Trevor Lawrence could be in trouble in Jaguars’ limited passing game

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You’re never going to see everything a team wants to run in the first game of the preseason, and if the team’s coaching staff is new, you’re really not going to have a sense of what the plan is for a while, based on the tape. With that caveat in mind, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ offense in their 23-13 loss to the Browns should be a matter of some concern. First-overall draft pick Trevor Lawrence finished his day with six completions in nine attempts for 71 yards, two sacks, and one big play — a 35-yard completion to receiver Marvin Jones Jr.

Take that 35-yard play out, and Lawrence had a 4.5 yards per attempt average, and when you review what was designed by offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and passing game coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, it was a combination of swings and screens, the “All-stop” stuff that Amari Cooper told Dak Prescott to stop running a few years back, and long-developing isolation routes straight from Mike McCarthy’s Packers playbook. If Bevell and Schottenheimer were not going to give Lawrence designed openings in the intermediate and deep passing game, there were going to be problems.

And there were problems. Lawrence was sacked by former Jaguars defensive tackle Sheldon Day on his first NFL dropback, and he was sacked again with 1:14 left in the first quarter — this time by linebacker Porter Gustin. The 35-yard completion happened on the next play.

Lawrence had very few favorable route concepts.

The first sack, which was also a strip-sack, can be explained by the overhead view. https://twitter.com/NFL_DougFarrar/status/1427594570758455301 Maybe they should have run Tim Tebow over the middle. There's nothing else there, and nothing for Lawrence to hit with anticipation. The only target remotely open is Laviska Shenault Jr. on the quick in-cut to Lawrence's backside, and he probably should have hit that. Nothing else to go with, since Lawrence was living on borrowed time against the blitz. He's already running for his life before anyone else begins to get separation.

Plays took too long to develop, with few bailout routes.

The second sack happened on second-and-5, with the ball at the Jacksonville 18-yard line. The plan here seemed to be for Shenault and Marvin Jones to run deep crossers downfield, with running back Travis Etienne Jr. as the frontside outlet. Tight end James O'Shaughnessy motioned to the formation for extra protection, ostensibly giving Lawrence more time in the pocket to make the downfield throw. But both edges collapse in the timing of the play, which is an occupational hazard. Last season, right tackle Will Richardson allowed two sacks and eight total pressures on 57 pass-blocking snaps. Left tackle Cam Robinson allowed five sacks and 40 total pressures on 662 pass-blocking snaps last season, but he's busy doubling Sheldon Day inside. It's up to O'Shaughnessy and tight end Chris Manhertz to deal with defensive end Joe Jackson, and that didn't work at all, even with Robinson trying to hold the boat up at the end.

Lawrence had to resort to improvisation to get anything done.

Even the completion to Marvin Jones, as impressive as it was, was more about Jones adjusting to Lawrence's pocket movement than any schemed-up brilliance. This probably isn't the look you want on third-and-10 from your own 13-yard line, but that's just me. Rookie cornerback Greg Newsome, who I think will be a great NFL player over time, didn't know what to do with a veteran receiver adjustment.

"I mean, at the end of the day I've got to keep my eyes on my man [and] finish the play," Newsome said. "I don't know what is going on back there, but my job is to not let him catch the football and I let him catch the football. At the end of the day, I just got to stick my eyes to my man and finish the play."

It's time for Lawrence's coaches to go back to the drawing board.

Per Pro Football Focus, Lawrence completed five of six passes for 36 yards on plays in which he had 2.5 seconds or less from snap to throw. On attempts of 2.5 seconds or more, Lawrence completed the one pass to Jones, and had the two sacks. Not to say that the Jaguars shouldn't run long-developing plays in the passing game, but it might be time for some quicker openings. "I have not really had a chance to chat with him yet," head coach Urban Mayer said when asked if Lawrence held the ball too long. "I will. I'll certainly answer that question when I talk to him. But I asked the same thing to Bev [Darrell Bevell] -- not Bev, but Schotty [Brian Schottenheimer]. I said, ‘How did he play? He said, ‘He did pretty good.’ I thought the ball to his left right in front of us, I think it was third down, he really anticipated a nice out-cut, scrambled and delivered a nice one down to Marvin Jones, but I do believe he held the ball a little bit, and I've got to find out why. We've got to find out why." There's also the issue of why Lawrence's coaches didn't move him out of the pocket, which Lawrence addressed after the game. "I think using my legs a little bit in those situations when protection is great, "he said, when asked if he held the ball too long. "We don't have anybody open, they're just matching us well on defense. They had some good zone calls today. Just using my legs to extend some plays and put us in a better situation. I think I could have done that a little bit better tonight for sure, but no, it didn't have anything to do with me not trying to take a hit or anything." Quarterbacks, no matter how experienced and great they are, generally need favorable structures to perform at an optimal level. Through his first nine NFL attempts, Trevor Lawrence did not see that ideal structure. It is now on Meyer, Bevell, and Schottenheimer to flip the script.

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