The Jacksonville Jaguars are still reaping the rewards of their 44-7 dismantling of the Baltimore Ravens in London last Sunday. Come Wednesday, for example, tight end Marcedes Lewis may very well earn AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.
If he does, he should give a shout-out to Jaguars offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett for finally getting him and the other Jaguars tight ends involved in the passing game.
Prior to taking on the Ravens at Wembley last week, Jaguars tight ends had been targeted just seven times in two games. They nearly matched that number against the Ravens, with Lewis (five targets) and James O’Shaughnessy (one) combining for six total targets.
What’s most important of course, is that those six targets resulted in five receptions for 74 yards and the three touchdowns that Lewis scored in tying the franchise record for touchdown catches in a game that he now shares with Jimmy Smith and Allen Robinson.
Interestingly, it was the absence of Robinson that prompted the slight philosophical change, Hackett deciding that the best way to get an offense that had been struggling to gain ground in any fashion without its best player needed to make better use of some of its lesser-known weapons.
That means Lewis, who is thought of mostly as a blocking tight end but has the ability to be so much more. He just needs the right situation and Hackett created several such situations last week against a defense that had given up just 10 points in its first two games.
The first thing Hackett did to set Lewis up for his big day was spread out the offense. That took the eighth defender the Jaguars had been seeing inside the box out of it and created opportunities for Lewis to find room to work as a pass catcher off short and intermediate routes.
The second thing Hackett did was design plays that greatly disguised Lewis’s intentions. For example, on the play that resulted in the first of Lewis’s three touchdowns, Lewis stayed in line as a blocker through two run fakes, one to Chris Ivory and another to Marqise Lee.
— NFL France (@FirstDownFR) September 24, 2017
It was only after the second of those two run fakes that Lewis disengaged from his blocking assignment against linebacker Tyus Bowser and broke up field. By then, he was looking at an empty end zone and thus became an easy target for what proved to be 17-yard touchdown pass.
The second of Lewis’s touchdowns came as a result of a well-designed and of course perfectly executed play as well as Lewis lined up as a blocker yet again, this time in one of the very few two-back sets the Jaguars ran out of all day.
He did it again. Marcedes Lewis cannot be stopped
— NFL (@NFL) September 24, 2017
There was no fake on this one, though. Instead, Lewis broke off the line and ran straight down the seam. The key to success, though, was the work of wideout Arrelious Benn, who went in motion to the right and flared out to the right as he ran his route, drawing the safety his way.
That left Lewis in a one-on-one matchup against linebacker C.J. Mosely, who was beaten off the snap and never had a chance once quarterback Blake Bortles lofted a perfect touch pass over his head that Lewis jumped up and caught for the 30-yard score.
Now, it’s only fair to point out that the Ravens have been having trouble stopping tight ends all season. Browns tight ends David Njoku, Seth DeValve and Randall Telfer combined for six catches (off six targets), 108 receiving yards and a touchdown the week before.
And were it not for the fine touch that Bortles put on all three of the touchdown passes as well as the time he was afforded by his offensive line to make those passes, they probably wouldn’t have resulted in the scores they did.
But it was a combination of Lewis’s underrated athletic skills and the fact that Hackett designed plays and created situations that allowed Lewis to excel that laid the foundation for what proved to be the veteran tight end’s best day ever as an NFL pass catcher.