Most headlines this week will be dominated by the Chiefs’ league-best offense against the vaunted Jaguars defense, but it’s the other side of the of this matchup that might be where the game is really decided — boasting a run-heavy offense and a short passing game, the Jaguars match up well with where the Chiefs are weakest.
So like every week, I went down to The Laboratory to take a look at what the opposition’s offense looks like, some matchups and tendencies that they like to exploit and what the Chiefs defense can do to try to stop them on Sunday.
The Jaguars offense
No longer just a punchline from The Good Place, quarterback Blake Bortles has had a decent start this year, averaging 273 yards a game passing — with seven touchdowns and three interceptions. However, he’s been more miss than hit on the road in the regular season in the past couple seasons, averaging just 91 yards passing with 0.77 touchdowns and one interception per game.
At running back, the Jaguars will be without starter Leonard Fournette, but they still have a capable back in T.J. Yeldon. While he doesn’t quite have the same balance or ability to break tackles, Yeldon catches the ball well and hits the hole with speed. Jacksonville will mix in a heavy dose of Corey Grant as well. We should expect to see a ton of carries from the Jaguars backfield.
At wide receiver, the Jaguars feature former Indianapolis Colts receiver Donte Moncrief — a productive pass catcher — and 2017 undrafted free agent Keelan Cole, who is a solid route runner with good hands. In the slot, Dede Westbrook does a lot of damage underneath attacking the center of the field. While it’s not the most talented group the Chiefs will face this year, all of them are solid in their individual roles.
At tight end, the Jaguars use a number of two tight end sets with Austin Seferian-Jenkins and former Chief James O’Shaughnessy. Jenkins is the better pass catcher, but O’Shaughnessy has found success finding the seams in the zone this year. Third tight end Niles Paul may also see some targets out of 13 personnel as well.
The Jaguars offensive line added Andrew Norwell from the Carolina Panthers this offseason to bolster their interior. Brandon Linder and A.J. Cann round out the rest of a good interior. Josh Wells and Jermey Parnell are unknown names that have had some success this year but will be lined up opposite their biggest test of the year in Justin Houston and Dee Ford.
How to defend
Exploiting the middle of Cover 3 zone
Jacksonville has done a good job attacking zone defenses. On this PApass, he runs 9 routes with his outside WR's and runs routes to the flats, pulling the apex defenders up while getting the LB's to bite on PA. A dig route over the top of the underneath defenders runs uncontested pic.twitter.com/JKSRuHeKLw— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 5, 2018
I regularly pick on the Chiefs for not taking care of their zone responsibilities, and the Jaguars will try to do so as well. They picked apart the New York Jets Cover 3 looks last week with lots of clear-out routes and varying crossing depths.
On this play, the Jaguars utilize multiple stressors to pull players out of position. The play action keeps both of the hook defenders in the box, reading the running back. Both outside receivers run 9 routes to clear the boundary defenders. After the play action, both players lined up in the backfield run routes into the flats. The slot receiver runs a dig with acres of space to work.
The hook defenders aren’t able to gain enough depth to take away the throw due to the run action freezing them initially, the apex defenders aren’t able to get more depth on their zones due to the routes in the flats, and the boundary corners have to respect the vertical routes. The deep safety doesn’t have a chance to make a play on this pass either, due to his depth.
That’s fantastic play design attacking the hole in a Cover 3 shell.
The Jaguars will stress zone at all levels. Out of 12 personnel, the field WR runs a clearout with the far TE running a curl. The near TE runs a slant and engages BOTH ILBs w/ the RB is in the flat. The boundary WR runs a cross & is wide open due to the stresses on the defenders. pic.twitter.com/6yl2jsx9ZU— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 5, 2018
The Jaguars will attack the underneath zone as well.
This play is designed to get the boundary wide receiver in space by running a clearout with the field receiver and having the two tight ends run a curl/slant combo to occupy the hook defenders. The result is a rub/pick by the near tight end — with no apex defender to cover the field flat and the boundary corner having to run with the wide receiver.
