2020 NFL coaching changes: Jacksonville Jaguars

2020 NFL coaching changes: Jacksonville Jaguars

Coaching Change

2020 NFL coaching changes: Jacksonville Jaguars

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(Brett Davis, USA TODAY Sports)

The Jacksonville Jaguars opted to keep head coach Doug Marrone in charge for the 2020 season but made yet another switch at offensive coordinator — this time bringing in former Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden.

Gruden made a name for himself as an elite player and also a head coach in the Arena Football League. He won four titles as a player and another two as a coach, appearing in four total championship games while on the sidelines. He also appeared in one more title game, losing during his lone year as the head coach in the United Football League.

From 2002-08, Gruden served as an offensive assistant under his brother, Jon Gruden, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, including during their Super Bowl win. During the 2009 he was the OC in the UFL for the Florida Tuskers, and he became head coach of the franchise for 2010 season.

The NFL came calling once again in 2011. Then-Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis hired Gruden to serve as his offensive coordinator, a position he held for three seasons prior to joining Washington.

Table: Jay Gruden’s offensive ranks from 2011-18 (higher number is better)

Offense
Rushing Off
Passing Off
Year
Tm
Role
Yds
Pts
TO
Att
Yds
TD
Y/A
FL
Att
Yds
TD
Int
2011
CIN
OC
20
18
9
10
19
21
27
10
20
20
13
12
2012
CIN
OC
22
12
17
17
18
18
20
17
19
17
7
18
2013
CIN
OC
10
6
25
8
18
13
28
16
12
8
3
24
2014
WAS
HC
13
26
29
21
19
9
14
25
18
11
27
26
2015
WAS*
HC
17
10
15
14
20
20
30
22
20
11
13
9
2016
WAS*
HC
3
12
15
27
21
6
9
13
7
2
14
14
2017
WAS
HC
16
16
26
24
27
21
30
30
18
12
9
16
2018
WAS
HC
28
29
11
14
17
20
18
1
26
28
28
22

*Did not call plays

The 2019 season was removed from the table due to Gruden coaching only five games. He gave up playcalling duties following his first season in Washington, and after Sean McVay left for the Los Angeles Rams prior to 2017, Gruden resumed a dual role. Even with McVay was calling the plays from week to week, it was still Gruden’s offensive system, and the head coach would occasionally have to steer McVay back on course. Kevin O’Connell served as the official offensive coordinator, which meant he focused mainly on helping design game plans from week to week and making sure players understood their roles as well as the concepts.

Gruden is a bright offensive mind with considerable success, although he never has been able to consistently produce a dominant offense in the NFL. The most successful campaign came with McVay making the in-game decisions. Gruden wasn’t able to overcome suspect quarterback play when presented to him. He made a mess of the three-way situation with Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy in 2014, and we saw four actual quarterbacks throw passes in the 2018 hot start that quickly turned south after Alex Smith broke his leg. While it is fair to wonder what could have been with a healthy Smith, and/or whether the Redskins would be on a different trajectory had RG3 not battled so many injuries, here we are…

Gruden enters the 2020 season with a veteran journeyman in Nick Foles and a promising 2019 rookie in Gardner Minshew as his primary options at quarterback. There may be politics at play that force Foles into the starting lineup, but Minshew clearly was the better quarterback when given the chance.

The offense has roots of West Coast football, and Foles thrived in modified WCOs while with the Philadelphia Eagles. Perhaps this gives him a leg up on Minshew, but the 2019 John DeFilippo system was also carved out of a West Coast bedrock, and Foles was a dud.

Pass-to-run ratio

Table: Jay Gruden playcalling breakdown

Rk
Year
Team
Rush Att/G
Pass Att/G
Plays/G
Run %
Pass %
21
2011
Cincinnati Bengals
28.4
33.4
61.9
46.0%
54.0%
19
2012
Cincinnati Bengals
26.9
33.8
60.6
44.3%
55.7%
22
2013
Cincinnati Bengals
30.1
36.7
66.8
45.0%
55.0%
17
2014
Washington Redskins
25.1
34.2
59.3
42.3%
57.7%
14
2017
Washington Redskins
25.1
33.8
58.8
42.6%
57.4%
23
2018
Washington Redskins
26.0
32.0
58.0
44.9%
55.1%

Gruden prefers to set up the pass with the run and remain committed to the ground game. Even though he has passed more than run by 9 or more percentage points in each of those seasons, this is what balanced and committed to running looks like in the modern era. For example, only two teams (Seattle and Tennessee) ran more than passed in 2018 (Gruden’s last full year as a playcaller). Just Buffalo ran more than passed in 2017 … you get the point. Gruden’s patterns of playcalling over the course of a season from one year to the next have been remarkably consistent and create a much-needed identity for the Jags.

Personnel decisions

Jacksonville has the sixth-youngest roster and the second-fewest cap dollars available entering 2020 free agency. Voiding the contract of defensive tackle Marcell Dareus will save $20 million, and the majority of the money is tied up in a defense that needs to be retooled. No team has more cap space allocated to its defense. On the offensive side, none of the core starters are free agents.

The offensive line needs some work, and much of it can come through maturation. Staying healthy also is key, which can be said for most teams but feels more imperative in this case. Both tackles are key pieces to the puzzle and have to improve — particularly 2019 second-round rookie RT Jawaan James’s penchant for mistakes.

Fantasy football takeaway

Regardless of how the quarterback situation shakes out, Gruden has a young offense to shape to his ideals. We know what Foles is as a fantasy football option, and it hasn’t been pretty more often than not. Minshew has considerable upside but remains a backup option who has spot-start potential.

Running back Leonard Fournette struggled to be special on the ground most of the year and made up for it as a pass-catching machine for the Jaguars. He ran for 75 or more yards in five of 15 games. While Fournette had his moments, the LSU star scored just three rushing touchdowns and two came in one game. This could change with an upgrade among the receivers or by adding a running back whose game is built around this area of play. It begs the question if impending free-agent third-down back Chris Thompson will follow Gruden to Jacksonville. Fournette, in a vacuum, is rated as an RB2 with upside for more. Injury history and yet another offensive system to take in makes him somewhat risky, however.

Wide receiver is on the rise but still could use an upgrade. DJ Chark Jr. was the best of the lot in fantasy and a surprise in his second year. He has A.J. Green-like qualities to his game and could be a stud in 2020. Keep him on your short list of players who have broken out but still have room for growth. Dede Westbrook’s physical skills and durability limit his overall potential, but there is still some potential for a stronger year in 2020. Treat him as a flex consideration or a depth addition. Other receivers, Chris Conley and Keelan Cole, flashed at times in 2019 but are not draft-worthy options in fantasy entering 2020.

Tight end has potential in 2019 rookie Josh Oliver (back). He finished the year on IR and is still learning the ropes as a project player. Provided his recovery is not problematic, pencil him in as a sneaky fantasy option in an offense that has preferred the tight end position throughout the years.

Gruden is not a flashy playcaller, nor does he tend to surprise a defense too often. His system is all about execution and consistency. Fournette should be the biggest winner of this system change. Picking up chunks of yardage on early downs helps make conversions easier, and it allows the offense to take shots down the field when the defense moves to a Cover 1 or Cover 0 to stop the run. Stability through experience will be Gruden’s most important contribution to the Jaguars in 2020.

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