For the first time in nearly a decade, the Jaguars are playing meaningful games in December. As coach Doug Marrone pointed out on Monday, though, making the playoffs is far from a foregone conclusion.
“If you don’t win in December,’’ Marrone said, “nothing good is going to happen.’’
That literally goes double for the Jaguars, who have two areas of play that they’re going to have to improve on if they’re going to maintain their winning ways through the most important month of the season.
The first is their running game, which was held to less than 100 yards rushing for the second time in as many weeks on Sunday and can’t seem to get lead back Leonard Fournette back on track.
Since his return from a two-week layoff due to an ankle injury, Fournette has run the ball 77 times for just 226 yards (2.9 per carry) and one touchdown, that coming Sunday against the Colts.
Those numbers suggest Fournette is not as healthy as he suggests he is, but other numbers suggest that what Fournette is suffering from the most is a lack of top-level blocking.
First of all, neither Chris Ivory (12 carries, 13 yards) nor T.J. Yeldon (11-36) have run the ball any more effectively than Fournette has over the course of the last four games.
Second, the Jaguars produced a hard number on Monday that explains just how poorly their O-line performed against the Colts, who forced 13 “bad running plays,’’ which are runs of 2 yards or less in situations outside of short-yardage.
At least five of those plays came as a result of a defender being left unblocked, and this on a day when the Jaguars were only missing one starter, left guard Patrick Omameh.
And it’s not like the Colts are among the league’s best run stoppers. They came into the game ranked 13th in the league in that discipline, so they’re really nothing more than adequate.
That’s not the case with three of the four teams left on the Jaguars schedule. Seattle, which is up next, currently ranks eighth overall against the run; Houston is 10th and Tennessee, who the Jags wrap up the regular season with, is third.
The only opponent left that’s not in the top 10 is San Francisco, so as Marrone said, the Jaguars are going to have to figure out a way to beat all those stacked boxes they’ve been facing because they’re not going away any time soon.
“People have made a conscious effort to stop us in the run game, but when you’re a good running football team, you should be able to run the ball when everybody knows you’re going to run it,’’ Marrone said. “We’re not at that level yet.’’
Nor are the Jaguars at the level where they can count on their defense to stop the run from one week to the next. They appeared to be getting there after Marcell Dareus arrived but they took a tumble on Sunday.
After allowing just 166 yards rushing in the first three games Dareus played in and 108 (on 31 carries) in the fourth, the Jaguars allowed the Colts to run for 141 yards on 26 carries (5.4) on them on Sunday.
It would be easy say that was an anomaly and it may prove to be, but there’s no doubt those numbers raised some concerns within the camp of a team that allowed an average of 138.6 yards per game and 5.2 yards per carry through the bye week.
“Obviously we still have some work to do on that,’’ Marrone said of the rush defense. “We have to make sure that remains a focus.’’
It does indeed have to be a focus. For obvious reasons, the weather being the most obvious of them all, a team’s ability to run the ball and to stop the run become increasingly important as a season goes on.
And as we said, that goes double for the Jaguars, who are built to run the ball on offense and won’t be able to take full advantage of their best defensive weapons if they can’t stop the run there.
It’s safe to say then that if the Jaguars can’t figure out how to run the ball better and stop the run better, little to no good will come of these all important December games.
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