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Sunday, September 29, 2013
Jags make no progress in ground game

By Michael DiRocco

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars offensive lineman Uche Nwaneri was clearly frustrated after Sunday’s 37-3 loss to Indianapolis.

Not just at the 34-point margin, but because of how poorly the team ran the ball. And not just against the Colts, either. The 40 yards on 18 carries was embarrassing enough, but it was just a continuation of a month-long struggle to find success on the ground.

"That’s an elite back right there," Nwaneri said, nodding his head toward Maurice Jones-Drew, who ran 13 times for 23 yards, the second-lowest total of his career in a game in which he had double-digit carries. "For him not to get yards, it makes me angry just because I know he should be getting yards."

Jones-Drew and the Jaguars haven’t been getting them all season. After four games they’re averaging 49 yards per game and haven’t rushed for more than 71, which they did in the opener. Jones-Drew has 138 yards on 57 carries (2.4 yards per carry) and his longest run of the season is for 10 yards.

Maurice Jones-Drew
Maurice Jones-Drew had just 23 yards on another frustrating day for the Jaguars' run game.
Though the Jaguars ran for fewer yards (34) against Oakland, that was somewhat mitigated by Jones-Drew leaving the game in the first half because of an ankle injury. The Jaguars’ longest carry against the Colts on Sunday was for 6 yards.

There are several reasons for the struggles, which is why it’s going to be tough to fix. The interior of the offensive line -- center Brad Meester and guards Nwaneri and Will Rackley -- have not played well, although they were better against the Colts than during the first three weeks. The unit as a whole has not adjusted to the zone-blocking scheme as quickly as was hoped. Teams are also stacking the box and not worrying about the passing game because of the Jaguars’ lack of playmakers.

The result is a paltry 2.3 yards per carry, which, if it were to hold for the next 12 games, would shatter the team record for fewest yards per carry over a season (3.8 in 1997).

"It’s very frustrating," Jones-Drew said. "We’re just not executing at the right speed and the right tempo to go out there and put up points. That’s something we have to continue to work on to fix. Obviously, yelling and screaming is not going to help. We have to look at each other and look in the mirror and see what we have to do better as a person and go out there and execute your job. And that’s on everybody."

The Jaguars ran more power and gap-blocked plays on Sunday than they had in previous games, but it didn’t make any difference. The Colts crowded the line of scrimmage by bringing a safety close to the box and limited the Jaguars to 2.2 yards per carry. Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said opponents will do that until his team can make plays in the passing game to force defenses into using two safeties in coverage.

"If we can get the defense to loosen up some …" Bradley said. “We’re seeing a lot of eight-man boxes, man coverage, extra guy on the shelf. We’re not seeing a lot of split safety. We have to get them in those situations to where teams just can’t load up the box and defend the run for us."

The Jaguars haven’t been able to do it because they’re devoid of playmakers in the pass game except for Cecil Shorts. Defenses are rolling coverages his way and making the Jaguars beat them with a mix of Ace Sanders, Mike Brown, Stephen Burton, Tobais Palmer and Jeremy Ebert. There’s no help at tight end either because Marcedes Lewis lasted less than a quarter before having to leave the game after aggravating a calf injury.

That’s no excuse, though. Four of the five starters on the offensive line are the same players who blocked for Jones-Drew when he led the NFL in rushing in 2011. The Jaguars averaged a franchise-low 136.2 yards per game passing that season.

"There’s been years before that we haven’t had a passing game and we’ve been able to run the ball," Jones-Drew said. "I just think we have to be more of a balanced offense. We’ve got to continue to run the ball efficiently, throw the ball, convert first downs and move.

"We haven’t been helping our defense out at all. We just have to figure out how to move the chains a little bit and start there."