Typically, when writing these advanced scouting articles, the goal is to find schematic match-ups or trends that opposing teams have had success with against the upcoming opponent. Sometimes, it boils down into basic theory of “The defensive players are doing X so Y will work,” but there has to be some kind of positive results of “Y” in recent games to expect it to work.
So far this year, the Jacksonville Jaguars defense has barely been tested in a way that shows the kinks in their unit—this assuming there is a realistic one to attack. The plan is much more theory and reliance on players to win specific matchups against high-quality defenders at every level.
This doesn’t mean that there isn’t any way to attack the Jaguars defense, but the wins are going to be more on a player-by-player level rather than the whiteboard. Andy Reid will definitely have some wrinkles for the Jaguars and should be able to get some wins, but the players will need to execute at a higher level than normal to bring this one home.
Jacksonville Jaguars defense
As much as any team in the NFL, the Jaguars have adopted the “nickel” base package as their seventh box player (a linebacker in their case) is on the field for less than a fifth of the snaps. Instead, they choose to keep their four defensive linemen and two linebackers while bringing in a fifth defensive back to play in the box.
The difference for the Jaguars is that they stick to this base defense longer than most teams due to the team speed of their LBs, which allows them to stay in this nickel look far more often than most NFL teams.
Through four weeks, the Jaguars have spent very little time in dime packages, which could be something for the Chiefs to look at going into this game.
The most common coverage for the Jaguars will be a Pattern Match Cover 3, and to get a fantastic gist of it, read Craig Stout’s piece, which is going to play out as man coverage based on the receivers releases.
The Jaguars will mix it up and play pure man to man or make adjustments to their Cover 3 to present as Quarters or Cover 6. The key takeaway for their coverage is that they will challenge wide receivers at the line of scrimmage and throughout their entire routes but won’t always be chasing them across the entire field.
Having Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye make this possible as both can dominate a matchup at any time. Both Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson are upper-tier safeties that add a ton of flexibility to the responsibilities of their defense.
Myles Jack has finally developed into what some thought he could be and provides a superb athlete next to an even (potentially) better athlete in Telvin Smith. Both guys can get sideline to sideline and handle cover responsibilities against average athletes at WR, TE or RB with no problem.
The Jaguars pass rush is also quite impressive boasting a great mix of power rushers in Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson and speed rushers with Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler. Even the second string of pass rushers with Abry Jones, Marcell Dareus and Taven Bryan can put some heat on the opposing QBs. The Jaguars are not a team that utilizes blitzes or drops their defensive line into coverage often, so pressure should be a bit more straight forward than last week against the Denver Broncos.
The Jaguars run defense isn’t poor, but in comparison to their pass defense, it is a little lackluster.
They have a very aggressive defense and it spills over into their run fits, as the players crash hard to the outside and through gaps often across from their alignment.
The Jaguars’ defensive line is very good and capable of blowing up run plays on the other side of the line of scrimmage but that also comes at the risk of allowing run lanes behind them to open up if everyone isn’t executing together. Their linebackers and safeties are also fast, physical and aggressive and flow toward the run action extremely fast, but the same issue persists.
If not every player is flowing at the same pace, it will create a split down the middle of the defense open for the running back.
How the Chiefs win
Last week, the Chiefs saw their first test against tight, man-to-man coverage and largely came out with mixed results but far more covered. The Jaguars certainly saw that happen and likely will follow suit, but they will also pass receivers off to players in better position to run with them as the play develops. For this reason, the Chiefs will need to flood areas of the field with different routes coming across the same zone at different times of the play.
In conjunction with flooding the same zones, the Chiefs should heavily rely on the slot receiver and tight ends in this game. While the LBs and safeties are very good for the Jaguars, they aren’t as good as Ramsey or Bouye in coverage and have more responsibilities to take part in outside of just defending their zone.
Most importantly, this is a game the Chiefs need to try get the run game working again. The Jaguars will play a ton of four-defensive linemen and two-linebacker packages, and that should be a grouping the Chiefs can run on.
While the Chiefs version of power running seems to have a higher success rate than their more traditional zone runs, this is a game that the outside and inside zone should be relied upon.
The Jags have boasted an elite pass defense for the past couple years but teams have found some success running on them. Part of that is adjustments/assignments that show after motion. They hard crash outside gaps leaving natural lanes. Motion froze the LBs, OL gets to 2nd level pic.twitter.com/hUEscK88mF— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 5, 2018
Run, but look for the back-side cuts
The Jaguars don’t have bad players against the run but they have very aggressive players and a run-fit design that calls for them to be aggressive.
Their fits involve a defensive end and an Apex player crashing the outside gaps while the defensive line and linebackers usually follow (except with a sweep motion like this). That motion by the tight end, above, makes this play go down the path it does but traditionally the linebacker and defensive line are all crashing to the play side of the run, which opens up the back-side running lanes.
