JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Coach Urban Meyer spent several minutes after the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 21-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons at TIAA Bank Field talking about changing their offense going forward to include more spread aspects -- such as QB runs, run-pass options and going up-tempo at times -- but he had no immediate answer as to why it has taken 11 games to reach this point.
“Good question,” he said.
A moment later, the first-year NFL head coach did try to explain the long delay by saying they weren’t sure about what the personnel could do, they lacked big plays and had poor execution, and they didn’t have a grasp of their identity (though he said at the beginning of the season that they wanted to be a run-first team).
Even taking those things into consideration, the bottom line is it took three months to get to the point where Meyer and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell are starting to put things in the offense that rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence is comfortable running.
That’s … problematic.
“There's no stubbornness, it's just we're all figuring this thing out, and we should have it figured out by now,” Meyer said. “And I would say this: That it's not like we don't have it figured out. We're not executing at a high level. We're putting ourselves in position to win a game, and if we eliminate some nonsense, then we would go win a game.”
Meyer said he hired Bevell because he wanted to put Lawrence in an offense that would be best for his long-term success. Bevell had worked with Russell Wilson as a rookie and did some RPOs, but Wilson eventually developed into a pocket passer who has thrived – and won a Super Bowl. Wilson had running back Marshawn Lynch and receivers Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin and Sidney Rice.
That’s far better offensive talent than what Lawrence has with the Jaguars. James Robinson is a very good back, but he’s not at Lynch’s level. And Meyer was blunt about the Jaguars receivers’ inability to win their routes and gain separation, saying they’re not doing that enough.
To be fair, injuries have definitely hurt the offense. DJ Chark Jr. was the team’s lone deep threat, and he went down with a broken ankle in Week 4. That forced the Jaguars to use Jamal Agnew, signed as a returner, more on offense, and he quickly became their most explosive player before suffering a hip injury in Week 11.
But it’s not like the offense was lighting it up when those two were healthy. The Jaguars haven’t scored more than 23 points this season and after Sunday’s 21-14 loss, dropped their average points per game to 15.7. They are dangerously close to the franchise’s lowest per-game average (15.2) set in 2011.
The hope is using more tempo, incorporating more quarterback runs (on read-options or designed calls) and adding some run-pass options (things Lawrence was comfortable with and thrived in at Clemson) will spark a unit that has scored five touchdowns in six games since the bye week.
The Jaguars (2-9) tried some of that against the Falcons (5-6). Lawrence kept the ball on four read-option plays, and Bevell went up-tempo for the first three plays of the second half and again in the fourth quarter on their lone touchdown drive.
“I thought we had some good wrinkles today,” said Lawrence, who completed 23 of 42 passes for 228 yards and a touchdown with one interception. “Obviously not the result we wanted. [We] wanted to come out with a win. But I think offensively we were a lot more efficient. No. 1 thing is finishing drives. We've got to score more touchdowns.
“So I'd say that's the main thing, but I did think we took a step as far as productivity today. I thought we did a better job.”
Meyer said to expect more of those things in the final six weeks.
“I thought the coaches worked their tails off, and we went some tempo, we went some pace a little bit, which I think our quarterback is used to that, and I think you'll see more of that,” he said.
It just took them a long time to get there.