Disguising the Post with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Changing the post-snap contours in coverages has been a hot topic since the 2020 NFL season. It's become so popular, PFF and other analytics companies track it. I dive into how the Jaguars run theirs.
When current Jacksonville Jaguars Head Coach Doug Pederson got the job, his first order of business was to hire a Defensive Coordinator. Pederson reached out to long-time friend and colleague Mike Caldwell, the Buccaneers’ LB Coach at the time. The two had played on the 1999 Philidelphia Eagles* team and were on the same Eagles staff from ‘09-’12 under current Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid.
Caldwell has worked under current Buccaneers Head Coach Todd Bowles since ‘13 when he was the DC for the Cardinals. Until last year, Caldwell had never called plays. The Jaguars’ system is similar to what the Bowles has run for a decade. When looking at the two units’ coverage tendencies, they are almost identical.
In Caldwell’s first year in Duval County, the defense finished 23rd in DVOA and an abysmal 29th in passing DVOA (FTN). Last year, the Jaguars drafted two defensive starters: first-overall pick EDGE Trevon Walker (Georgia) and ILB Devin Lloyd (Utah). There are continually growing pains in the first year of a developing program, and Jacksonville’s defense was struggling.
Fast forward to this year, and the Jaguars are sitting 4th in DVOA after their win against the Steelers and heading into their bye. What was a glaring issue in ‘22 has become a strength of the team. Jacksonville’s passing and rushing defenses rank in the top five of DVOA, a far cry from last year. What is more impressive is that the Jaguars added no new starters to the defense. The sophomore jump is a real thing, and the young Jacksonville unit is gelling.
Currently, the Jaguars are 6-2 with a loss to the Chiefs and Texans. Other than the inexplicable loss to Houston, Jacksonville’s defense has not given up more than 21 points in a game. Looking at the Jaguars’ coverage breakdowns against their opponents, Caldwell has done a masterful job of tweaking the coverages week to week. One game in particular stands out: their last win against the Steelers.
Above is a visual spider chart that illustrates the coverage choices for each game. In black, the overall average coverage choices are shown. One game looks different than the others. Against the Steelers, Caldwell leaned heavily into Cover 2, running the coverage over 41% of their snaps (They average 14.1%!).
Not only was the coverage choice a complete 180, but the philosophy around blitzing was distinct. The Jaguars’ Passing Blitz Rate (PBR) is 33.1% on the year. Against the Steelers, that number dropped to 22.6%.
Caldwell is not a ‘big’ simulated pressure DC. He only runs them about 17.8% of the time. Again, against the Steelers, that number changed drastically. When the Jaguars blitz against the pass, 41.7% were simulated pressures (PFF). That is a significant jump.
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One concept that is trending around the NFL and at the college level is post-snap rotations. Starting in 2020 when Brandon Staley (Rams) and Vic Fangio (Broncos) ran a majority of their coverages from a two-high shell (both were around 80%). The trend has become so popular that PFF and other analytics companies have started to track them.