No Signs That The Running Game Will Improve

The Jaguars have auditioned four running backs and none of them have experienced much success running the football. Is it a lack of talent on the offensive line or in the backfield?

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Another week, another loss, another case of the Jacksonville Jaguars failing to establish much of a running game.

Even in the modern pass-happy NFL, the need to move the ball with some degree of effectiveness on the ground hasn't gone away. In perhaps the most vivid illustration of that point, the only two remaining winless teams happen to rank 31st and 32nd in rushing offense.

Despite outgaining the Tennessee Titans in that category Sunday in their 16-14 loss to them, the Jaguars dropped behind the Oakland Raiders and are now last with an average of only 69.5 yards a game. Their 417 yards as a team in six games is barely more than what Justin Forsett, who was seldom used in their backfield a year ago, has gained by himself for the Baltimore Ravens this season.

"We need to become more efficient in our run game. It seems like a broken record," head coach Gus Bradley said Monday.

A change in the starting running back didn't change that tune. Rookie Storm Johnson opened in place of the injured Toby Gerhart and had seven carries in the first quarter as the Jaguars tried to become less dependent on the passing of Blake Bortles.

But Johnson finished with only 21 yards on 10 carries, while Denard Robinson and Jordan Todman combined for 23 yards on eight carries. Not only did Bortles throw for a career-high 336 yards against the Titans, but he also led the Jaguars in rushing with 38 yards.

Though the eight rushing first downs they had in the game were double the amount from their losses at Philadelphia and Washington to begin the season, it wasn't enough to impact the outcome.

"I would say there's progress," Todman said. "The biggest thing we want to establish it being consistent. Obviously that's tough."

NFL'S WORST RUSHING TEAMS

TEAM YPG YPC LEADING RUSHER (YARDS)

32. Jaguars 69.5 3.6 Toby Gerhart (123)

31. Raiders 72 3.9 Darren McFadden (231)

30. Cardinals 85.6 3.5 Andre Ellington (305)

29. Lions 86.3 3.2 Joique Bell (226)

28. Panthers 86.8 3.4 Cam Newton (149)

An offensive line that starts two rookies and didn't have right tackle Austin Pasztor available for the first four games makes it even more of a challenge to establish consistency. And with Marcedes Lewis, one of the top blocking tight ends in the league, still out for at least two more games because of a high ankle sprain, yards on the ground will continue to be hard to come by.

"It's not where we want it to be yet," Pasztor said. "But it's getting there."

The Jaguars didn't get the ball in the third quarter until their defense was on the field for more than six minutes and the Titans had increased their lead to 13-7 on the second of Ryan Succop's three field goals. Of the 44 plays their offense ran the rest of the way, 35 were pass plays, including three sacks of Bortles.

Bradley said it was his intent going in to give Johnson 10 carries. The seventh-round pick out of UCF had only two touches in the second half -- a reception in the third quarter on a play that lost 4 yards and a 5-yard run in the fourth quarter where left tackle Luke Joeckel was penalized for clipping.

Takeways and observations

The Jaguars got off to a promising start against the Titans before being handed another loss.

The Jaguars had miserable field position all game long, and that was compounded by their inability to create big plays. Aside from Bortles' 59-yard completion to tight end Clay Harbor on the opening drive, they didn't have a play of more than 20 yards until less than two minutes remained in the game.

"That's tough -- to go 80 yards every series," Bradley said. "We've got to have some (big plays) and things like that. We've got to find a way to get better field position."

In addition to the ongoing struggles in the running game, there were breakdowns on defense and special teams. By Bradley's count, the Jaguars were guilty of 15 missed tackles. And while a 50-yard kickoff return in the first quarter by the Titans' Leon Washington didn't prove costly, the same could not be said for the blocking on Josh Scobee's potential game-winning 55-yard field goal attempt in the closing seconds.

Scobee, who missed only two of 25 field goals all last season, has now had two attempts blocked this year.

The Jaguars don't face an overly daunting challenge this week in their attempt to improve their running game. Although the Cleveland Browns are one of the biggest surprises in the league and are coming off a 31-10 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, they rank 29th in rushing defense.

But no team with an 0-6 record has reason to take any opponent lightly.

"They're feeling pain, there's no doubt about it," Bradley said. "I think I could sense that in the locker room afterwards (Sunday) and sensed a little bit of it today. They all would say "We're getting better, we're getting better, we're getting closer, we're getting closer' but (also) 'What could I have done?', or 'What can we do to get us over the hump?' And those are legit questions."

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