Jaguars coach Doug Marrone: Offensive line must earn trust again

"People are going to challenge us, and I guess it's something he said that will get us rolling," right guard A.J. Cann said of coach Doug Marrone's criticism of the Jaguars' offensive line performances of late. David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars coach Doug Marrone wanted to clarify his recent criticism of the offensive line. When he said he didn't have confidence that the unit would be able to get the job done, he was talking about one specific moment in the team's loss to Philadelphia on Oct. 28.

He wasn't saying it was a season-long issue and why the Jaguars are 24th in the NFL in rushing after leading the league in that category a year ago.

"Trust is earned. It's not given, so at the end of the day, I'm going to do everything I can to get the players to trust what I'm doing is right," Marrone said. "At the end of the day, they understand that when they do things well, there's a trust, and you can call the play again. I don't think it's a matter of this whole big thing. It was a moment, and that moment, I just didn't feel comfortable with it. I really didn't."

There were several such moments against the Eagles, actually. The Jaguars had six plays in the fourth quarter in which they needed 2 or fewer yards to gain a first down, and they called pass plays each time, despite acquiring 229-pound running back Carlos Hyde in a trade a week earlier and maintaining that the offense needed to return to its power-run philosophy. The Jaguars threw five incompletions, and Blake Bortles scrambled for a 4-yard gain on the other.

Marrone said he watched the offensive line fail to create space on a third-and-1 play and Hyde lose a yard earlier in the game, and he didn't feel confident that the unit would be able to get it done with the game on the line and the Jaguars trailing by six points.

"If you don't run the ball well, you don't finish your blocks, it's third-and-1 and you lose yardage, it's very difficult to call a [run] play again," Marrone said. "Because if I call the same play, and we get our ass kicked, what do I do? I don't feel good about it. Schematically it feels good, but you don't win, so what do you do? You can run another play, another run play, but then you're going to say, 'You ran two run plays in a row and got your ass kicked. Why didn't you throw it?'"

It's a pretty pointed jab at an offensive line that was supposed to be one of the league's best. The Jaguars signed left guard Andrew Norwell to a five-year, $66.5 million contract with $30 million guaranteed in March to beef up a run game that led the NFL in rushing in 2017 but tailed off the last six weeks of the season, averaging 51.3 yards rushing fewer per game in Weeks 12-17 than in the first 11 weeks.

The Jaguars drafted left tackle Cam Robinson in the second round in 2017, made Brandon Linder the highest-paid center in the NFL two months later and saw right guard A.J. Cann make significant strides in the final year of his rookie contract.

Injuries took Robinson and backup Josh Wells down for the season, but even with converted guard Josh Walker playing at left tackle, the offensive line should be effective in the run game. Although the expectations have dimmed somewhat because Leonard Fournette has missed six games with a hamstring injury, the Jaguars should be averaging more than 95.0 yards rushing per game.

Hyde was supposed to help that because his style perfectly fits the power-run attack around which the Jaguars built the offense. However, he had just 11 yards on six carries against the Eagles.

Cann said Marrone's comments stung and hopefully will serve as motivation when the Jaguars return to the field after their bye.

"People are going to challenge us, and I guess it's something he said that will get us rolling," Cann said. "I'm pretty sure we're going to use it to be able to come out and play like we want to and how they expect."

Fournette is expected to return for Sunday's game at Indianapolis -- though Marrone said it will depend on how he progresses through the week -- but it will take more than that for the run game to improve. The line has to play better before Marrone regains confidence.

"He's got a right to say whatever he needs to say," Walker said. "Yeah, we can pick it up as an offensive line, but coach has got the right to say whatever he needs to say."