Jacksonville Jaguars 2019: Not Getting Outta The Slump

Jacksonville Jaguars 2019: Not Getting Outta The Slump
Jacksonville Jaguars 2019: Not Getting Outta The Slump

Jacksonville Jaguars Stats From 2018

Record: 5-11

Pythagorean Wins: 5.7

ATS: 6-9-1; average line -0.2

Over/Under: 6-10; average total 41.8

Close Games Record: 2-6

Turnover Differential: -0.8

Adjusted Games Lost (injuries): 114.6 (27th)

Offense: 29th in EPA per play (-0.102);  4.9 yards per play

Defense:  9th in EPA per play (0.00);  5.3 yards per play

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Defensive Regression and Blake Bortles

The Jacksonville Jaguars of 2018 were the victim of bad quarterback play and defensive regression. Their defense was still borderline top-10 last year, but it was a significant decrease from their historical performance of -0.18 expected points added per defensive play in 2017 to zero. Their +0.6 turnover margin from 2017 changed to -0.8, that was a swing of 1.4 turnovers per game. It was also a big mistake to extend the contract with Blake Bortles. The Jaguars organization got fooled by an outlier season and didn’t evaluate Bortles’ full career. Last season he reverted to his career level.

Jacksonville also suffered from a few significant absences. Blake Bortles, as weak as he played, got benched five games for Cody Kessler who was even worse than Bortles. All-Pro left guard Andrew Norwell had to call it a year after week twelve, stud center Brandon Linder went to IR after week ten. 2017 All-Pro cornerback AJ Bouye struggled with injuries; he also missed three games. WR number one, Marqise Lee, didn’t play a single snap in 2018.

On the season, the Jaguars underperformed and were more like a 6-10 team. As mentioned, Jacksonville had a weak turnover margin and went 2-6 in close games.

From Blake Bortles to Nick Foles

The Jaguars signed former Eagles quarterback Nick Foles who comes to Jacksonville with a Super Bowl-winning pedigree. New offensive coordinator John DeFilippo worked as the quarterback’s coach for Foles at Philadelphia, but Mike Zimmer fired him from his first OC job last year because he was too pass-heavy and couldn’t get the run game going.

The critical question when evaluating potential improvements over 2018 is whether Nick Foles is an upgrade from Blake Bortles. Foles had an outlier season in 2013 and peaked at the right time for the Eagles. Over his career, Nick Foles has a Quarterback Rating of 52.4 and an average EPA per dropback of -0.022. Blake Bortles has a career QBR of 45.7 and averaged -0.047 EPA per dropback over five seasons.

Nick Foles is, in fact, an upgrade over Bortles, especially when you consider his ability to execute within a great offensive structure. But the difference between both is not as massive as the Jaguars thought when signing Foles to a long-term deal. He will be dependent on his supporting cast, and also on John DeFilippo, who needs to scheme up to Foles’ strengths. That raises the next question: is “Flippo” allowed to run the offense precisely as HE wants, or does he need to follow the run-first approach by Doug Marrone and Tom Coughlin? Will they force him to distribute significant carries to Leonard Fournette? We need answers. But at least, we should expect a pass-happier, more QB-friendly scheme that increases the total efficiency.

Unproven Weapons

Marqise Lee comes back from his injury, and I expect him to be the unquestioned starter at the top of the receiving depth chart. He gets followed by third-year players Dede Westbrook (101 targets last year) and Keelan Cole. Veteran Chris Conley and second-year player DJ Chark should battle for roles to complement. The tight end depth chart reads underwhelming names like Geoff Swaim, James O’Shaughnessy, and third-round pick Josh Oliver. According to the Draft Network, Oliver lacks blocking and route-running skills, which seems like he shouldn’t see the field very often this year.  Swaim and O’Shaugnessy have a combined 81 career receptions. Running back Leonard Fournette is not a vertical threat in the passing game. It is one of the weaker receiving groups in the league and Flippo should be interested in more 11 or 10 personnel.

