Break It Down: Maurice Jones-Drew does it all
In Break It Down, I will go back and analyze the Xs and Os of a play or performance from Sunday that stood out above the rest.
Maurice Jones-Drew’s 2011 season has been nothing short of remarkable.
Playing on a 4-9 Jacksonville team with a rookie quarterback, who has been so bad at times that pundits are wondering if the Jaguars should spend another first-round pick on a QB in 2011, Jones-Drew has piled up 1,570 total yards and leads the league in rushing with 1,222 yards.
Sunday, in a 41-14 rout of the Buccaneers, Jones-Drew broke the franchise record for career touchdowns — his four against Tampa Bay (two rushing, two receiving) gave him 73 all time, topping Fred Taylor’s previous record of 70.
If Jones-Drew was on any other team, especially a playoff contender, he’d be on the outskirts of the MVP and Offensive Player of the Year conversations. It’s time to give him his due.
But before we venture any further, let’s get this out of the way: When Gabbert plays like he did Sunday, with 217 yards passing and two touchdowns, it makes Jones-Drew that much dangerous. For example, Jones-Drew’s first TD, a 1-yard run, was set up by a 62-yard pass from Blaine Gabbert to Marcedes Lewis. But this was just the third time all year Gabbert had topped the 200-yard mark, and the first time he did so in a win.
Let’s take a look at Jones-Drew’s first receiving TD, which came in the second quarter.
Jones-Drew lined up to Gabbert’s right, then ran a little flare out to the near pylon. Gabbert looked over the middle, then checked down to Jones-Drew for the score.
The Jaguars utilize Jones-Drew in a variety of ways out of the backfield, and that was just the start of what they had in store for Tampa Bay.
Part of what made Jacksonville so potent offensively in Sunday’s win was their balance — Jones-Drew rushed for 85 yards and had 51 receiving. Here’s the setup for his longest run play of the day, a 14-yarder:
You’ll notice one of the themes of the day here: Tampa Bay’s defense jammed up close to the line of scrimmage. On this 1st-and-10, the Bucs had five defenders on the line, two more linebackers in the box and both cornerbacks in press coverage. Jacksonville ran anyway.
And the Jaguars’ offensive line absolutely blew Tampa Bay back. Jones-Drew found the hole, but on this play, it was approximately the size of Rhode Island, so his task wasn’t a difficult one.
That offers a chance to point out that this isn’t exactly a new phenomenon — while the Jaguars have allowed 35 sacks this season (ninth-most in the league), they have done a solid job paving the way for Jones-Drew. He has not averaged 94 yards per game simply by breaking 100 tackles every week, even if it sometimes feels that way.
But back to Sunday. One of the reasons Gabbert’s play has improved, ever so slightly, over the past couple of weeks is that Jacksonville has used Jones-Drew as a pass-catcher more often. MJD has 35 receptions on the season, but 20 of those have come in the past four games.
A perfect example of Jones-Drew’s increased role in the passing attack came in the fourth quarter Sunday, with Jacksonville facing a 3rd-and-10 at the Tampa Bay 42.
Jacksonville went to the shotgun with four receivers and Jones-Drew to Gabbert’s left. The Bucs showed blitz, then mostly dropped out and brought five rushers.
Jones-Drew slipped out of the backfield on a screen pass, with Uche Nwaneri out in front of him … and no Tampa Bay defenders in sight.
Jones-Drew immediately turned upfield and headed for the first-down marker. Nwaneri provided just enough of a block to give Jones-Drew a tiny crease in the closing defense — and that’s all he needed.
Jones-Drew consistently is one of the hardest running backs in the league to bring down, and on this play, he hurdled Nwaneri, split three defenders and broke a tackle before being brought down at the Tampa Bay 25.
Later in the drive, Jones-Drew found the end zone for the third time and the second as a receiver. Just like on the screen pass, he was the No. 1 option for Gabbert on a third-down play.
There was nothing flashy about the route — a simple circle route took Jones-Drew outside the pass rush and wrapped him around the defense at the first-down line. Gabbert tucked one in and Jones-Drew did the rest, fighting off three defenders to back into the end zone.
This is a perfect example, though, of why teams have so much difficulty defending Jones-Drew. The draw play was a definite option on 3rd-and-4 from the Tampa Bay 5, and we’ve seen already two other routes Jones-Drew ran well out of the backfield. So, who do you cover him with if you’re a defensive coordinator?
But back to the ground game …
As the Jaguars worked to put the game away in the fourth quarter, Jones-Drew saw even more carries. The one pictured below, on 1st-and-goal from the 9, was one of his better individual efforts. It was a run-formation, single-back setup from the Jacksonville, with a tight end motioning into a fullback-type position.
The blocking, again, was solid, giving Jones-Drew space and options.
And once Jones-Drew got to the line, all it took was the tiniest of cutbacks to break the play open. The red line displays where he was headed originally; the yellow line shows where he wound up going.
That slight move propelled Jones-Drew through the line and into a one-on-one situation with Bucs safety Tanard Jackson. The collision between the two happened at about the 5, but Jones-Drew lowered his shoulder and plowed over Jackson to gain four more yards.
He scored from one yard out two plays later — but not before the Jaguars asked him to show off his blocking prowess.
That’s maybe the most underrated part of Jones-Drew’s game. For all he does on the ground and catching passes, he can be on the field as much as he is because he is a terrific blocker.
Here, the Jaguars called a play-action pass out a goal-line formation:
Gabbert’s fake left Jones-Drew one-on-one against rookie Da’Quan Bowers, a 6-foot-4, 280-pound defensive end. Jones-Drew is listed at 5-7, 208.
There aren’t a lot of backs in the league who could pick up that block cleanly — and even fewer who would be willing to do so. Jones-Drew never hesitated.
Because he plays in Jacksonville for a team that’s long been out of the playoff race, Jones-Drew has not gotten the attention he deserves this year. But as Sunday showed, there may not be a more well-rounded running back in the entire league.