It’s pretty much all on the offensive line.
“I feel like we aren’t giving Leonard a chance,” Marrone said. “Things are happening too close to the line of scrimmage or even on our side of the line of scrimmage. I think the first thing we have to emphasize is creating that push or being able to get into the line of scrimmage before something happens."
Marrone made that comment after Fournette ran 15 times for 66 yards in the Jaguars’ 20-7 victory over Tennessee on Thursday. That total included a 69-yard run. Until that run, which came with 4 minutes, 38 seconds remaining in the game, Fournette had minus-8 yards on 11 carries.
Against the Titans, Fournette had only six carries that gained yards. He has 43 carries in the Jaguars’ three games, and 12 of those carries have gone for negative or no yards. He has had 13 other carries that went for 1 or 2 yards.
Per ESPN Stats & Information, Fournette is averaging just 1.8 yards before contact, which means he’s getting hit pretty much as soon as he gets to the line of scrimmage. He isn't getting a chance to reach the second level without having to break a tackle or get up to anything close to full speed.
The offensive line -- in which the Jaguars have invested heavily in both money and high draft picks -- is consistently getting beaten and not creating space, Marrone said.
“We’re not doing a good enough job up front,” Marrone said. “And I have no issues with how Leonard’s working and trying. I think he might be trying too much because of the frustration. I think that he has the ability to be a great player, but we have to do a much better job all-around, both coaches, myself.
“I look at the leverage stuff, what we’re doing, and we’ve got to get this thing going.”
The Jaguars started two second-round picks at tackle (rookie Jawaan Taylor at right and Cam Robinson, drafted in 2017, at left). Robinson, who missed 14 games in 2018 with a torn left ACL, missed the first two games because of a right knee injury, and the Jaguars started first-year player Will Richardson, who worked at right guard and right tackle during training camp and did not play as a rookie in 2018, in Robinson’s place. That there was some inconsistency at those spots is not a surprise because of the inexperience (and, in Robinson’s case, some rust).
The bigger problem is the inside of the offensive line, which is where the Jaguars have spent a lot of money. The Jaguars made Brandon Linder the NFL’s highest-paid center in average salary when they signed him to a five-year contract extension in 2017 (he’s now sixth). They also made Andrew Norwell the league’s highest-paid left guard when they signed him in free agency prior to the 2018 season (he’s now second, behind Dallas’ Zack Martin). In addition, right guard A.J. Cann signed a three-year, $15 million contract in the offseason.
Cann is making $805,000 ($1.06 million if he’s active every week) this season, but the Jaguars are paying Norwell and Linder a combined $18.5 million, all of which is guaranteed.
The Jaguars are averaging 90.7 yards per game rushing, which would be the third-lowest average in franchise history for the season. This is just two seasons after the team led the NFL in rushing with three of the same starters on the line (Robinson, Linder and Cann).
The Jaguars, by the way, averaged 107.7 yards per game last season on the ground, despite an offensive line ravaged by injuries (at one point, the team started four players who weren’t on the roster until October) and Fournette missing eight games.
Despite the offensive line problems, Fournette is averaging a career-high 4.2 yards per carry, which shows how much more effective he has been in his third season.
Marrone said the staff is examining the plays it is calling and whether it needs to simplify the schemes to ensure that the linemen can get better leverage and positioning. What makes things more frustrating is the fact that the pass protection has been very good: Jaguars quarterbacks have been sacked only five times through three games.
“We’re going to really put a lot of work into getting that [the run game] right because we know that as we keep going, it’s going to be very difficult for us to keep winning games unless we get this run game going,” Marrone said.