Jacksonville Jaguars Offensive Depth Chart Projection
Jacksonville Jaguars Offensive Depth Chart Projection

There are some questionable spots along the offensive line. Left tackle Cam Robinson is coming off an ACL tear and hasn’t proven to be a quality long-term starter yet. Many scouts praised second-round rookie Jawaan Taylor, who people expected to go early in the first round. He can be an impact starter at right tackle, but he is only 21 years old and hard to project. Brandon Linder is a stud center, whereas Andrew Norwell should bounce back from injury. AJ Cann is a below-average starter at right guard. Nick Foles switches from an elite offensive line and receivers like Alshon Jeffery or Zach Ertz to a downgraded supporting cast.

The Defense? Some Question Marks

The Jacksonville Jaguars still have a premium defensive line. Calais Campbell, Marcell Dareus, Abry Jones, and Yannick Ngakoue form an incredible pass rush on first down. The frightening part: both first-round picks from the past two drafts aren’t expected to start. DT Taven Bryan should still be the third guy in the rotation whereas Josh Allen should see most of his snaps in distinct passing situations when Campbell slides inside. With Allen’s coverage skills, DC Todd Walsh could get creative and use him as a linebacker in sub-packages. In the absence of Telvin Smith, former Packer Jake Ryan and some young guys will give their all to complement Myles Jack at linebacker. But Smith’s absence is a loss in my book.

Jacksonville Jaguars Projected Defensive Depth Chart
Jacksonville Jaguars Projected Defensive Depth Chart

Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye are stud cornerbacks and likely the best duo in the league. But behind them, it gets surprisingly thin on the secondary depth chart. Slot cornerback DJ Hayden had his first career year with a PFF coverage grade above 60 (73.7) which is likely going to regress to his career mean. For instance, a coverage grade of 60 would have ranked 88 out of 130 qualifying cornerbacks last year.

The projected starting safeties Jarrod Wilson (341 career snaps) and Ronnie Harrison (328) have a combined 669 career snaps under their belt. I don’t understand why the Jacksonville Jaguars didn’t draft a safety or tried to sign free agents like Tre Boston or Eric Berry yet. Outside of Ramsey and Bouye, this secondary is concerning. Overall, we shouldn’t expect this defense to play above their 2018 level, rather below, which challenges the offense even more.

2019 Schedule

Easy is something else. The current win totals markets at Pinnacle project the Jacksonville Jaguars to play the 13th-hardest schedule at 0.5050. However, in terms of 2018 EPA per play, their defense is projected to face the 2nd-hardest program in the entire league. Excluding rushing offense, Jacksonville is going to meet the most brutal schedule. And it makes sense when checking their actual 2019 schedule. They are going to play seven teams – KC, NO, LAC, IND (2x), ATL and CAR – that ranked top-10 in  EPA per offensive play in 2018. They only play against two teams who ranked bottom-ten: the New York Jets and the Oakland Raiders. With 22,508 miles, the Jaguars will travel the seventh-highest distance, with games at London, Denver, and Oakland. An intriguing scheduling spot:

Week 9 vs. HOU: It’s the first London game for the Texans and Bill O’Brien who are going to jump two more time zones than the Jaguars. It’s an advantageous spot for Jacksonville, but it could be priced into the line, depending on their travel schedule.

Jacksonville Jaguars 2019: Not Getting Outta The Slump

I am having a hard time seeing the Jacksonville Jaguars winning more than seven games this year. They aren’t built like a playoff contender. They have too many holes along their offensive line, tight end group, and secondary, which I do not see Nick Foles compensating with his play. The receiving unit as a whole is underwhelming, too. Especially not when considering the brutal schedule for their defense. Nick Foles might be a small upgrade over Blake Bortles, but he’s playing with a weaker supporting cast than he had with the 2013 and 2017-2018 Eagles.

I see the Jags in the range of 6-10 to 7-9 with an average to above-average defense but a below-average offense. The markets agree with me – their season win total took a lot of action on the under since the opener. It got bet down from 8.1 to 7.7 at Pinnacle. The current price for the Under is -137. My lean is on the Under, but the good price is long gone. The difference in break-even shifted to 7.3% since May 20th.

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