Jacksonville Jaguars 2021 Team Study

Part 19 of my 32-part series breaking down every team’s performance in 2021. Check out part 18 here: Tennessee Titans. Part 20 available now: Houston Texans.


Eff. RatingAdj. RatingRank
Offensive Eff. Rating (yellow and teal) v. opponent average allowed (grey).
Pass EPARush EPAAdj. Pass Rate

Well, Trevor Lawrence didn’t save the franchise in year one. He struggled, at least on the surface. They put the ball in his hands early and often and he failed to consistently deliver. Statistically, Lawrence was inaccurate, finishing with the 3rd-lowest on-target percentage on his throws. They struggled to get easy first downs and really struggled to get in the end zone, leading to the fewest points scored in the NFL.

But circumstances were set up for Lawrence to fail. Urban Meyer was a notorious failure as an NFL head coach. It’s difficult to overstate the (negative) impact he had on this team from day one. The players did not respect him and he seemed completely out of touch. He was not an effective schemer at the NFL level and the roster lacked the strong leadership required to overcome a bad head coach. They got far too many penalties, negating critical positive plays and stalling the offense when it had opportunities. The frustration was visible at times. This was a tough situation to navigate as a rookie quarterback.

Lawrence also got little help on the field. The run game was not particularly effective, with Etienne injured for the entire season and the coaches insisting on giving Carlos Hyde the ball. James Robinson only touched the ball 10+ times in 9 games, thanks in part to mystifying utilization and in part to injury. There was not enough creativity and misdirection on offense. Lawrence performed at his best on play action, but the Jags failed to establish the ground game sufficient to maximize play action opportunities. This should have been bread and butter for the rookie.

On top of that, his receivers seemed to never get separation. Almost every throw had to be perfect because defenders were always ready. They also had the 5th-fewest yards after the catch per completion, further evidence that the receivers were not getting open. That’s partly on the talent of the receivers but also on scheme. Most of Lawrence’s positive plays ended up as highlights because they were basically perfect throws.

These things are fixable. Doug Pederson will be a far better coach than Urban Meyer in every way. He comes from the Andy Reid coaching tree, which means he will draw up yards after the catch opportunities and try to make it easy for Lawrence. To Lawrence’s credit, he was excellent at avoiding sacks, finishing with the 5th-lowest rate of sacks per pressure in the NFL. This is a meaningful stat that tends to predict long term success at handling NFL defenses for young players. The four players above him in 2021 were Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Kirk Cousins, and Jalen Hurts. It also helps explain his statistical inaccuracy. He preferred to throw incomplete rather than take a sack.

Lawrence could throw absolute darts at times. His wind up is fast and he has good throwing mechanics and vision in the pocket. He will need to improve his footwork but that is easier to improve than poor vision. He also had good placement on many of his throws when he was comfortable. He just was not comfortable often. Ultimately he showed well in areas that tend to predict NFL success and showed poorly in ways that were tied to circumstances.

It’s still an uphill battle. He has to put in the work this off-season and Doug Pederson has to get the most out of this offense. But there are plenty of reasons the offense should be better next year. Travis Etienne should be healthy, providing another weapon. They overpaid for Christian Kirk (arguably) but he should still add another option for Lawrence in the pass game. We see talented quarterbacks emerge after a tough rookie year frequently, and I would anticipate this happens for Lawrence.


Eff. RatingAdj. RatingRank
Defensive Eff. Rating (yellow and teal) v. opponent average allowed (grey).
Pass EPARush EPABlitz RatePressure Rate

The Jaguars defense was also riddled with the hallmarks of poor coaching. They sold out to pressure quarterbacks with the 5th-highest blitz rate but this only translated to the 19th-best pressure rate. That’s a big miss, and tough to overcome as a defense. The scheme was not effective with the talent they had. On top of that, they had the 2nd-most missed tackles in the NFL. They weren’t gang-tackling and they weren’t in optimal position to make tackles. I never visibly saw a lack of effort on the field, but the numbers tell the story.

They allowed the 2nd-highest completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks and allowed the 9th-most yards after the catch per completion. It’s tough to defend the pass when you don’t get pressure and sacrifice coverage via blitzing, so opposing quarterbacks took the quick easy ones for big plays when the defense either blew a coverage or missed a tackle. When you have fewer players in coverage, it’s easier for offenses to create one missed tackle and really benefit.

The Jags were not as bad against the run. They had a fairly good defensive line that made it at least somewhat difficult for run-heavy teams to perform at their best. Taking out the Patriots beat down at the end of the year (the week half the team went on the Covid list), Chart A shows the Jags’ defensive Effectiveness relative to opponent strength by each opponent ranked by rushing EPA/play. As you can see, they trended worse against teams with lower rushing efficiency and had their best defensive performances against the Colts, Seahawks, and Bills, who all typically ran the ball well.

Chart A

Defensive Adj. Eff. Rating against each opponent ranked by rushing EPA/play on the season.
*omitted Week 17 v. NE due to massive Covid impact.
EPA data from Football isn’t played on spreadsheets.

But behind the defensive line they had a lot of flaws. I anticipated C.J. Henderson would lead the secondary and Myles Jack would build off an impressive 2020 but they traded Henderson and Jack took a step back. Maybe you can chalk it up to bad coaching and scheme, but the players ultimately didn’t step up in the second level behind the defensive line and Josh Allen. They’ll need to fix this.

Fortunately, the Jaguars have already started addressing these weaknesses. They had problems tackling, so they signed the NFL tackle leader in 2021 to replace Jack at linebacker. They lacked leadership and cohesiveness in the secondary, so they signed Darious Williams from the Rams. It’s hard to argue that Williams was an elite cornerback with Los Angeles, but he at least played with one of the NFL’s top units over the past few years. They hope he can bring that attitude and leadership to a defensive squad that has talent but not the team building required for a good defense. And they spent the number one overall pick on an edge rusher, hoping that Travon Walker’s talent will trump his lack of college production. I expect some improvement from last year but the issues won’t be fixed overnight.

Key Takeaways

When to bet on the Jaguars: I’m willing to bet that this team will immediately be better in 2022 than it was in 2021. My Effectiveness Ratings told the story of a team that was better than its record and likely underperformed due to coaching. I would be particularly likely to back them against a run-heavy team given their defensive proclivities in 2021.

When to fade the Jaguars: Depending on how the market views the Jaguars early, I’m not looking to fade them. They have the talent and perception is as low as it gets on this team. They had a lot of cap room to spend and good draft picks. I believe Doug Pederson will right the ship and it doesn’t make sense to get on the other side of that early.

What to look for in the offseason: They made some big free agent splashes early, at least in terms of money. It’s easy to say they overpaid for their acquisitions, but they still improved the roster. Then they took two day-one defensive starters in the draft, so they look to be heading in the right direction for balanced improvement.

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