PerspectivesCole Pepper Jacksonville Today Contributor
Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke watches as players warm up before an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

SPORTS | A disconnect with Jaguars leadership?

Published on January 28, 2024 at 5:12 pm
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Aside from winning, Jaguars fans love little more than blaming someone (or several someones) in the organization when things go wrong.

It’s not a trait unique to Jaguars fans, but Duuuval seems to do it better than most.

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After the worst collapse in team history, the Jaguars fired nearly the entire defensive staff and several offensive assistants. Despite that, two men continue to be in the crosshairs of disgruntled Jags fans: offensive coordinator Press Taylor and general manager Trent Baalke.

During Baalke’s delayed season-ending press conference on Thursday, several points made by the GM deserve deeper analysis. It was clear that there is a disconnect between Baalke’s philosophy and Doug Pederson and Taylor’s approach on the field.

Let’s start with a statement that I believe is the most accurate thing Baalke said:

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“When you can’t run the football and later in the year, you can’t stop the run, that’s a problem in the National Football League,” Baalke said. “We’ve always prided ourselves on being able to do that; run the football, stop the run. For whatever reason, we weren’t able to do that. I think there’s a lot of moving parts to that. I don’t think it’s just player-related; I don’t think it’s just scheme-related. We’ve got to get bigger. We’ve got to get stronger. We’ve got to get more physical in the trenches.”

There is no doubt the Jaguars were not physical enough. The offensive line struggled all year and the defensive front went from one of the best against the run in the first half of the season to giving up chunks of yardage to opposing runners.

Baalke has a reputation as a talented evaluator of favoring bigger and stronger. It’s football, so why not? Some scouts tend toward speed as the top trait, while others look for instincts and football IQ. Ideally, you find a player with all of those traits, but it’s rare to find them all in one place.

What we’ve learned from the past two years of watching Pederson’s offense is that there is not an emphasis put on being a tough, grind-it-out offense. The Jaguars have been one of the worst short-yardage offenses in the NFL the past two seasons. The Jaguars had a better conversion rate on third and medium (3 to 6 yards to go) than they did on third and one and fourth and one.

Therein lies the rub.

The biggest mistake both Baalke and Pederson made heading into this season was the overestimation of the offensive line. They let Jawaan Taylor walk in free agency (a reasonable move considering the salary cap impact) and drafted Antone Harrison, who played well as a rookie. Aside from that, there were no major changes made to the offensive line until they traded for Ezra Cleveland late in the season.

If the Jaguars are going to return to the playoffs after the 2024 season, they must address the offensive line. Both guards and the center position can be upgraded, and a decision on how to handle left tackle looms in the future, with both Cam Robinson and Walker Little entering the final year of their respective contracts.

Baalke says he and Pederson are on the same page even more so than last year, and that they have “great communication, great collaboration.”

That may be so, but their football philosophies, at least on offense, don’t connect.

Lead image: Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke watches warm-up before the game against the Baltimore Ravens on Dec. 17, 2023, in Jacksonville. | AP Photo, John Raoux

author image Jacksonville Today Contributor

Cole Pepper has covered sports in Jacksonville since 1996, most recently for News4Jax. He is currently broadcast director for Sporting Club Jacksonville and has called play-by-play for a number of teams, including the Suns, Tomcats, Jacksonville University, Sharks and The Bolles School football. He also served as the studio host for the Jaguars Radio Network.

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