Again we have players crashing the C and D gaps while aggressive LBs have to flow across the formation. Backside blockers have to prevent the chase down (or a QB boot) but also get to the 2nd lvl and drive them down the line. Backside cuts off zone runs have been effective vs Jax pic.twitter.com/YgCL0dlpRY— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 5, 2018
We aren’t going to call it a cutback in fear of Joe Gibbs coming after us, but run outside and inside zone with the intention on cutting the ball to the back side of the play.
As the Jaguars defense is crashing to the play side, the offensive line is able to use that angle and continue driving them outside. The back-side TEs, with an assist from the right tackle, are able to pin the back-side DE and Apex player away form the play. This creates a divide or split down the middle of the box for the running back to cut through.
Go heavy and still throw
For some reason, the Jaguars defense dominates common 11 personnel (one RB and TE and three WRs) but fares just above average against heavier groupings such as 12 (one RB and two TEs and WRs) or 21 personnel (two RBs, one TE, and two WRs). The presence of extra blockers tight in the formation or in the backfield slows down the passing off of assignments, as well as the ability for LBs to have leverage on their assignments.
Going back to the 2017 season, teams were able to find success using FB/H-backs to pit Jax LBs in long cover responsibilities. The redistribution of the passing strength and blitz assignments leave a long way for the MLB to travel to get to the H-Back as the WR clears out the CB. pic.twitter.com/vycBYJDKmU— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 5, 2018
The New England Patriots come out in 21 personnel (or really 12 personnel as the FB is more of an H-Back/TE) and then before the ball is snapped change the passing strength to the opposite side of the FB.
The Jaguars end up rushing five as one defensive end drops into coverage. The shoot route by the fullback out of the backfield leaves the middle linebacker stuck in no man’s land, as he has to run all the way to sideline to defend the FB. The middle linebacker also has to defend against a quick inside release by the tight end as both other players working that assignment are playing with outside leverage.
As the Chiefs open up the run game, whether out of spread or in this heavier personnel, it should also open play-action and these middle of the field passes.
Flood zones with varied timing
The Chiefs have played against a lot of zone coverage early in this year, so the concept of flooding the zone is nothing new to them.
The counter to that is the Jaguars dynamic zone that matches defenders to receivers as they work through the zones. A team could still run a Smash Concept (Corner and Hitch route) but technically they are accounted for by assignment.
The counter to the counter, which is what football boils down to for coaches, is varying the timing at which the zones are flooding. Instead of the typical Smash Concept, have the outside WR run the corner, have an inside receiver (TE or slot) run a comeback, and finish with a wide stop route by the RB in place of the hitch. In theory, the Apex defender has to choose to sprint out to the RB or wait until the LB can get to the comeback. At this point, this has become a tangent about theory without a real example.
Again understanding the assignments and their progressions. Outside CBs and DS have to take any verticals. Apex and LBs have flats and hooks. Field Apex takes first to the flat, SAM is carrying the hook but has to acknowledge second to the flat to the field side. pic.twitter.com/jvCUXfIKW6— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 5, 2018
This is a game from last year that is almost famous now for how Kyle Shanahan was able to scheme open players against the Jaguars defense.
TEs, fullbacks and occasionally WRs were able to get plenty of space throughout the game on these formations with heavy personnel.
This isn’t a Smash Concept, but there is a flooding of the field side hook and flat zones with varied timing. Off the snap, the boundary (far) Apex defender has to take the first flat and the strong-side linebacker (SLB) has to take the first inside release.
Initially played very well, the SLB is in position to keep inside leverage on the wide receiver, as well as squeeze the tight end. The issue comes in when the running back releases into the out route, which means another flat receiver. The SLB has to set to get into position to drive on the flat, which opens a window behind him in the hook zone he had initially been playing.
It’s a lot to digest, but essentially, without the running back also releasing late into the flat and that being part of the SLB’s job, this window is much tighter, if existent at all.
The bottom line
Most of this may come across as packages of plays or ideas to beat the Jaguars, and it honestly may be just that.
The Jaguars have a very talented defense that has a scheme which perfectly fits who they are, making it difficult to generate a broad game plan that will work against them. Instead, the plan is to find packages of plays and personnel groupings that put the Chiefs players in the best position to execute rather than expecting the play design to win for you.
In a perfect game, the Chiefs establish the run, relying heavily on outside and inside zone using the back-side gaps generated by the blocks. They piggyback on that success with play-action that gives the inside linebackers and safeties even more to think about, while tight ends and fullbacks get outside the numbers on routes quickly.
When forced into a throwing down and distance, the Chiefs need to use a variety of formations and personnel groupings such as the empty sets, the 12 and 21 personnel. The passing game should run through the tight ends and slot receivers while zones are being flooded throughout the entire play design.
If that’s not asking too much, the Chiefs also have to block a dominant pass rush and beat All-Pro cornerback jams at the line quickly to continue to roll forward.