Covering up: Jaguars secondary continues to struggle, even when stopping foes' top receiver

As Shaq Griffin has "traveled" on a team's top receivers, other players have stepped in with big games

Garry Smits
Florida Times-Union
Miami rookie Jaylen Waddle (17) is leading NFL wide receivers in receptions and yards through five games.

After watching Brandin Cooks of Houston and Cortland Sutton of Denver burn the Jaguars secondary in the first two games of the season, the decision was made by the coaching staff to put veteran cornerback Shaquill Griffin on the other team's top receiver, then work around that with a mixture of zone and man-to-man. 

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The respective quarterbacks did a great job of getting Cooks (five receptions for 132 yards) and Sutton (nine for 159 yards), matched against Jaguar cornerbacks Tyson Campbell (a rookie) and Chris Claybrooks (in his second year), or down the deep middle against safety Andrew Wingard.

That couldn't continue so Griffin began "traveling" on the other team's most dangerous receiver, beginning against Arizona's DeAndre Hopkins. 

The results, to say the least, are mixed. 

Griffin has done a commendable job, helping hold Hopkins, Cincinnati's Ja'Marr Chase and Tennessee's A.J. Brown to an average of four receptions for 45.3 yards.  

Brown, who had 14 receptions for 247 yards in his last two games against the Jags, was virtually invisible in Sunday's 37-19 loss to the Titans, catching only three passes for 38 yards. 

But the last three quarterbacks have merely gone to their slot receivers and tight ends and the end result is the Jags are still giving up too many big plays in the passing game. 

Jaguars cornerback Shaquill Griffin has been assigned opponents' top receiver in recent weeks, with good results. But the rest of the secondary has struggled.

They will face another team with a good set of receivers in the Miami Dolphins on Sunday in London. Jaylen Waddle leads all NFL rookie wide receivers with 27 catches for 231 yards, DeVante Parker has 17 for 242 yards (14.2 per catch) and tight end Mike Gesecki has 22 for 227 yards. 

"Waddle is dynamic," Jags coach Urban Meyer said of Miami's No. 1 draft pick from Alabama. "[Parker] is a heck of a player. But they're all good players." 

For variety, the Dolphins utilize running back Myles Gaskin out of the backfield. He had 10 receptions for 74 yards and a touchdown in Miami's 45-17 loss to Tampa Bay last week and had a solid game in the Dolphins' 31-13 victory over the Jaguars last season, running for 66 yards and catching five passes for 29 yards. 

"They do a good job with him," Meyer said of Gaskins. "He's a matchup guy ... get that tailback matched up on someone to separate." 

The Jaguars need to figure out a way to keep players such as Parker, Gesecki and Gaskins from burning them if Griffin keeps the clamps on Waddle. 

When Griffin held Hopkins to three receptions for a meager 21 yards against the Cardinals, Christian Kirk caught seven passes for 104 yard and A.J. Green five for 112 yards. Griffin helped limit Chase to 77 yards on six receptions but 44 of those yards were on one play, with Campbell drawing the coverage. 

While Chase was otherwise being frustrated by Griffin, Tyler Boyd caught nine passes for 118 yards and tight end C.J. Uzomah had five for 95 yards. 

Boyd was the fifth opposing player to have a 100-yard game against the Jags, coming in the first four games. There are two mitigating factors: oddly enough, none of those players scored a touchdown and the Jags at least broke the streak against the Titans.

Tennessee didn't need a 100-yard receiver to win. Derrick Henry scored three times and had 130 yards and quarterback Ryan Tannehill spread 14 completions among seven receivers.

And Tannehill's only TD pass, a 14-yarder to tight end MyCole Pruitt, was a perfect illustration of the problems the Jaguars have been having: slot receivers and tight ends exploiting a seam over the Jaguars linebackers and under the secondary, usually against a combo coverage of man and zone.

Pruitt was lined up on the outside next to another tight end, former Jaguar Geoff Swaim. Outside linebacker K'Lavon Chaisson was supposed to be playing man-to-man on whichever tight end came out in the flat but he lost sight of Pruitt, who went over the middle, then broke back outside when Tannehill was pressured by Malcom Brown.

Chaisson was too far up to react to the pass and safety Rayshawn Jenkins, playing zone, was too far back.

"It's just a responsibility thing," said inside linebacker Damien Wilson. "That's line No. 2 of our job. We got to first stop the run and then you have to insulate that little tweener area between linebacker and DBs, so that falls mostly on the linebackers to punch up and get up into those intermediate throws." 

There also is the issue of Campbell's development, which was hampered by a toe injury that kept him out of the Titans' game, and an injury to nickel corner Tre Herndon, which cost him the first three games. 

"We've struggled," Meyer admitted about the secondary, aside from Griffin, the team's big free-agency acquisition from Seattle. "We still have great confidence [Campbell] is going to be a good player. You put your best on their best and we feel Shaq has hung in there pretty good ... that [coverage issues] is a concern."