The Jaguars do a great job scheming receivers open and finding the weak spots in the zone defense when teams feel like they have to deploy it. The Chiefs haven’t done well with flowing and passing in their zone responsibilities as it is, so expect Jacksonville to target the center of the field with digs and crossers to exploit the space left behind by stressing these zone defenders.
From the Chiefs’ perspective, the hope would be to run the preferred man coverage schemes to try to press — thereby throwing off the timing off on the underneath crossing routes, and denying Jacksonville the opportunity to scheme holes in the zone.
Misdirection and RPOs
The Jags aren't a static O, they'll throw in some fun RPO's every once in awhile. They line up their 21 personnel with RB Grant in the bunch, then circle motion him behind Bortles. Bortles reads the strong DE, who doesn't collapse, and hands the ball off. If he did, it's a pass. pic.twitter.com/PH8zCHlKfy— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 5, 2018
Jacksonville isn’t necessarily a team with an innovative offense, but they like to toss in enough creativity to force defenses to respect all their looks. Here’s a fun RPO that they threw at the New England Patriots a couple weeks ago.
Out of 21 personnel in a 3x1 alignment, they line Grant up as the back man in a bunch formation with Yeldon next to Bortles. Grant circle motions behind Bortles while he reads the Patriots strong-side defensive end.
If the defensive end stays wide and tracks Grant, Bortles will hand the ball off to Yeldon on the outside zone run. If the defensive end collapses on the run, Bortles will pull the ball and throw the swing pass to Grant. The defensive end collapses and the Jaguars offensive line is hat-for-hat blocking to that side of the field, springing Yeldon for a giant gain.
It’s an excellent play call that forces lighter boxes or open receivers and really puts the defense in a bind. In this scenario, the defense has to win a matchup on the weak side to stop this play, as they don’t have the numbers. The weak-side defensive end or tackle needs to gain penetration or delay a second level block while the linebacker beats the guard to the gap to stop the run.
Bortles has been working on his throwing motion this offseason, but he's still got a slow windup when throwing. if the Chiefs aren't able to get to him, getting their hands into the throwing lanes this week can still be VERY effective. pic.twitter.com/hRL2dFC9pH— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 5, 2018
Bortles has always had a long throwing motion, but he’s been working on it this year. Still... it’s long enough to anticipate and jump the throw in the front.
Here, Avery Williamson stunts on his blitz, but the offensive line picks up the stunt. He knows he’s not getting home on the rush, so rather than continuing to engage the center and make no progress, he drops into the throwing lane, sees Bortles slow windup, and gets his hands in the lane to bat the ball into the air. This results in an easy pick for the Jets secondary.
Sutton should be stressing this long throwing motion this week — and keying on it — with his pass rushers. While the outcome might not be as fortunate as this play, batted balls and occupying those lanes may cause Bortles to hold the ball a beat longer, allowing the Chiefs pass rush to get home more regularly.
The bottom line
While Bortles and the Jacksonville offense don’t exactly strike fear into the hearts of most defenses, their game plan is not a good matchup for the Chiefs defense.
The Jaguars have a proven willingness to stick with the run and take the air completely out of the game — something that the Denver Broncos did well against the Chiefs defense this last week. The Jaguars will stick with it, too.
The Jaguars also attack the areas of the Chiefs defense that are poorest in coverage — crossing routes from wide receivers, tight ends up the seams and running backs in the flat. If the Chiefs defense does find a way to get themselves in good down and distance situations, the Jaguars may still be able to dig themselves out with these kinds of passes.
The Chiefs need to lean on their man defense as much as possible this week, and press to disrupt some of these timing routes. The Chiefs edge rushers have been ramping up the pressure over the past couple of weeks, and Bortles will take some silly sacks instead of throwing the ball away. If Dee Ford is a full go this weekend, I think we could see him do some damage to the Jacksonville passing game.
If the Chiefs can stop the run on early downs (please tackle) and force Bortles and company into throwing more, they’ve got a shot to stop the Jaguars offense — one that hasn’t been great away from home — and give the ball back to the Chiefs offense.