Whether or not Robinson can help the Jaguars earn a victory is a different question. The team rarely has a lead, so Meyer rarely leans on Robinson in the second half of games: though the third quarter is his best quarter (39 carries, 252 yards, 6.5 YPC), Robinson has only 21 carries for 83 yards in the fourth quarter of games this season. But he also has 129 receiving yards in the fourth quarter, more than the rest of his quarters combined.

That could mean that teams are opening up the defense for screens late in the game and that we should expected Robinson to get his opportunities at some point. Jacksonville ranks fifth in rushing DVOA, which once again highlights the issues with using analytics and ignoring context: those plays are efficient because defenses don’t care to stop Robinson at that point.

But he’s also good.

James Robinson is also a little questionable for Sunday, which would make Carlos Hyde the starter if he can’t go.

Better late than Trevor

I 100-percent believe that Trevor Lawrence is a perennial Pro Bowl player in the future. The future. The future. The future...

In Week 1, Trevor Lawrence threw three touchdowns in a loss to the Texans.

He has made 10 starts since then. He has thrown zero touchdowns four times. He has thrown one touchdown six times. He has had 2+ touchdowns zero times. Even in a Week 6 win over the Dolphins, Lawrence had as many turnovers as he did touchdowns.

Atlanta Falcons v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

I think when fans watch Lawrence face the Rams this Sunday, they’ll see why he was the number one pick. If you just read the box scores, that experience won’t happen. You need to see him in action, and I believe that what I’ve seen up to this point is much different than some other number one picks in the most recent decade.

But the conservative approach with Trevor Lawrence has resulted in just 1,700 passing yards, four touchdowns, three interceptions, four fumbles, 15 sacks, and 6 yards per pass attempt over the last eight games. That’s one touchdown every other game.

2021 offensive ranks

Points: 31st

Yards: 23rd

Turnovers: 29th

Pass attempts: 12th

Rushing attempts: 28th

Net yards per pass attempt: 28th

Passing touchdowns: 31st

Rushing yards: 13th

Yards per carry: 4th

Rushing touchdowns: 13th

Points per drive: 31st

Red Zone O: 21st

3rd down: 28th

Time of Possession: 30th

DVOA: 25th (29th passing, 5th rushing)

Offensive “strength of schedule”: 6th

*Essentially, FootballOutsiders is saying that the Jaguars have faced a more difficult schedule of defenses by DVOA than the average team.

Offensive Depth Chart

Defense

DC: Joe Cullen

Cullen doesn’t know Matthew Stafford, but he came so close. His first NFL job came as a defensive line coach for Rod Marinelli on the 2006 Lions. Three years later, the team went 0-16 and everyone was fired. Cullen went back to the college ranks to coach at Idaho State, but was hired by Jack Del Rio to coach Jacksonville’s defensive line in 2010.

Following stints in Cleveland, Tampa Bay, and then five years in Baltimore—always as a defensive line coach—Cullen was given his first opportunity to run a defense when he was hired by Meyer this year.

Will he get a second?

Jacksonville Jaguars v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Though the defense is 24th in points per drive allowed, 20th in yards allowed, 21st on third downs, and 20th in the red zone, there are big concerns the team needs to figure out next offseason: Jacksonville is 32nd against the pass by DVOA, 32nd in takeaways, and teams have been able to grind them down in the running game: over 120 rushing yards allowed in each of the last three games, all losses.

The Jags really focused heavily on rebuilding the defense recently, but excluding Week 9’s win over Buffalo, good teams have been able to do pretty much what they want against Cullen’s D.

Changes on Defense:

LB - Joe Schobert to Damien Wilson

OLB - Josh Allen* is back

CB - C.J. Henderson to Shaquill Griffin

CB - Tre Herndon to Tyson Campbell

S - Jarrod Wilson to Rayshawn Jenkins

S - Andrew Wingard (increased role)

DT - Taven Bryan (decreased role)

DT - Doug Costin to Malcom Brown/Roy Robertson-Harris

If you are a Jaguars fan who is reading this and going insane, please forgive me. I’m doing my best to keep up with all of Jacksonville’s defensive personnel changes and there may be some error above in how certain players are utilized at this very moment but I believe it is sufficiently accurate.

