Jaguars-Chiefs: Jacksonville's Ground Game Returns, Controls Clock in Win
At first glance, the Jaguars don't appear to be back from an off week of running the ball.
Jacksonville's 170-yard output Sunday against the Chiefs fit right in with the Jaguars' previous two games, in which their rushing attack—the NFL's sixth-best through nine weeks—hit for over 150 yards, including 217 in last week's 30-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans.
Running back Maurice Jones-Drew's 97 yards against Kansas City, too, was relatively pedestrian—only slightly above his 92.1 rushing yards-per-week average.
But Jacksonville's 41 carries (29 by Jones-Drew) were a marked improvement after the Jaguars managed only 16 rushing attempts while getting blown out at Tennessee. This week, Jacksonville wore the Chiefs' defense and the game clock down, run by run, en route to a 24-6 lead late in the fourth quarter.
By the time Kansas City's offense found the end zone for their first touchdown with 2:41 left to play, it was too little: Jacksonville's 36 minutes of possession had ensured that the Chiefs' ensuing 15-point run would come too late.
In calling a run-heavy game, the Jaguars channelled the source of their other three wins this season. Including Sunday's victory, Jacksonville's rushing attack has led the way with at least 30 attempts in each of those four contests, averaging just under 35 per game.
The Jaguars' four losses, by contrast, were games in which they ran the ball less than 20 times on average. Jacksonville's 26 carries in a hard-fought 14-12 loss to the Indianapolis Colts were the closest the team has come to that 30-run benchmark in defeat.
Counting runs, admittedly, seems like hindsight reasoning. Generally, teams run the ball to kill clock when leading and pass the ball to come back when trailing, meaning rush attempts can be a symptom of success instead of its cause.
Even with the caveat that winning tends to inflate run totals, though, NFL teams can have markedly different winning styles.
Having won their first eight games, the Colts are averaging under 23 runs a game while typically attempting over 39 passes. The Jaguars, for comparison, are only 1-1 in games where quarterback David Garrard has thrown the ball at least 39 times.
Indianapolis' offense is built to win with the pass; Jacksonville's, obviously, isn't.
Primarily, the Jaguars' hang-up is their lack of quick-strike capability. Despite having an effective offense which ranks ninth in the NFL in yards per game, they put up less than 20 points on average.
Without the ability to quickly and consistently answer opponents' scores, Jacksonville's best bet this season has been to establish the running game on time-consuming scoring drives. The Jaguars' 36-minute time of possession against Kansas City was on par with their average in wins against the Titans, Houston Texans, and St. Louis Rams.
All four of those teams, of course, rank among the bottom half of the NFL in terms of stopping the run. Three of Jacksonville's four losses have come against run defenses in the top half of the league.
Sunday, the Jaguars followed up on a loss at Tennessee marked by sporadic over-consumption on the ground with a win against the Chiefs that featured a steady diet of solid runs—only two went for more than 10 yards.
For Jacksonville, it's that kind of slow and steady that wins the game.
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