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Know Your Buccaneers Enemy: Jacksonville Jaguars Running Back, Leonard Fournette

The former fourth overall pick is having a career year. But what does it mean for Week 13?

NFL: New York Jets at Jacksonville Jaguars Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The Jacksonville Jaguars come into their Week 13 home contest against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sliding on a three-game losing streak. The Bucs on the other hand have won two of their last three after ending their own four-game skid.

In their three losses in the current downward turn, Jacksonville has had to throw 48, 47 and 47 passes against the Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts, and Houston Texans respectively. That’s a lot of throws.

Meanwhile, they ran the ball just fifteen times against the Texans and nine against the Colts. Last week, against the Titans, the Jaguars decidedly leaned on the run to try and defeat their divisional rival and did so 27 times. It earned them 117-yards, a 4.3 yards per carry average, two touchdowns and a 42-20 loss.

For the Jaguars, asking Nick Foles to step back and throw near 50 times per game isn’t going to work. Even against a Buccaneers secondary ranking near or at the bottom of almost every pass defense category, their pass rush will look to punish Foles if his offense gets pass happy.

Even in a blowout loss, the Jaguars leaned on Leonard Fournette and the running game. I expect them to at least start the game in Week 13 by doing the same. Making Fournette someone Buccaneers fans need to know.


NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Arkansas Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

Fournette was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars out of LSU in the first-round of the 2017 NFL Draft with the fourth overall selection. That year, the question was whether or not Fournette or fellow running back prospect Christian McCaffrey were the better option of the two.

Ask the Panthers, and they’d likely say McCaffrey was the better pick. As anyone except Tom Coughlin and they’d likely agree.

Into their third seasons, Fournette has just over 3,300 yards of total offense. McCaffrey is less than 250-yards from 5,000. The Jags’ running back has scored 19 touchdowns in his career entering this weekend. The Panthers have gotten 36 from their running back, taken four picks later.

So, the Panthers won - at least so far. And one thing which makes most people figure it’ll stay this way long-term has been Fournette’s inability to stay on the field. Whether due to suspension or injury, the former LSU star has played in 32 of a possible 43 games while McCaffrey hasn’t missed any, yet.

If there’s one area neither player has completely won in yet, it’s team success. While Fournette’s Jaguars got close in his rookie - and so far his best - season, neither team is championship worthy and neither will be in the post-season this year.

There has been speculation Jacksonville may be interested in moving their former first-round pick. And performance along with some on and off-field behavior has been tied to potential motivations.

After moving star cornerback Jalen Ramsey earlier this season, Fournette’s time could be coming to a close as well. But if anything can save his personal standing with the franchise, it’s his 2019 season.


NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Fournette has played in ever game this season for the Jaguars and if he plays in the next three, he’ll appear in more games in 2019 than he has in either of his first two seasons.

Along with simply playing, the running back is on pace to shatter his previous career highs, needing less than 100-yards rushing after already surpassing single-season receiving numbers.

He’s not putting up McCaffrey numbers, but he’s putting up the best Fournette numbers to date.

The Jaguars and their running back are similar in a lot of ways, especially in consistency. Fournette this year has three games over 100-yards. In them, he’s rushed for 108, 131 and 225.

But he also has three games under 50-yards rushing with his lowest output coming in Week 11 when he collected just 23 yards on the ground.

As a receiver he’s been a little more consistent with five of his eleven games coming within ten yards of his per game average.

So he has the ability to do well, and the ability to do close to nothing. Let’s take a look at what makes him a threat, and a liability.


o Power

Whether or not he runs with the same power he showed at times in college is debatable. What isn’t is the fact Fournette can still pack a punch and punish defenders in his path. At 6’ 228lbs, he’s a lot of ball carrier coming at you if you’re a defender.

Buccaneers linebackers aren’t known for backing down from aggressive or strong runners, and the front line has done a good job of making sure opposing running backs don’t get the runway they like before getting to the second level. These will be key factors to limiting Fournette’s impact, especially early on.

o Receiving

So, I’m not sure calling his role in the passing game a strength really fits, but it’s worth noting ahead of this game.

In the first eight games of the season, Fournette had 35 receptions. In the last three, he’s had 21. The Jaguars are looking at different ways to get Fournette involved in the offense, and are having success by making him a receiver more than ever before.

He’ll not likely ever reach the levels of McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara as far as receiving threats are concerned, but against a highly aggressive blitzing defense, this increase in receiving contributions could certainly play a role in how Fournette impacts the final score.


o Lack of Wiggle

When you can’t run around people, you really have to run into them. You don’t really have a choice. And this is Fournette’s problem. If he’s going to get away from defenders, it’ll be because of broken tackles.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense hasn’t been doing everything well this season, but one thing they’ve done pretty good at all year is tackling and pursuing the ball.

After one Bucs defender hits a ball carrier, it usually isn’t long before more are arriving to help finish the job when needed.

Fournette is going to have issues getting extra yards against this Buccaneers defense, unless they forget how to collapse and finish on ball carriers.

o Runway Requirements

We mentioned it earlier. Fournette is at his best when he has a runway to get rolling. That’s when his deceptive speed can become a factor. This is another reason the Jaguars have likely tried getting him the ball in the passing game.

If he gets room to run, he can make quick work of the yards in front of him. If he meets early contact or has to change direction though, it can bog him down and get him stuck in the mud a bit.

Tampa Bay’s defense has been good at diverting opposing running backs or making them work through the backs of their own offensive linemen. Doing so again this weekend, would go a long way to ensuring the Jaguars can’t lean on Fournette as much as they want to.

At the end of the day, the Jacksonville Jaguars win more when they get 85-yards or more on the ground. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are allowing 78.7 yards per game in 2019, and 3.5 yards per carry, both second-best in the NFL right now.

If this trend sticks, then the Bucs will have a solid shot at winning this game by forcing the Jaguars into a one-dimensional passing attack. However, if Leonard Fournette can get going and impact the game early, then it could be a long day for the visiting Buccaneers.

To stop him, they have to know him, and now we do a little bit more than before.