Retrofitting the Offense – Mularkey’s Modus Operandi


The NFL is a passing league.  Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, Drew Brees, Brandon Marshall, and even defensive stars like Darrelle Revis earn big names and big bucks through the passing game.

It’s tough for an NFL running back to make a name for himself these days.  Winning a rushing title no longer earns you the reputation that you wished.  Even CJ2K had trouble getting the money he wanted (and thought he deserved) following a breakout season that saw him eclipse 2,000 yards in 2009.  Despite a 1,000 yard season for the past four years (every year he’s been in the league) he is beginning to be seen as not as good as he used to be.  The Titans’ offense flowed more through QB Matt Hasselbeck last year than it did through Johnson.

The only way to really be remembered as a running back is to set some records.  We remember Eric Dickerson’s 2,105 yards in 1984, we remember LaDanian Tomlinson’s 31 touchdowns in 2006, and we remember Emmitt Smith for holding just about every record in the book due to his longevity.  But what we don’t remember is the utter dominance that Marshall Faulk had during his career, Shaun Alexander’s 2005 touchdown record (28) that stood for a year, or Earl Campbell’s 1979 NFL MVP season.

Running backs fall by the wayside.  Who remembers Michael Pittman who helped the Bucs to their 2002 Superbowl victory?  What about Larry Johnson pre-injury?  Or Minnesota’s Robert Smith who retired following his 2000 season, when he led the NFC in rushing, in order to pursue medicine?

Of the 32 NFL teams, only 26 running backs have ever surpassed 10,000 yards in a career.  Ever. That’s something Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Matt Stafford could theoretically do in two seasons.  Not to mention the potential for Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers to do the same.

10 NFL Teams have never had a runner surpass 7,000 yards for them.  Including a league low 3,195 yards for Domanick Williams in Houston and all of 3,850 yards for the Carolina Panthers.  The Packers have never had a 10,000 yard runner and are considered one of the more dominant franchises in league history.  Similarly the Patriots, even in their past decade of dominance have never had a runner ever rush for more than 6,000 yards in their career with the team.

I lay this background as foundation for why the Jags need to retrofit their offense.

According to Randomhouse to retrofit means “to install, fit, or adapt (a device or system) for use with something older.”  In this case, the outdated running system the Jaguars employ to win.  Fred Taylor was a great running back, but he didn’t bring a championship to Jacksonville.  Maurice Jones-Drew might even be a better running back, but can he actually bring a championship to the Jags?

I don’t think Mike Mularkey and his staff think so.

Don’t get me wrong here, this isn’t a charge against smash mouth football.  I love it.  It’s the reason I stopped rooting for the Packers when I lived in Minnesota and it’s the reason I never rooted for the Vikings.  I love it when a team grinds it out in the trenches, pounding the ball up the middle, forcing the other team to be more physical than them if they want to win.  Making them sweat for it.

But that’s not the Mularkey way and that’s not the Bratkowski way.

In Bob Bratkowski’s numerous years as an offensive coordinator in Cincinnati he had one season when the team was in the top 10 in rushing.  I credit him for making Cedric Benson look like a first round pick (finally), but with a decade of coaching the team you would have expected a bit more on the ground from a coordinator seeking balance.  Mularkey, in his time as a head coach and offensive coordinator, has had three teams make it into the top ten in rushing offense.  Two in the top three actually.

But he won’t be calling plays.

Instead the offense will be getting retrofitted.  The Jags will be taking an outdated running attack and try to make it into a prolific passing attack as well.  They’ll take their new wide receiving toys and try to turn them into the next Randy Moss.  The new toys may even make Blaine Gabbert look like Peyton Manning for a season or two.  Will this cause the Jags to fall back to earth at some point?  Possibly.  Will it work?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

The Jags are built to be a road-grating, pounding team.  Maurice Jones-Drew probably won’t see 343 rushing attempts again in his career.  At least not under Bob Bratkowski who has only been in the top 50% of the league in calling rushing attempts for six seasons of his 14 years conducting offenses.

Blaine Gabbert will probably see a massive increase in his attempts.  Bratkowski has been in the upper 50% of the league in calling pass attempts 10 of his 14 years conducting offenses, including four seasons in the top five.  In those five seasons his teams have been some of the worst in interceptions.  Including worst in the league in 2001.

The goal for 2012 and beyond is to pass as much as possible and hope that the yards gained outweigh the por consequences.  Can Blaine Gabbert rack up more yards to justify the number of interceptions he’s going to inevitably throw?  What completion percentage will the passing game hover at?  Will the system make Blaine Gabbert look like Carson Palmer for a year and half and then have him fizzle out too?

What about the receivers?  Chad Ochocinco is better than any receiver the Jags have had see the field since Jimmy Smith left.  Chris Henry was better too.

Mularkey’s MO is to let his coaches coach the way they see fit.  That means letting Bob Bratkowski run his system.

His system is built on a gamble.  A gamble that the team will outrun their mistakes.  A system that with a good defense, a decent running game, and enough passes to wear out the cornerbacks the team may overcome their inevitable blocking, catching, passing, and fumbling mistakes in order to beat a team.

This gamble isn’t good enough.

To be honest, I’d rather be with the Browns, Bears, Lions, Cowboys, Steelers, Chargers, Titans, Giants, and Jets and field another 10,000 yard runner.  Because when the ball is in Maurice Jones-Drew’s hands I know it isn’t going anywhere but forward.

And forward this team must go.

– Luke N. Sims