NASHVILLE -- The Jacksonville Jaguars were built to win in the playoffs -- with a stout defense and a strong running game.
The defense has stumbled a bit at the end of the season but still remains one of the NFL’s best units. The running game, however, needs to improve significantly heading into the team’s playoff opener against Buffalo on Sunday.
That may be a good matchup for the Jaguars (10-6), though, because the Bills (9-7) have one of the worst rush defenses in the NFL.
“I think that we’re going to go back and plan and take a good look at things,” coach Doug Marrone said. “We’re not going to be out there celebrating the new year. We’re going to be working and seeing what we have to do to get ourselves ready.”
The Jaguars entered Week 17 ranked first in rush offense (145.3 yards per game) but weren't as effective in the final six games of the season, when they averaged just 114.6 yards per game. They’ve rushed for fewer than 100 yards five times this season and four have come in the past six weeks, including Sunday’s 83-yard performance in a 15-10 loss at Tennessee.
Leonard Fournette has had three of his five worst rushing totals in the past six games, as well, including 25 yards in a Week 12 loss in Arizona.
It’s not a coincidence that the Jaguars are 3-3 in those final six games, either. The Jaguars built their offensive identity around being a physical, tough, run-first team, and when they haven’t had as much success running the ball, they’ve had trouble winning games.
“That’s who we are. There’s no doubt about it,” receiver Allen Hurns said. “Yeah, there’s been some games where we’ve passed the ball pretty well, but our run game is who we are as the offense. Of course we want to be balanced, but in order to be balanced you’ve got to get the running game going, no matter what it is.
“If we’ve got to find out different personnel, run out of three-wides, or whatever it may be, we’ve all got to get on the same page and get this thing rolling because we want to win in the playoffs and we’re going to need our running game.”
That means getting Fournette going. He had 69 yards on 19 carries against the Titans, which is 3.6 yards per carry. His -- and the Jaguars’ -- longest run on Sunday was 9 yards. The Jaguars are 4-1 when he runs for more than 100 yards.
Fournette is more concerned with another set of numbers than his total yardage and per-carry average.
“It’s about winning,” he said. “I don’t care too much about no run game or whatever. It’s about winning.”
That means running it against the Bills. Buffalo has given up more than 100 yards rushing nine times this season, including 298 to New Orleans in Week 10. They’re 4-5 in those games.
“We’ve got to keep working on finding ways to run the ball, working on creating holes for our backs and giving them an opportunity to go get some yards,” quarterback Blake Bortles said. “I thought Leonard ran hard today for what he had. We’ve got to stay with it and continue to try and find it and come up with different ways to create some lanes for him to go.”