JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Jaguars have been a disappointment in 2018, but Tom Coughlin believes he made the correct moves in the offseason after Jacksonville came so close to the Super Bowl in 2017.
Coughlin, who has final say on all football matters as executive vice president of football operations, said during an appearance on a Jacksonville radio station that the Jaguars (3-8) will have to go back to the drawing board after decisions made in free agency and the draft backfired.
“We were a whistle [away from the Super Bowl],” Coughlin said Tuesday morning on The Drill on 1010 XL, referencing the play in which linebacker Myles Jack was ruled down after a fumble recovery, preventing a return during a 24-20 loss to New England in the AFC Championship Game. “We’re a whistle [away and] we’re in the Super Bowl. And that’s my position, OK? So tell me, everyone out there, what they’re going to do in that circumstance about your football team.
“Aren’t you going to fill other pieces in and try to be as good as you can be? And we tried, didn’t we? Well, the nature of the game got us, so we go back to the drawing board. But I’ll put the gloves on with anybody that wants to talk about what [moves the team made].”
Coughlin has declined numerous interview requests from Jacksonville-area media but made the guest appearance on the radio station as part of a fundraising event to benefit The Tom Coughlin Jay Fund, which helps families battle childhood cancer. He answered several questions but did not address the team’s benching of quarterback Blake Bortles and firing of offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett on Monday, other than to say coach Doug Marrone made changes because “you’re going to try something.”
Last season, the Jaguars went 10-6, won the AFC South and made their first playoff appearance in a decade. They beat Buffalo and Pittsburgh to advance to the AFC title game at Gillette Stadium. They held a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter before Tom Brady rallied the Patriots to a pair of touchdowns, one of which came after converting a third-and-18.
The Jaguars had one of the NFL’s best defenses last season, finishing second in total defense, sacks and interceptions and leading the league in pass defense. The offense also ranked in the top six in total yards, rushing and scoring. Bortles had the best season of his career, and running back Leonard Fournette became just the third Jaguars rookie to surpass 1,000 yards rushing.
The Jaguars gave Bortles a three-year, $54 million contract extension through 2020 instead of letting him play out his fifth-year option in 2018. They also signed left guard Andrew Norwell to a five-year, $66.5 million contract with $30 million guaranteed and gave receiver Donte Moncrief a one-year contract worth a guaranteed $9.6 million.
Jacksonville drafted defensive tackle Taven Bryan in the first round despite that being the Jaguars’ most talented position, and spent second-, third- and fourth-round picks on players — receiver DJ Chark, safety Ronnie Harrison and offensive tackle Will Richardson, respectively — with an eye toward them making more of a contribution in 2019 rather than this season.
All of those moves backfired.
Bortles has struggled after a solid start and has thrown for fewer than 150 yards in four of his last six games. He’s tentative, not making the correct reads and missing easy throws, and it’s clear the team had lost confidence in him.
Norwell has not played close to the level he did in 2017 — he was an All-Pro with Carolina — and the Jaguars have had trouble running the ball. That was partly due to a rash of injuries on the offensive line, and Norwell became the latest lineman to be lost for the season after he suffered an ankle injury during Sunday’s loss at Buffalo.
Moncrief has 34 catches for 517 yards and three touchdowns in 11 games. He has two or fewer catches in five games and has just two receptions for 40 yards in the Jaguars’ past two games.
Bryan has been a disappointment, Chark has been mainly a special-teams player, Harrison has seen his playing time decrease the past several games and Richardson never played a snap and ended up on IR after injuring his knee in practice.
All that has contributed to the Jaguars’ seven-game losing streak. The franchise hasn’t had back-to-back winning seasons since a four-year stretch from 1996 to ’99.
While he admitted that there will some serious re-evaluation in the offseason, Coughlin said he remains committed to his philosophy of winning with defense, the run game and play-action passing, despite the current trend in the NFL of building around quarterbacks and wide-open, explosive offenses.
“I still believe all that, but I also recognize the rule changes,” Coughlin said. “I also recognize what the public wants, and I mean, it’s obvious. These games, can you believe some of these college games — 59-56? But in watching those games, obviously there’s tremendous skill. There’s tremendous ability.
“I believe in a certain way of playing the game. And certainly what the direction that the league wants the game to go in, and all those things are up. Points are up. Everything is up, but our formula a year ago was play great defense, run the ball and do a superb job of play-action pass. Obviously I still believe in that very much but you have to — if you’re going to rush the football, you’ve got to have the explosive plays. You’ve got to put the ball down the field. There was a time when our big plays were all kinds of big plays. And it was this style of offense still being played. But that’s the formula that you still have to get to, in my opinion.”