Film Review: Gardner Minshew & Jaguars Fall Short

By Tyler Arthur

The magic of the moustache just wasn’t enough. Except, maybe it would have been enough – if they trusted it.

The Jacksonville Jaguars visited the Houston Texans on Sunday to try and pick up their first win of the new season, having taken a loss to Kansas City in Week 1. The defense was on form, and they held the Deshaun Watson-lead offense to just 13 points, which is a genuinely impressive feat, but it somehow wasn’t sufficient to win the game. The Jags don’t have an elite offense, we know that, but when they could win the game with just 14 on the board, they need to get it done.

The Jaguars offense did practically nothing in the first three quarters, but neither did the Texans’. As the fourth quarter started, the score was a pitiful 3-6 in favour of the home team. The first touchdown of the game was finally delivered when Deshaun Watson rushed into the end zone, and the Jaguars had 11:35 to try and overcome a 10-point deficit. 

After Josh Lambo knocked a field goal through, the Texans were very much in game management mode, and the Jacksonville D did enough to keep them in it.

Jacksonville quarterback Gardner Minshew, who had a genuinely impressive outing after taking over midway through the Week 1 game, hadn’t done a whole lot throughout the majority of the game, but he took to the field with under four minutes to go, to try and mount the clutch drive.

This week we’re going to do something a bit different – we’re going to break down that drive, as a whole. 

Jacksonville Jaguars Drive Breakdown

Play 1 – 3:36 – 1st and 10.

The Jags start the drive on their own 32-yard line and get under way with a simple power run. Leonard Fournette expertly missed the gap which was beautifully opened for him by the pulling left guard Andrew Norwell. If Fournette followed the guard like you’re supposed to on a power run, he would have had a one on one with Johnathan Joseph. He wouldn’t have been able to make him miss, but he would have got more yardage if he actually followed the lead blocker.

Bad Fournette Run #1.

Play 2 – 3:22 – 2nd and 6.

The offense comes out in a spread formation and runs a ‘cross’ concept to the short side of the field, using a slant on the outside to create a rub for the flat route from the inside receiver. On the open side there is a simple double slant. Minshew takes an easy quick completion to the tight end and they gain four yards on the play. This is a nice fast rhythm throw for the quarterback, and he took what the defense gave him, to earn a manageable 3rd and short.

Play 3 – 3:00 – 3rd and 2.

Pay attention to this play, because it is probably the most important one in this first 2 minutes of the drive, in hindsight. The Jaguars give Leonard Fournette the football, and ask him to gain two yards.

Remember that.

After the motion, they had seven players blocking on this play, and Fournette got stuffed for a single yard. The run play was yet another power run with Norwell pulling. I wouldn’t moan at my running back for not being patient when he needs two yards, but once again, he doesn’t follow the guard to the point of attack. He needs to fix this, because Norwell is probably the best player on that offense right now and I don’t think anyone told their running back.

Bad Fournette Run #2.

Play 4 – 2:40 – 4th and 1.

They had to go for it here. You can’t give Deshaun Watson the ball back in this game. The Jaguars only have one timeout and so they need to make it happen on this drive, and they need this first down. They get it. Not very convincingly, but they get it. I won’t note this as a bad Fournette run, but it didn’t fill me with confidence, and please note that he only gained one yard. One yard, with eight people blocking for him.

Leonard Fournette is now rocking a line of 3 rushes for 6 yards on this drive, and has been tackled at his first point of contact on every play. Don’t ignore that, the Jaguars did. 

Play 5 – 2:00 – 1st and 10.

Going back to the pass, from 11 personnel, this play could have gone better. The defense is in man coverage so they dial up some horizontal routes to try and outrun the coverage. The outside receiver to the wide side of the field runs off his man, and then literally everyone except Leonard Fournette floods to that same side. Nobody gets open, and the Cover 1 Robber look from Houston locks down the play well. Gardner Minshew sensed pressure and rolled out of the pocket – I would criticise his decision to roll to the opposite side to his receivers, but he threw the ball incomplete so it wasn’t a major issue.

Play 6 – 1:52 – 2nd and 10.

Having seen that this drive was going to have to be more urgent than Fournette falling forward for a yard, the 2-minute drill offense went to the pass again. I wasn’t a huge fan of the play call, though. I have watched the Texans play for two weeks in a row, and I would say that even though they have very talented defensive players, you don’t need to call a play with two chip blocks. The play is a mirrored chip and flat route underneath a deeper out route. The defense has shown to be primarily in man coverage and sends a maximum of four on every play, so this call wasn’t really giving their QB much chance. He dumped it underneath to the flat, but unless he made his man miss, there was never anything there for the tight end – one-yard gain.

