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Jaguars need to start using T.J. Yeldon more in the red zone

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars had one of the NFL's worst red zone offenses in 2014. They're not much better this year, and on Sunday it cost them a chance to beat the San Diego Chargers and earn their first three-game winning streak in two years.

Maybe things would have been different if the Jaguars had at least given the ball to their best running back a couple of times.

The Jaguars (4-7) scored a touchdown once in four trips to the red zone at EverBank Field and running back T.J. Yeldon never got a sniff. The Jaguars had 11 offensive snaps in the red zone and the rookie from Alabama -- the team's leading rusher -- didn't touch the ball once. Not a carry or a reception.

"I know there were opportunities," coach Gus Bradley said. "We had some run-pass options. Blake [Bortles] chose to check out of it to get to some other things based on the look they had. There were a couple times [plays for Yeldon] were called, but to look into more opportunities for him, I can't argue that fact."

Anyone who did would have to be crazy.

Yeldon averaged 4.0 yards per carry against the Chargers and caught four passes for 46 yards, so he was effective when he did touch the ball. The Jaguars drafted him with their first pick in the second round and have raved all season about how impressed they've been that he has been able to establish himself as a three-down back as a rookie.

The Jaguars tried to spread the field in the red zone to give Bortles more options if he chose to throw the ball. The Chargers' defense countered by dropping eight in coverage, which took away a lot of throws. That should have made things easier for Yeldon, whether it's on a carry or a pass in the flat, which Bortles bypassed several times despite the fact Yeldon was wide open without a defender within seven yards of him.

Get Yeldon the ball on the edge and let him make a play. He did it throughout his college career and he did it earlier in the game Sunday, taking a short pass and going 20 yards on the Jaguars' first offensive snap.

Instead, the Jaguars went …

  • Bortles to Julius Thomas for 4 yards.

  • Bortles incomplete pass to Allen Hurns

  • Bortles to Hurns for 4 yards.

  • Bortles to Hurns for 4 yards.

  • Bortles incomplete pass to Allen Robinson.

  • Bortles penalized for an illegal forward pass.

  • Bortles incomplete pass to Marcedes Lewis.

  • Bortles to Bryan Walters for 7 yards.

  • Bortles penalized for an illegal forward pass.

  • Bortles to Rashad Greene for 6 yards.

  • Bortles to Robinson for 8 yards and a touchdown.

No Yeldon. In fact, Yeldon has touched the ball only eight times in the Jaguars' last 51 red zone snaps over the last five games: twice against Tennessee, twice against Baltimore and four times against Buffalo. It can't be a coincidence the Jaguars have scored five touchdowns on 18 red zone trips in that span.

"I think that's something we've got to work on, is getting him the ball," Bortles said. "When the guys are dropping eight and rushing three, it's hard to find holes. To give T.J. the ball and let him take off is something we're going to implement."

Not just in the red zone, either. Yeldon carried the ball a season-low nine times against a Chargers defense that came into the game ranked 25th in rush defense.

The Jaguars drafted Yeldon to be their feature back. They should start featuring him in the most important area of the field.