It’s a time for reflection for the Jacksonville Jaguars. It’s a time to wonder how the offense couldn’t move the ball against such an injured Bengals secondary. It’s time to wonder how Blaine Gabbert can’t find a way to move the ball. It’s time to wonder about this offense.
Once again the Jaguars offense is last in the league in both points and yards. Once again Gabbert is among the worst quarterbacks. Once again the offense fails to move the ball (30th in first downs). So, let’s analyze it.
We all know we have a major threat in Maurice Jones-Drew. The guy has 352 yards and his a homerun threat every time he takes the field. The blocking may be an issue, but Jones-Drew is still averaging 4.9 yards per attempt. So, we turn to the pass. Through four games, MJD has become Gabbert’s top receiver. So, why is it that so many of the other receivers have fallen behind. Let’s take a look at the utilization of the Jags’ receivers and whether or not the statistics confirm that the checkdown is really the biggest play Gabbert can come up with. What is Gabbert really doing with his 113 pass attempts? We looked at his top seven “receivers” to find out.
As is apparent, the best receiver – in terms of catching each target – is tight end Marcedes Lewis. The guy has yet to miss a pass thrown at him (much better than last season) and has two touchdowns to show for it. It just appears that Lewis is either not getting open or he’s not being targeted by Gabbert. In an NFL increasingly dominated by the tight end and the passing game it’s sad to see that Gabbert only aims to hit Lewis 2.3 times per game. Instead there is a lot of forcing the ball to receivers that have unproven abilities to get to the ball.
Laurent Robinson is the only one of Gabbert’s top targeted wide receivers who has a 50% or higher ability to catch passes. Even so, he hardly catches every other ball thrown at him. We know drops have been an issue for Robinson, so it isn’t surprising, but for a high priced free agent the Jaguars are relying on to be Gabbert’s top target he has got to make more plays.
Speaking of top targets, Justin Blackmon has the most targets on the team but only reels in 40% of the passes thrown to him. It seems like long ago that the Blackmon who snatched the ball out of the air during the preseason was with the team. Instead we now have a player who can’t seem to use his hands to clasp around a football at all. It’s good that Blackmon had six receptions during the Bengals game, because before that four receptions on 15 targets (26.6%). Perhaps he’s improving (he caught 60% of targets against the Bengals), I sincerely hope so.
A major concern I have with Gabbert is his decision making in the red zone. Based on the data, I would suggest aiming for Marcedes Lewis again and again. The guy is big, physical, and has a demonstrated ability to make plays. Further, he seems able to catch anything in his vicinity. Yet against the Bengals, Gabbert went to Kevin Elliott. It was a badly thrown ball that Elliott caught (would have been a touchdown had it been thrown better) but there are much more sure handed receivers to be throwing to. Remember in the preseason when the Jordan Palmer threw to Elliott three times in a row and it took the fourth down heave for Elliott to finally catch the ball and win the game? His statistics aren’t much better in the regular season. At 42.9% receiving of seven targets, the Jags need Gabbert to focus on other alternatives. Sometimes the running backs really are the best targets…in the red zone.
We’re not advocating for throwing it to the receivers on every play (we’d probably be sacked more than we get complete passes), but I am advocating for a focus on getting the ball to playmakers. The Jags need to use Lewis underneath and in the middle rather than a young receiver. By using Lewis there they can open up shots downfield. By making Lewis a double threat, the opposition won’t be able to focus on seeing him as a blocker only. To me it is evident that Gabbert needs to aim for his big tight end more. I believe that by involving Lewis more, the Jags can open up opportunities for both the run game and the passing game – maybe Blackmon and Robinson/Shorts can find some more room with more time when the defense has more threats to cover. It may not all be play calling, because sometimes the quarterback just doesn’t look at his team objectively and realize who his best option is.
It’s tough to get over the sting of an underperforming tight end (which Lewis was last season) during your rookie campaign, but Gabbert needs to recognize the potential that Lewis offers. I hate dump-offs and it’s important to get the wide receivers balls to make plays, but right now the quarterback needs to realize that forcing it may not be the best option. He needs to be more judicious before making his throw.
– Luke N. Sims
You can also find me on Twitter @LukeNSims