We’re just two preseason weeks into the Urban Meyer experiment in Jacksonville, and it’s already facing some issues.
The Jaguars’ starting offense has been nothing short of a disaster in the first two preseason games — and its struggles have become a punching bag for social media in the process. They were vastly outplayed in losses to the Browns and Saints, and Meyer is faced with the monumental task of making adjustments and fixing it heading into the regular season.
“The starting offense, two weeks in a row … we’re just struggling to get into some rhythm,” Meyer said to reporters after the game. “We’re not balanced right now.”
Granted, it’s just the preseason, and Jacksonville is breaking in its rookie quarterback, Trevor Lawrence. However, the offense wasn’t supposed to be the issue with this team. Or, at least, it wasn’t supposed to be this big of a problem.
Yet to date, Meyer and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell have yet to figure out an offensive identity. And it has shown given the issues they’ve had on the field so far, which could be a precursor to a long season.
Jaguars’ passing offense
Trevor Lawrence offered up a lukewarm assessment of the Jaguars’ performance on Monday night.
“I mean I thought we did some things well, a lot of other things we need to get better at,” Lawrence said.
That rings true, especially when it comes to scoring.
The Jaguars’ first-team offense has failed to mount a touchdown drive this preseason. They have as many three-and-outs as they do points during Lawrence’s eight drives.
It’s true that Lawrence had the Jaguars positioned to add another field goal against the Saints; kicker Josh Lambo missed it. Still, the starters’ lack of offensive success and inability to find the end-zone has surely raised some red flags, though Lawrence has an idea about how to fix it.
“I’d say from an individual perspective, I just got to get a little better with getting the ball out, taking completions, staying out of second and long, third and long,” Lawrence said. “The whole offense we have to click a little more. We still have some work to do. Find our rhythm.”
Lawrence is right that he has to get the ball out a bit quicker, but it’s not necessarily because he’s holding the ball too long. He just hasn’t had a lot of time to throw, as you can see on this Jalen Dalton sack.
Despite the line’s struggles, the Jaguars didn’t adjust to provide Lawrence with much extra blocking. Nor did they make play calls to stay ahead of the chains. That forced Lawrence to check down on third-and-long situations early in the game, including two in the first four drives that led to punts. It also caused him to throw the ball too early under pressure — which led to some ugly-looking incompletions on Jacksonville’s final first-half drive — and create more with his legs.
“I thought I made some plays with my legs, which was an emphasis on what I wanted to do better this week, than last week,” Lawrence said. “Got out the pocket a few times.”
Lawrence did well outside of the pocket, to his credit. That said, he also put himself in danger at times, like when he was hit hard by three defenders on his lone scramble of the night.
That got the Jaguars a first down, but it also got the team’s No. 1 draft pick walloped. With better play-calling and an ahead-of-schedule offense, the Jaguars could avoid putting Lawrence in these situations, at least in the preseason.
Jaguars’ running game and personnel choice
Not only has Lawrence been under a lot of pressure, but he also hasn’t gotten much help from the running game. The Jaguars’ running backs have averaged a paltry 2.3 yards per carry through two preseason games.
What stands out above all else is the Jaguars’ insistence on using Carlos Hyde as the second back off the bench. Hyde starred for Meyer at Ohio State but has merely been a solid rotational player during his NFL career. In fact, with the Jaguars in 2018, he averaged just 3.3 yards per carry.
Nonetheless, the team utilized him ahead of Travis Etienne even before the first-round rookie got hurt on Monday night. That included a toss play to Hyde, who is a better between-the-tackles runner than he is in space. Perhaps it had been designed for Etienne, but that play still felt wasted in the hands of Hyde.
As Meyer acknowledged, part of Jacksonville’s problems rushing are related to the blocking.
“We’ve got to get our offensive line back and playing better,” Meyer said.
Indeed, the Jaguars were missing left guard Andrew Norwell and center Brandon Linder against the Saints, but certainly, that alone isn’t responsible for their trouble running the ball. And if it is the major problem, then perhaps the Jaguars should have done a better job upgrading their offensive line’s depth and talent to provide their young, skilled players better protection.
And though the Jaguars want a balanced offense, they need to figure out how to effectively run the ball first. Maybe it’s as simple as getting healthy or using a tight end in a fullback-type role. But if those quick fixes don’t work, Jacksonville might have to get creative and use Laviska Shenault on quick screens to give their running game a boost.
That may go against Bevell’s nature. His Lions ran behind the center 116 times in 2020, or 35.9 percent of their snaps, per SharpFootballStats.com, but Jacksonville may have to change its approach to spark the offense. Because clearly, running straight up the middle this preseason isn’t working.
Then again, not much is working for Meyer’s offense in the early goings.
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