Jaguars Still Trying to Find Offensive Identity

So they’re off the hook for the Jaguars managing an NFL-low 39 points in four games.

Coach Jack Del Rio, though, can’t escape what’s happening in Jacksonville, where the Jaguars (1-3) are dealing with the worst offensive start in franchise history.

It’s partly to blame for switching quarterbacks twice since the end of the preseason. It also has something to do with identity issues on offense.

Del Rio talked all preseason about running the offense through Maurice Jones-Drew, then announced last week he wanted to open things up with rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert following consecutive losses.

Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter responded by calling passes on nine of the first 10 plays, including seven in a row to start the game, in Sunday’s 23-10 loss to New Orleans.

Gabbert threw 24 passes in the first half alone. Jones-Drew, a two-time Pro Bowler off to his best start in six seasons, touched the ball three times.

“I got the same directive you guys heard,” Koetter said. “We’re going to grow with Blaine. We’re still going to use Mo. Mo looked great when he had the ball in his hands. Blaine is going to learn a lot and grow from this experience. It will do nothing but help us as we move forward.”

The Jaguars were more balanced after halftime, with Gabbert throwing 18 passes and Jones-Drew carrying eight times for 84 yards.

Nonetheless, Jacksonville came across somewhat lost in the play-calling department. With a receiving group that lacks a big-play receiver, an offensive line that was shuffled for the third consecutive week and facing New Orleans’ blitz-heavy scheme, the Jaguars chose to put a lot on the shoulders of their rookie QB.

The result was a third consecutive loss and a second straight 10-point performance.

“I think there are a lot of things that are very close,” Del Rio said Monday. “I recognize the fact that 10 points a game won’t get it done, and we have design on much better, much more, and need it. No amount of bellyaching is going to help that process improve.

“It’s execution, it’s taking care of the little details and making the plays that are there to be made. We need production, we need play-making and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Gabbert finished 16 of 42 for 196 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. He also was sacked three times.

But he showed signs of progress despite a second-half performance in which he completed just 4 of 18 passes. His 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Zach Miller was one of his better throws of the day, and he made a lot of correct reads against the blitz.

But he sailed a bunch of throws and missed several wide-open receivers.

His performance was somewhat expected since it was his second career start and it came against a Saints team that has given rookies all sorts of problems in three years under defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

Tight end Marcedes Lewis said Gabbert’s struggles had to do with his footwork.

“Once Blaine tightens his footwork up, we’re going to be fine,” Lewis said. “These are things that can be fixed. We need to find a healthy balance, just like in life. It’s understanding what your role is and embracing that role. We’ll be better. … We’ve got to turn this thing around.

“We feel like garbage right now because we lost, but regardless if you win or lose, there are things you can learn from and be better from.”

The field crew has room for improvement, too. The crew botched several yard-line markers on one side of the field Sunday, painting arrows pointing in the wrong direction. The error got national attention, much like Jacksonville’s offensive woes and seemingly strange play calls.

“I think each week takes on its own identity, has its own set of challenges and so we want to be a complete football team,” Del Rio said. “We feel like we are running the ball well now, we feel like we have a passing game that’s on the verge of doing substantially better and we’re going to continue to work to be a complete football team.

“We need growth in that area. … We’ll put the plan together that we think gives us the best chance to win each week. Some weeks that’ll require a lot more running, some weeks it’ll require a lot more throwing, but we expect to be good at both.”

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