JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Calling it “not an exact science,” Jaguars coach Doug Marrone wants to do a better job of getting rookie running back Leonard Fournette the ball in “the right situations.”
The Jaguars (2-2) failed to get Fournette a touch during a key sequence in a 23-20 overtime loss at the New York Jets on Sunday.
Trailing 20-17 late in regulation, Jacksonville appeared to take the lead when Fournette turned a screen pass into a 23-yard touchdown. But the score was nullified because of a holding call on receiver Arrelious Benn.
The Jaguars were pushed back to the 16, and Chris Ivory replaced Fournette on the field.
Ivory gained 10 yards to set up a first-and-goal situation from the 6-yard line with 1:46 remaining. But Fournette didn’t touch the ball on any of the next three plays — all passes from Blake Bortles.
The Jaguars settled for a field goal and overtime, squandering a decent chance to steal a victory on the road.
“We’re still trying to do a better job of when we distribute all that stuff,” Marrone said Monday. “We’ve just got to keep doing a better job so this way when the right situations come up we can put him in there, get him in there, and he’s 110 percent and he’s good. … That’s something we can do a better job of.”
Fournette finished with 24 carries for 86 yards. He also had four receptions for 59 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown catch to end the opening drive.
So Fournette touched the ball 28 times in his 39 plays.
But Ivory and fellow running back Corey Grant got the ball on third-and-short plays in the fourth quarter, and neither moved the chains.
“It’s really a difficult thing,” Marrone said. “It’s easy afterward, ‘Oh, I wish we had him in this situation. … We’re always trying to constantly maintain how to manage the substitution level to make sure that the best players are in. … There’s a lot of things that go into it so it’s not an exact science, but it’s one that we continue to keep working on.”
Equally troubling for the Jaguars is creating some space for Fournette.
The Jaguars have run the ball against eight or more defenders in the box an NFL-high 48 times, including 16 against the Jets. They have 139 total carries, meaning 35 percent of those have come against eight or more defenders near the line of scrimmage.
Fournette has an NFL-high 29 carries against stacked boxes.
And part of the problem stems from losing leading receiver Allen Robinson in the season opener. Robinson tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee at Houston and had season-ending surgery. Marqise Lee, Allen Hurns and rookie Keelan Cole have failed to fill the void for Bortles.
The Jaguars are one of four teams without a passing play of at least 40 yards. The other three — Chicago, Houston and Miami — have changed quarterbacks since the preseason.
With opponents are essentially loading the box against Fournette and daring Bortles to beat them over the top without his big-play threat.
“We are running against some tough situations,” Marrone said. “We just have to make the plays down the field when we’re able to make it. We did have some opportunities and we weren’t able to take advantage for multiple reasons, whether it’s protection or just what’s happening on the other side of the field. …
“You have to start making those plays and doing those things to get people out of stacking the box.”