Jaguars Running Wild in 2012
By Luke Sims
I was just watching a superb Youtube video on the Jaguars destroying the Cots 44-17. You know, that game when Maurice Jones-Drew set a franchise record for most all purpose yards in a game? The same game that Marvin Harrison’s 1,000th catch was overlooked because the Colts defense didn’t know how to tackle?
Don’t know what I’m talking about? Alright, I’ve got it for you right here:
Essentially, the Jags picked up yards like nothing I’ve seen since. Fred Taylor looked like he was young again, Maurice Jones-Drew was young and showing that explosiveness that apparently is no more (thanks Pete Prisco), and David Garrard continued to solidify himself as a game manager quarterback.
I don’t think the Jaguars in 2011 could have ran five 17+ yard carries in a row. With the faulty play of Blaine Gabbert which led to stacking the box against MJD, not to mention the lack of a good running back behind MJD (Sorry Deji Karim….maybe Greg Jones could have had an opportunity?), the Jags had little hope of being able to run wild.
But the Jaguars back in 2006? It was a dream come true. Garrard was setting himself up for his super efficient 2007 season, Taylor and Jones-Drew were a powerful tandem, and the offensive line was something beyond reproach.
That year, Garrard was getting some major starting time with an injured Byron Leftwich. He wasn’t the model of efficiency that he would be in 2007, but he led the team with energy.
That year, the offensive line wasn’t supposed to be anything special, but the unit banded together and hunkered down. It became a premier run blocking unit that allowed Fred Taylor to almost get 1,200 yards and MJD to get almost 1,000.
Taylor and MJD were a delight to watch. The energy of the young Jones-Drew seemed to invigorate Fred Taylor to new heights, revitalizing his running game. The pair were a highlight reel all season long. They averaged 5.0 and 5.7 yards per attempt on the season, respectively.
So, what’s so similar about the 2012 Jaguars and the 2006 Jaguars? Hopefully it won’t be the record of 8-8.
Blaine Gabbert is entering a season where he isn’t expected to do much, and he should be able to be average. David Garrard was right around average in 2006, and Byron Leftwich never got better than average in his career.
Further, Maurice Jones-Drew gets dependable, fresh legs to join him in the backfield in Rashad Jennings. He’s the kind of guy you want back there to push you to greater heights. Just the kind of guy who is supportive enough of your skills and legacy to make your past year that wore you down seem like a distant memory. And if Jones-Drew gets tired after four straight run plays, bring in Jennings and your offense hasn’t lost a beat.
Now, onto the offensive line. You know, the unit that has been ridiculed in the past couple years for not being good enough at pass protection? While I certainly am not going to say that allowing 40 sacks is a good thing (Guard Uche Nwaneri has pledged to set a new record in sacks allowed this year), I am a firm believer in focusing on run blocking before focusing on pass blocking. It worked in 2006, and it will work in 2012. Here’s why:
You can have a very good pass blocking unit that allows your quarterback time to get the ball out and put up some monster yards (i.e. the Peyton Manning-led Colts). That same line can do a good job of that in the red zone, allowing time for your passing attack to find the big target and throw it for a score. That’s all well and good and it is the way a lot of teams are going in the pass heavy modern NFL.
But for teams like the Jaguars that have real running backs (no offense to Joseph Addai or Donald Brown), focusing on the run blocking is more important. It opens up space for the running back, clears lanes, and, most importantly, allows the offense to remain balanced. When the defense is always worried that the unit can easily move to the second level of the defense and block linebackers, then the defense has to respect the ability of the offense to “surge” forward. In that surge, the running backs will move forward and pick up yards. But what if it’s a passing play? It takes a bit of time to identify the play (especially with play action which should be well respected due to the running attack). The defense knows they could be moved off their responsibilities by a bully of an offensive line, and know that if they rush too much the ball carrier will slip past them up the middle, the side, or just barely past their outstretched arms.
So, how is this unit going to be good at running in 2012? Because the offensive line did little to nothing more than run block last season. The pass blocking was terrible. Truly horrendous. But with more legitimate receiving targets and a more mature quarterback, and a line that has played together for a year (minus tackle Eben Britton), you’re looking at a unit that will be able to bully the defense and thus free up better pass blocking through the respect the defense must give the run game.
I’ve stated this all far more convoluted than I should have, but, essentially, with a more balanced approach the pass blocking should be more free to have errors and less costly ones. Those errors will be more irregular because the defense won’t be able to key in on the running game solely but must allow the play to develop some time before they know if it is going to be a draw play or a real pass play. This frees up time for the offensive line to be more effective in passing plays.
That offensive line, in combination with skilled ball carriers and an average quarterback (at least) should set up the Jaguars to run wild in 2012.
– Luke N. Sims
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