Diagnosing 2-14: Running Backs
By Luke Sims
The face of the franchise, MJD was forced to look on from the sideline for most of the 2012 season. Source: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Over the next week or so we will be going through the Jacksonville Jaguars 2012 roster to try and find the problems that led to the franchise’s worst-ever record: 2-14. There were so many problems with this team that it goes well beyond one article. So, for the sake of simplicity, we’ll take it one position at a time.
This time: running back.
Here are the other parts of the series: QB, OL, WR, TE
To say that the running back position was bad for the Jaguars in 2012 would be an understatement. To say that the running back position was atrocious may even be an understatement. The Jags’ rushing attack was worse than atrocious, it was…well, it was bad.
The year started off in poor order with a holdout by Maurice Jones-Drew. The guy failed to make a practice until the week before the third preseason game and even then it was accepted that backup Rashad Jennings would be making the first start for the Jaguars. Jennings was injured during the game and Jones-Drew was back in the limelight until week six when, two plays into the game against the Oakland Raiders, he was sidelined for the rest of the season. Nobody could adequately replace him. The worst part of it all is that Jennings was supposed to be able to carry the load if MJD continued his holdout. After a league-low 2.8 yards per attempt it was beyond underwhelming to see Jennings struggle to fill MoJo’s shoes.
That was the major problem for the Jaguars at running back: depth.
MJD finished the 2012 season as the Jags’ top rusher despite missing every snap after the second offensive play in week six. Jennings had 15 more attempts than MJD and 131 less yards. To give you an idea of the utter dominance that MJD had in comparison to his backups, let’s look at their stats:
NameAttemptsYardsAverage/AttemptYards After ContactTDsRashad Jennings1012832.81952Maurice Jones-Drew864144.81961Montell Owens422095911Jalen Parmele401433.6860Richard Murphy23924560Keith Toston17744.4560
Unfortunately, it wasn’t until late in the season – after Jennings and Jalen Parmele were not working/injured – that the Jaguars discovered that their special teams ace, Montell Owens, was a decent running back as well.
Keith Toston came on strong late in the season, but it was too late for the Jaguars. Source: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
A major problem for the Jags was poor offensive line play. When coupled with the inferior vision and patience of Jennings compared to Jones-Drew, major problems began to occur. Jennings was hit early in the backfield and could not recover, he averaged most of his yards after being hit (1.9 average yards after contact) either at or near the line of scrimmage. Jones-Drew had been better at seeing holes and bursting through them (12 broken tackles), but Jennings was not equal in that ability (five broken tackles). Only Keith Toston truly excelled at bursting through tackles (three broken tackles on 17 carries) to gain more yards and post a healthy 4.4 yards per carry.
The main problem with the inability of the Jaguars to run the ball was that much of the team’s identity is associated with grinding it out. MJD is a workhorse back with big play potential. He sets the tone for the entire offense. Without him, the Jags ground to a halt.
But an injury to one star player (some would say the only star player) should not derail an entire offense.
If your identity is to run the ball, then the depth at running back has to reflect that. Unfortunately for the Jaguars Parmele, Jennings, and Murphy all failed to provide the depth needed. Owens really turned it on later in the season but was the primary ball carrier for just weeks 14, 15, and 16. Originally listed a fullback for the season, the Jaguars failed to identify the talent on their roster before it was too late. The same can be said for Toston, who was cut after the preseason (despite a strong effort) and did not carry the ball until week 17.
The Jags were woefully unprepared at running back for the 2012 season and were exposed for it. For a team that has long relied on the running game, this may have been a bigger oversight than anything else during the last season of GM Gene Smith’s tenure.
Next up, we’ll look at the defensive tackles.
– Luke N. Sims
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