JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Jacksonville’s vaunted ground game has veered off course.
The Jaguars were mostly listless while trying to run the ball in a 27-24 loss at Arizona on Sunday that ended the team’s four-game winning streak. Rookie Leonard Fournette finished with 25 yards on 12 attempts — both season lows — and failed to gain at least 10 yards on any carry for the second time in three weeks.
It’s a huge concern for a team built to run the ball and play great defense.
“It’s something we have to change,” coach Doug Marrone said Monday. “We want to be able to run the football and put ourselves in manageable situations. I think that’s going to help us along with our play-action game and being able to take shots — basically what our philosophy has been the whole time.
“I’ve got to do a better job, and the coaches, of putting those guys in a good position, schematically, and being able to take advantage of some of these heavy fronts that we see.”
The Jaguars (7-4) still lead the league in rushing, averaging 154.3 yards a game, but have been under that mark in each of the last three games. The last time they eclipsed their average was in a Week 7 victory at Indianapolis.
Jacksonville hosts the Colts (3-8) on Sunday. It’s the first of three consecutive home games and a chance to get the ground game back on track.
It should help that right tackle Jermey Parnell (knee) and guard Patrick Omameh (quadriceps) are expected to return after missing time. Parnell sat out the last three games, and Omameh missed two straight.
“I think it’s important anytime you get someone back that’s played,” Marrone said.
Getting receiver Allen Hurns (ankle) back would help, too.
Without Hurns, the Jaguars have veteran Marqise Lee and two rookies at receiver. Although Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole have shown glimpses of talent, they haven’t done enough to stop teams from stacking the line of scrimmage against Fournette.
Since missing one game because of a sprained right ankle and another for violating a team rule, Fournette has run 57 times for 169 yards. He averaged 2.96 yards a carry against Arizona, Cleveland and the Los Angeles Chargers, and failed to score in any of those games.
He really struggled against the Cardinals.
Jacksonville finished with 91 yards rushing, with 62 of those by quarterback Blake Bortles.
“It was tough,” Bortles said. “Nobody planned on this. Nobody had this in mind when we were going through preparation throughout the week. It’s definitely shocking. It’s not the way we wanted to come out and play. But there’s going to be games like that when you’re not going to be able to do certain things.
“You have to find ways to win. You have to find ways to make plays.”
The Jags were bottled up before that game, too.
Although they ran for 139 yards against the Browns, they needed a season-high 44 carries to get there. And the ground attack was significantly aided by a 56-yard run on a fake punt against the Chargers.
Marrone suggested that getting backups Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon more involved could help.
“You have three guys back there,” Marrone said. “They’re good football players. Try to manage to find a way to get them involved and keep them in the rhythm of the game and keep them going. It’s a challenge, and it’s one that we can do a better job of that going forward.”