The Honolulu Blueprint: 4 keys to a Lions victory over the Jaguars

Pride of Detroit

In Week 13, The Detroit Lions are hosting the Jacksonville Jaguars at Ford Field in a battle between two teams that look better than their 4-7 records.

Let’s take a closer look at the key things the Lions need to do against the Jaguars in order to keep their winning streak going. Check out the odds for this game courtesy of our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook.

Jaguars’ base schemes

On offense, coordinator Press Taylor joined the Philadelphia Eagles’ staff in 2013 as a quality control coach under then-head coach Chip Kelly. Doug Pederson took over the Eagles in 2016, hired Frank Reich as their offensive coordinator, and kept Taylor on as an assistant quarterbacks coach. Pederson and Taylor remained together through 2020 when the staff was all fired, and in 2021, Taylor joined Reich in Indianapolis as a senior offensive assistant. When Pederson was hired in Jacksonville, he offered Taylor the Jaguars offensive coordinator job.

In the Jaguars scheme, you’ll see a lot of former Eagles and Colts influences. They’ll primarily be run-first but will show a variety of personnel looks. They’re aggressive in their situational play calling, aren’t hesitant to go for it on fourth down, and enjoy taking gambles on two-point conversions.

On defense, coordinator Mike Caldwell is a former NFL linebacker who was drafted into the league by the Cleveland Browns, under then-coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Nick Saban. He began his NFL coaching career in 2008, mostly as a linebackers coach, but his biggest breaks came in 2015 when then-Jets coach Todd Bowles hired him as his assistant head coach/linebackers coach. He stayed with Bowles until 2021, even shifting over to Tampa Bay the last two seasons.

Like with Bowles, Caldwell runs a 3-4 base that alternates between a 3-4, 3-3, and 2-4 fronts with a lot of subpackage looks. Regardless of how many they line up with on the line of scrimmage (three, four, or five) they typically end up only rushing four. In the secondary, zone coverage is prevalent, as they take a bend-don’t-break approach and try to be opportunistic with takeaways.

This look is from the Jaguars-Chiefs game in Week 10, and with Kansas City’s offensive firepower, Jacksonville used a lot of subpackage look with three corners. The Jaguars had a bye in Week 11, then faced the Ravens in Week 12, and made a few alterations to their defense.

Against the Ravens, the Jaguars used more three safety sets and Cover-1 man concepts, likely as an adaptation to Baltimore’s run-first offense and tight end usage.

Whenever a team is coming out of a bye, it’s hard to ascertain if any changes in their defensive approach are due to a change in philosophy or matchup specific to their opponent. It makes sense to adapt the secondary to a more safety-heavy look against the Ravens, but it’s also worth noting that the Jaguars corners—outside of Tyson Campbell—have been struggling, which could have also played a factor.

Against the Lions, who are more balanced on offense, the Jaguars will likely need to alternate approaches and adapt to personnel.

Keep a balanced attack

The Jaguars defense started the season off very stout, but over the last two weeks they have given up 162 and 155 rushing yards to the Ravens and Chiefs respectively. Their DVOA run defense lands at No. 13 overall, but Jaguars writers believe the regression goes beyond the numbers.

The Lions possess the No. 9 rated DVOA rushing offense and have only been held below 95 yards rushing once this season (Miami). The best path to success for the Lions will be to attack the interior gaps, where they have found the most success, and that is also where the Jaguars are most vulnerable.

While the Lions need to establish the run, the Jaguars linebackers are capable of adjusting and filling those gaps, and the Lions will need a counter punch at the ready.

Depending on the Jaguars approach to coverage, the Lions will have opportunities to move the ball. If they are in Cover-2, DJ Chark and Josh Reynolds will need to find space in the zones between the corners and safeties. Cover-1/3 will open up an opportunity for Amon-Ra St. Brown to find space down the seam.

While there will opportunities to move the ball, the Lions need to be sure they remain active and balanced, without becoming complacent. The Ravens put up a lot of yards last week against the Jaguars, but they got into trouble when they became too stagnant in their play calling, and it eventually led to a loss. The game prior, the Chiefs’ balanced approach kept the Jaguars on their heels and led to Jacksonville’s biggest loss of the season.

Win the strength-on-strength battles

The Jaguars only have 17 sacks on the season (third worst in the NFL) but their pass rushers are arguably their most talented players on defense and feature two top-7 picks: Josh Allen (No. 7 in 2019) and Travon Walker (No. 1 in 2022).

Jacksonville will shift their front to match offensive personnel, but in their base scheme, Allen will typically draw right tackle Penei Sewell, while Walker will square off against Taylor Decker.

“In a lot of ways, it’s strength-on-strength when you look at it from our perspective, but they do a great job,” Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said on Thursday. “They’ve got two great edge defenders with Josh Allen and then the rookie, Walker, he’s coming on long. And then they have depth as well. They’ve got some really good pass rushers that could potentially wreak some havoc. They’ve done that all year. I don’t know if their sack numbers are up, but the pressure numbers are there, so we’re very aware of that.”

The Lions rushing game should attack the interior of the defensive line, and their pass catchers should look for openings in zone, but for either of those two facets to work, they’ll need to win the battle on the edge. If Jared Goff is pressured, the passing game will be rushed, which typically leads to problems. If the Jagaurs edge rushers can move bodies, it’ll condense the rushing windows for the Lions running backs.

For the Lions offense to continue as a top-12 unit, their success will start with their tackles.

Get an early lead

In the Lions victories this season, they have found a way to get on the board early. In each of their four wins, they were either tied or held a solid lead entering the half. Against Washington, they were up 22-0, up 8-0 versus the Packers, tied at 10 with the Bears, and were up 17-6 on the Giants.

Jacksonville wants to establish their running game and in late October/early November, Travis Etienne rattled off three 100-yard rushing games against the Giants (114 rushing yards), Broncos (156), and Raiders (109). He also scored four rushing touchdowns (the only four this season) during that three-game span. Etienne is currently dealing with a foot injury—he was forced out versus the Ravens and has been limited in practice this week—but he is likely to play against the Lions this week.

The Jaguars will try and establish the run, and it can be one of their strengths, but they have also shown that they will also abandon it if they are trailing. This makes life a lot harder for the Jaguars, and will certainly help the Lions, but Jacksonville will always have a shot to stay in games because of 2021 No. 1 overall pick, quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

Force Trevor Lawrence to work through progressions

Lawrence had a challenging rookie season under Urban Meyer but is starting to find his groove halfway through his first season with Pederson.

“I’ll tell you this, he’s been doing a really good job of getting the ball out of his hands, understanding exactly what the coverage is,” Lions’ defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said of Lawrence. “And they do a good job schematically of forcing you to show your hand for the most part. And he knows exactly where to go with the ball… We have to do a really good job of getting in this guy’s face and try to take away his first target and make him try to progress throughout the route concept and try to get to his second or third options.”

The Jaguars have plenty of offensive weapons, and Lawrence can get all of them the ball, so the trick for the Lions will be to disrupt his rhythm. For that to happen, the Lions secondary—who look like they will be returning top corner Jeff Okudah—needs to have early tight coverage on passing plays, and then their pass rush needs to push the pocket.

The key player in these scenarios will be Alim McNeill. He will be tasked with beating left guard Tyler Shatley—who took over starting duties in Week 6—and rookie center Luke Fortner. If McNeill can disrupt the pocket and make Lawrence uncomfortable, it’ll go a long way toward defensive success.

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