Jaguars' run game doesn't look like the best in the NFL right now

Leonard Fournette struggled against the Bills and rushed for just 57 yards on 21 carries. AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars had the No. 1 rushing attack in the NFL in 2017.

It sure doesn’t look like that now -- and coach Doug Marrone said it needs to quickly get better if the Jaguars are going to have a chance of beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in an AFC divisional game on Sunday.

“If they’re not doing their job up front, it’s going to be very difficult up front,” Marrone said. “If they’re doing a good job up front, I think we all have to do a better job. We really do, and we have to figure it out and get it done in a quick fashion.”

The Jaguars finished the season averaging 141.4 yards per game but tailed off late in the season and averaged just 104.3 over the final three games. They ran for 175 yards in the final two regular-season games combined, which included 117 yards on 37 carries (3.2 per carry) by Leonard Fournette.

What’s gone wrong? It’s not just one thing.

For starters, the offensive line play has been inconsistent, especially along the interior. There have been too many missed assignments, technique issues, and players flat out getting beat too often. There has been too much penetration by the defensive front at times, too. The right side of the line was supposed to be the strong side with guard A.J. Cann and tackle Jermey Parnell, but both players have been bothered by injuries throughout the season and that hasn’t been the case.

Fournette has misread his blocks and missed holes, too. He’s been unable to bounce anything outside when the middle has been clogged as well.

Part of that is due to the fact that the Jaguars are facing more eight-plus-man boxes than any other team in the league (145 carries, which is 27.5 percent of their total carries). The defense always has at least one unblocked man in the box in that case.

Defenses aren’t respecting the Jaguars’ pass game and quarterback Blake Bortles. They’re doing what Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict said to the Cincinnati Enquirer before the Bengals played the Jaguars in November: “I think the film tells for itself that obviously Fournette can beat you and I’m not sure Blake can beat us. We want to put it in his hands and have him beat us, if he can.”

The thing is, Fournette didn’t play against the Bengals for disciplinary reasons. The Jaguars still ran for 148 yards (Chris Ivory had 69 and T.J. Yeldon had 41) and Bortles threw for 269 yards and a touchdown and no interceptions in the Jaguars’ 23-7 victory.

Bortles hasn’t been able to consistently do that. He was on fire the first three weeks of December but threw five interceptions and no touchdowns in the Jaguars’ two final regular-season games. He ran for 88 yards and threw for 87 in the Jaguars’ playoff victory over the Buffalo Bills last week. The Bills sold out to stop Fournette, who gained only 57 yards on 21 carries.

“Collectively, as an offense, we want to be able to do a better job,” Marrone said. “We’re going to have to do a better job going forward.”

Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said the Jaguars aren’t panicking about the run game’s recent stumbles. The key to its success is not abandoning it, he said.

“The run game is one of those things is you have to be patient with it,” Hackett said. “I remember early on in the season everybody was asking, ‘Oh, we haven’t popped a big one yet. We haven’t popped a big one yet.’ Then all of a sudden it hits. The run game’s hard because it’s not pretty. It’s not that pretty thing that has those big explosive plays all the time.

“You have to get a couple 2-yarders, 3-yarders, 1-yarders, 0-yarders, and then, bam, it hits. I think it’s just about being patient.”