Play 7 – 1:35 – 3rd and 9.

After struggling to get more than a few yards on their first pass plays, the Jags do a good job of identifying a possible route to exploit the man coverage that they’d seen a lot of in the two-minute styled defense. The offense come out in trips, one of their preferred formations to pass out of, with Chris Conley split out on his own to the short side of the field. The play call is simple, it’s all curls. The three trips receivers do an absolutely awful job of getting open (shout out to the #2 receiver who runs his route so badly that he gets in the way of the #1 receiver), but Conley gets open on his comeback to the right of his quarterback. Gardner Minshew does a good job of stepping up in the pocket and throwing a nice ball on time, to get a first down. Conley stepped out of bounds and stopped the clock with the Jags now in enemy territory.

Play 8 – 1:11 – 1st and 10.

Straight back to the well. They changed up the look and went for a spread formation, but they ran the exact same play. Four-wide, all curls. And once again, Minshew delivers another easy pass to the sideline, this time to DJ Chark. The Jags had clearly identified Johnathan Joseph as the defensive back who was giving the biggest cushion, and they had consecutive first downs from the same route, now putting them in a really good position with over a minute to go.

Play 9 – 1:06 – 1st and 10.

The Jags return to the spread formation and the Texans decide to greet it with a very aggressive look pre-snap. They are practically screaming ‘Cover 1 blitz’ at this point.  And that’s exactly what they gave them, they rushed hard, and left their DB’s to protect one on one, with the safety net over the top in the form of a single high safety. Gardner Minshew saw that they weren’t bluffing, and had to make a quick throw. The play call was a ‘switch’ concept, with the outside receiver to the left running a slow-play slant, and the slot running an inside fade route (basically a narrow wheel route). Minshew threw up a ball to the outside on that switch route from the inside receiver, but it fell incomplete.

Play 10 – 1:03 – 2nd and 10.

Once again, they are in trips formation. This time, the short side of the field features a tight end, instead of a wideout. The play call is a sort of flood/sail concept, it’s difficult to work out whether the three receiver is on a curl route or an out route, but there’s an outside clearout route with an out breaking route underneath. The defense is very good, as it has been for most of the drive, and the Texans get some rare quick pressure on the quarterback. Minshew does an absolutely fantastic job of avoiding the sack and throwing an ‘if my guy doesn’t get it, no one will’ throw which went incomplete. This could very easily have been a sack, and they really didn’t want any negative plays in this situation.

Play 11 – 0:57 – 3rd and 10.

You know when you watch Hard Knocks and you see how massive the playbooks are, well Jacksonville only have about four plays, by the looks of it. I applauded them earlier for identifying the success of the curl against the Texans earlier in the drive, but now they go back to it again, running all curls for the third time in the last five plays. They do actually have a guy open, even though they’re running the same play again. Minshew’s throw is slightly outside of his target, but I don’t blame him for that, when you see how much space there was between Conley and the sideline. The play wasn’t bad, but on 3rd and 10, it put some real pressure on.

Play 12 – 0:52 – 4th and 10.

Here we go again, an incredibly important play. After converting on 4th and 1 and 3rd and 9, they now find themselves on 4th and 10. If they can’t dial up a play to get a first here the game is over. What play should we run? That one that didn’t work earlier. They go back to the flood concept, although with a slight variation by chip blocking into a flat instead of having two depths of out routes. The Texans – as they would have known – were playing man coverage, and locked up all three of the flood routes, and the backside dig isn’t open either. After a second or two, the very obvious man coverage has been confirmed, and now there are five defenders running with their backs to Gardner Minshew covering the three receivers, the tight end and Leonard Fournette – time to make a play. The moustache takes off, and scrambles for a first down, and extends the drive.

The only thing more important than the first down is the energy which he injected into the team. The stadium went quiet and there was suddenly a feeling that the Jags second-string QB had the game in his hands.

Play 13 – 0:43 – 1st and 10.

After the long scramble, the Jags found themselves on the thirteen-yard line, before the nervous Texans defense made a huge [should have been fatal] mistake. Just before the snap of the ball, the referees called up Houston for having 12 men on the field. Five-yard penalty.

