One step forward, two steps back. That’s how the transition from week one to two felt. The team didn’t look like world beaters against Denver, but they showed a bunch of bright spots moving forward. My takeaway from this game was just the opposite. I have question marks all across the defense. Some of this may still be getting back to football speed. Only time will tell.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say it was alarming. Some of the yardage allowed was by design. Essentially a bend-but-don’t-break approach to Gardner Minshew, hoping that he’d eventually make mistakes — and, a couple of times, that proved true. Far more often, however, the Jaguars put together solid drives, which led to 480 yards of total offense and four touchdowns. At the end of the day, when it mattered, this defense stepped up and got the job done, but getting to that point wasn’t pretty.
My biggest takeaway from this game was just the lack of guys making plays for the defense. There’s not really a single weak spot you can point to this game that explains the offensive output by the Jags. There didn’t appear to be any communication breakdowns. The majority of the time, players were in generally the right places. Still, on any single play, one guy was usually getting beat enough for the Jags to move the ball.
A good example is the draw play the Jags ran late in the 3rd quarter.
2nd down and 4. The Jags are at their own 41. The linebacker play leaves a lot to be desired on this snap. So, the Jags start with a pass set to sell the draw. The tight end works like he’s running a crosser, and then works up to block Rashaan Evans.
Looking above, I’ve only diagrammed the players in the box at this point because that’s basically all that matters on this play. Let’s start by pointing out that the Titans are undermanned in the box. This is the tradeoff of playing two high safeties. You’ll always be down one guy in the box. Still, what happens here amounts to players just making basic plays. One guy missing from the box might explain a gain of 4 or 5. It shouldn’t explain a gain of 39 yards.
The problem here is the linebacker play. Jayon Brown is put in a difficult situation where he needs to play two gaps because he doesn’t have another defender to fit the other gap. It’s Evans that is the main issue. There is no reason that the tight end should be able to reach his inside shoulder this easily. If you must, look again at the diagram above. Note their positions pre-snap. That tight end comes from the other side of the formation to block Evans.
And, this is a recurring problem with Rashaan. He’s just a tick slow with reads. Explosive plays like this are uncommon for the Titans defense to allow, but it is common for that indecisiveness to lead to a few extra yards on run plays. If the read is clear and explicitly in front of him, he’s a rock star. We’ve seen that on many goal line stops. But, when he’s required to make multiple keys, he doesn’t make snappy reads.
Kenny Vaccaro, meanwhile, sits outside of Evans because he’s expecting Evans to get over the top of the tight end and spill the play back to the outside. By the time he realizes he needs to pursue the ball carrier inside, it’s too late. James Robinson is off to the races. Kevin Byard make an uncharacteristic missed tackle that’s the cherry on top of this explosive play that takes the Jags into the red zone on their way to a touchdown four plays later.
These plays weren’t just specific to the linebackers (though, I’d argue they may have had the roughest day of the bunch). Everyone pitched in. And, I’m going to pile on here, but we’ll get to the good stuff later. It wasn’t all bad.
- The deep pass to D.J. Chark in the first quarter. The Titans have Malcolm Butler and Johnathan Joseph aligned at safety for reasons I don’t completely understand. The Jags run a deep crossing concept. The back side receiver runs a deep cross. The playside WR runs a go. Minshew bombs it deep to Chark, but the ball is underthrown and too far inside. A safety likely intercepts this ball. At a minimum, this should be a PBU. Instead, the throw splits both Butler and Joseph for a 45-yard completion.
- Just a few plays later, the Jags run a seam route with Tyler Eifert. Vaccaro is in man coverage. Titans are playing 2-high man under. So both Amani Hooker and Byard are in a 2-high safety position. Eifert beats Vaccaro at the line of scrimmage, and Minshew places the ball between the 3 safeties for a TD.