Changes may come in Jaguars' run game

September, 23, 2013
9/23/13
12:30
AM ET
SEATTLE -- Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said his team has to find out what it does well offensively and concentrate on that in order to improve.

Right now, it’s not much.

It’s understandable that the passing game is struggling considering two of the top playmakers -- tight end Marcedes Lewis and receiver Justin Blackmon -- have yet to play this season. But the fact the running game struggling is surprising.

[+] EnlargeMaurice Jones-Drew
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesMaurice Jones-Drew and the Jaguars' running game have struggled to get going.
The Jaguars are averaging just 2.4 yards per carry and have rushed for only 156 yards in three games. Maurice Jones-Drew, the NFL’s leading rusher in 2011 (1,606 yards), has 115 yards on 44 carries.

Part of that is because the team has fallen behind and has had to pretty much abandon the run to try and catch up. But it’s also because of the struggles of the interior of the offensive line. Guards Uche Nwaneri and Will Rackley and center Brad Meester have not gotten the push they did two years ago.

The solution, Bradley said after Sunday’s 45-17 loss at Seattle, might be to change the way the team blocks. Instead of the zone-blocking scheme installed this year by offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch and offensive-line coach George Yarno, the Jaguars could switch to a man-blocking scheme.

"We saw some gap schemes open up that we executed [against Seattle]," Bradley said. "But again, we have to go back and find out who we are. Are we a better gap team than a zone team right now? It doesn’t matter where we want to go. It’s what best fits the personnel we have at this stage."

A zone-blocking scheme requires that offensive linemen create movement along the defensive line rather than opening a specific hole. In a man-blocking scheme, players are assigned certain defenders according to the play called and defensive adjustments, and the running back is assigned to hit a particular gap.

The Jaguars are apparently having trouble adjusting – and not just along the offensive line.

"Obviously we want to be a zone team and that’s new for everybody," Jones-Drew said. "The first week I didn’t do well with it and they were doing a very good job. So we just have to keep working on it. We’ll figure it out."

The ground game has been hampered by knee injuries to Rackley and Nwaneri. Jones-Drew left last week’s game with an ankle injury and was questionable for the Seahawks game. He tested the ankle in pregame warm-ups and was cleared. He ended up with 43 yards on 19 carries. His longest run was 8 yards.

Bradley didn’t say the Jaguars were definitely going to scrap the zone-blocking scheme they have worked on since minicamps and OTAs in the spring. But it’s something he will examine, because the offense has to improve, and that starts with the running game.

Jones-Drew is the team’s best player and he’s averaging just 2.6 yards per carry. That’s resulting in a lot of third-and-long situations, which is allowing opposing defenses to tee off in the pass rush. And since teams are rolling coverage toward wide receiver Cecil Shorts, the quarterbacks are trying to make plays by throwing to rookie Ace Sanders, first-year player Jeremy Ebert and a group of tight ends that includes two waiver-wire pickups (Clay Harbor and D.J. Williams) and Allen Reisner, who has played in just 13 games.

That’s not working. The Jaguars have to find something that will.

Mike DiRocco | email

ESPN Jacksonville Jaguars reporter

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