Play 14 – 0:43 – 1st and 5.

Now that they’re in the 10-zone, the playbook switches up slightly (it seems to me quite clear that they had some pretty specific scripts for two-minute drill and now the red-zone offense). The Jags come out in a shotgun bunch formation, and they run a ‘mesh’ concept across the middle, creating a rub that springs James O’Shaughnessy open on his drag route, however he gets open at the exact same time that Minshew has to try and evade pressure. After successfully doing so, he has nobody open anymore, but he is able to scramble, and with a nice block from the no-longer open tight end, he manages to gain four-yards, and yet again applies even more pressure on the defense. His avoiding of J.J Watt on this play was excellent in terms of just a pure instinctive reaction, and sprung him outside where he made a play.

At this point, there is not a single person watching this game that can see the Texans stopping Minshew, and now they’re on the four-yard line.

Play 15 – 0:36 – 2nd and 1.

Let’s spend a minute on this one. The Texans are backed up on their four-yard line, and they have to stop the red-hot QB, who has now put up over 50-yards rushing (we’ll talk more about that soon) and has also been getting more comfortable throwing the ball. The way that they decide to do this is fascinating to me. 

When I say fascinating, I’m not being as positive as it might sound.

The Texans decided – this will sound familiar if you watched in Week 1 – that they would rather sit back with more people in coverage than rush the quarterback. They actually decide to rush only three. I absolutely hate this, like I literally can’t express how little I approve of the decision. They choose to put a defensive tackle in a QB spy. This spy wouldn’t have to be a bad idea, but using a visibly tired nose tackle, who literally didn’t move after he dropped into his spy position. The coverage [which had eight people in it….] was a congested Cover 2 look. There was a lot of defensive bodies in the middle of the field, and they had the trips side of the field covered. On the shorter side of the field, away from the trips, however, the safety with one of the two half-field zones, decided to switch into man coverage at an inopportune moment (any moment would have been inopportune against this play call).

Gardner Minshew

The offense came out in the oh-so-familiar trips left, that has been their favourite formation in this drive. O’Shaughnessy ran a sort of drag and sit type route, settling just wider than the right tackle, after starting from the left. Outside him, the one and two receivers have a pretty simple in-and-out combination – Dede Westbrook runs an out route, and DJ Chark runs a simple crossing route, behind the linebackers. The route on the far right of the formation is the one which seems to do the damage on this play. The dig route that breaks in from the right, drags the safety with it, and creates a gaping hole into which Gardner Minshew drops the ball in effortlessly to a wide open Chark on the crossing route.

Touchdown Jacksonville.

One-point game.

Play 16 (2-pt conversion) – 0:30

The Jaguars have the momentum. They have just driven 68-yards down the field and scored. Their quarterback is on fire. Minshew has been passing with success, scrambling with success and avoiding pressure with ease. The tension in Texas could be felt even through the television.

Here we go.

The commentator says it all, when he explains to the casual viewer why Doug Marrone is going for the win: “His quarterback has the hot hand right now. Why not give him a chance to win it on the road?”

‘What play did they run Tyler?’ I hear you asking, as you look for the diagram of the play art of the most important play of the game.

Just watch.

I’m not going to patronise you with describing what you just watched.

Let’s talk about why that play call was awful.

1 – Gardner Minshew has literally rushed for more yards than Leonard Fournette in this game.

2 – Minshew has the hot hand and is absolutely terrorising the Texans D.

3 – This drive, when it has mattered most, the run game was awful and the passing game has had success.

4 – We already saw two run plays where Fournette needed to get two and one yards respectively, and he barely succeeded on the second of those attempts.

5 – He hadn’t rushed the ball since those three attempts at the start of the drive.

Also, this one’s free. Leonard Fournette is bad.

This play call annoyed me when I first saw it because of the fact I don’t rate Fournette very highly. Then I came back and watched the drive again and I couldn’t believe it.

15 plays to get here, 68-yards, of which only six came from their running back.

I feel for Jacksonville fans, I really do. What an awful way to end what was nearly a brilliant comeback drive.

There is a simple message to be learned.

Trust the moustache.

Tyler Arthur

NFL Film and Prospect Analyst

A graduated Journalism student, Tyler also writes for Read American Football and Gridiron Hub. He played Wide Receiver and eventually Quarterback for his university team at DMU, and is now using his knowledge and passion for learning to dive deeper into the analysis of X’s and O’s in the NFL.