Jacksonville Jaguars 2014 Season Review: A Defense on the Rise

Although the defense played well at the end of the season, Bortles' rookie struggles were too much for the Jaguars to overcome.

Over the last eight weeks of the 2013 regular season, the Jaguars finished a respectable 4-4 after losing their first eight games. Over the last half of that season, they played inspired football and looked like a respectable team. Many people, myself included, thought that this would carry over into 2014.

That looked to be true, when in Week 1 of the 2014 season, the Chad Henne-quarterbacked Jaguars were up 17-0 at halftime against the talented Philadelphia Eagles. Then, for the rest of that game and the next six weeks, we saw the Jaguars we have become oh so accustomed to seeing. Sloppy play on all sides of the ball led Jacksonville to a disappointing 1-10 start.

That being said, the Jaguars played much better football after their bye week for the second straight season even though they just finished 2-4 in those games.

Although there were a few bright spots for the team this season, our power rankings had them as the third-worst team in the NFL, ahead of only the Buccaneers and Titans. Their nERD score of -8.87 indicates that they would lose by approximately nine points to a league-average team.

So what exactly went well and not so well in Jacksonville this season?

The Good

While the Jaguars didn’t have much to brag about on offense, their defense played incredibly well over the last half of the season. According to our Adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) rankings, they ranked 18th on defense with an Adjusted Defensive NEP of 50.26. This means that the Jags allowed 50 points more than an average defense would have allowed. While it doesn’t seem extraordinary, that is a huge jump after last year’s ranking of 31st while allowing 119.99 schedule-adjusted points more than expectation.

Linebackers Geno Hayes and Telvin Smith, along with defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks all played well for the Jaguars. Smith is an incredibly fast linebacker who has the potential to become All-Pro if he fills out his frame. Marks had a Pro Bowl season that didn’t get enough acclaim simply because of the team he was playing on. These three players are the foundation of a young and incredibly talented defense that will hopefully continue to grow over the coming years.

Another star the Jaguars found this season was rookie wide receiver Allen Robinson. He finished with a respectable 41.17 Reception NEP, second on the team behind big-play receiver Allen Hurns. Throughout the season, though, you could tell that Robinson was quarterback Blake Bortles’ safety blanket. Before his injury, he led the NFL in catches for third down conversions. His 48 catches for 548 yards and 2 touchdowns were impressive for a rookie, but playing in Jacksonville along with the monster rookie wide receiver class the NFL saw this year led Robinson to little recognition throughout the league.

The Bad

The Jaguars drafted Bortles to be their “quarterback of the future” with the third overall pick in last year’s draft. We all know that rookie quarterbacks don’t always have an easy time adjusting to the speed and pace of the NFL, but Bortles had a really hard time. His Passing NEP of -97.97 was good for sixth worst in the NFL over the course of the last 15 years. His play, even as a rookie, places him with the likes of David Carr, JaMarcus Russell, Ryan Leaf and Akili Smith.

To put his NEP in terms of 2014, the next worst Passing NEP was Derek Carr at -40.94, more than two times better (if you can even say better) than Bortles. Although he did throw for 2,908 yards, he finished with 11 touchdowns and 17 interceptions and a poor 69.5 quarterback rating. His NEP was so bad that even while the Jaguars rush offense ranked 19th in Adjusted Rushing NEP, the overall offense was still ranked dead last with an Adjusted NEP of -105.10. As you can probably tell by now, the passing offense was ranked last as well, and it wasn’t even close.

Another overlooked issue for the Jaguars was running back Toby Gerhart. In March of 2014, he was signed to a three-year, $10 million contract. His play from Minnesota simply didn’t translate this season, and he finished with a -14.00 Rushing NEP, which ranked just 34th out of the 43 running backs who saw at least 100 carries. His replacement, Denard Robinson, finished with a -10.42 Rushing NEP, 29th in the subset.

Robinson successfully added NEP on the ground on just 36.30% of his carries, 34th in the group. That was still better than Gerhart, whose Success Rate of 33.33% ranked ahead of only Knile Davis among 100-plus carry backs. Both Ranked outside the top 30 in this group in Rushing NEP per carry, too.

Looking Ahead

Las Vegas has the Jaguars with 300 to 1 odds to win Super Bowl 50 in 2016, and we know that’s not in the cards for Gus Bradley and company even though they were one of the most improved teams in the NFL this year.

The Jaguars have brought in coaches Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett from Buffalo as assistants who could bring some further expertise to a struggling offense. If the team can get troubled wide receiver Justin Blackmon back from suspension, they could form a formidable wide receiving corps along with Robinson, Marqise Lee, and Hurns. If Bortles is able to improve (which is a big if), this could be an offense that surprises people in 2015.

As for their defense, which finished 17th in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play this year, a few key additions -- perhaps defensive linemen in the draft -- could help the Jags continue to trend upward on defense.