What to expect from the Jaguars defense:

Will the teal Josh Allen please stand up

Since the internet made a big deal out of Josh Allen sacking Josh Allen (and intercepting Josh Allen) four games ago, the Jaguars’ Josh Allen has zero sacks and one tackle for a loss in the last three weeks. Of course, Allen is one of the only good players on Jacksonville’s defense and who cares about a three-game sample size? But what’s really important about this is that Allen is Jacksonville’s only considerable threat as a pass rusher and when he’s off, the whole defense is off.

Teammate Dawuane Smoot may be a tad underrated, but he’s still rarely going to impact the game as a pass rusher. Former first round picks Taven Bryan and K’Lavon Chaisson—selected with one of the picks acquired via LA for Jalen Ramsey—have combined for three sacks this season. Internal help doesn’t appear to be on the way.

The Jaguars have 19 team sacks and only the Eagles, Seahawks, Lions, and Falcons are doing worse.

Corner Orifice

If Stafford is looking for holes in Jacksonville’s defense on Sunday, “anywhere in the secondary” should suffice. Free agent signee Shaquill Griffin has been targeted 53 times, allowing 36 completions, 430 yards, two touchdowns, and 12 yards per completion. First round pick Tyson Campbell has been targeted 49 times, allowing 32 catches for 435 yards, one touchdown, and 13.6 YPC.

They won’t get much help from safeties Rudy Ford, Rayshawn Jenkins, and Andrew Wingard. And certainly not Henderson, the ninth overall pick in the 2020 draft who was ultimately traded to Carolina for a pittance.

Jacksonville’s “rebuilding plan” is still attempting to atone for mistakes they made in 2020 and we may only be months away from them trying to fix some poor decisions made in 2021.

2021 Defensive Ranks

Points Allowed: 26th

Yards Allowed: 20th

Turnovers Forced: 32nd

Net Yards per Pass Attempt Allowed: 30th

Passing Touchdowns Allowed: 18th

Rushing Yards Allowed: 21st

Yards Per Carry Allowed: 8th

Rushing Touchdowns Allowed: 28th

Points Per Drive Allowed: 24th

TOP allowed: 31st

Red Zone D: 21st

3rd down rate: 20th

DVOA: 30th (32nd vs pass, 14th vs run)

Defensive “strength of schedule” rank: 26th

Starting Defense:

Special Teams

K - Matthew Wright, 10-of-13 on field goals, 8-of-10 on extra points. Wright was signed in Week 4 and he has a strong leg: 4-of-6 beyond 50 yards.

P - Logan Cooke is in his fourth season as Jacksonville’s punter and kickoff specialist.

KR/PR - Jamal Agnew is in line for a Pro Bowl berth as a returner. He has 22 kick returns for 525 yards, including a touchdown. The bar is just a little low for Pro Bowl returner at this point and Agnew is as good as any.

Last 3 games (0-3)

Colts 23, Jaguars 17 - Following a 9-6 win over the Bills, Jacksonville found themselves in an early 17-0 deficit in Indianapolis. The Jaguars cut the lead to 20-17 early in the fourth quarter, but the offense went three-and-out on the next series, then DeForest Buckner forced a Lawrence fumble with a minute remaining and that sealed Jacksonville’s seventh loss of the year.

49ers 30, Jaguars 10 - If the Rams can’t do something similar to this dominant performance against Jacksonville, it’s somewhat of a concern.

Falcons 21, Jaguars 14 - Atlanta went up 21-3, but the Jaguars cut it to 21-11, then had first-and-Goal from the ATL 6. That resulted in a field goal instead of a touchdown, then Lawrence couldn’t get anything going during a two-minute drill: 2-of-7 passing for 11 yards on the final drive.