On the Jacksonville Jaguars opening drive against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Jaguars offense faced a fourth-and-one on the goal line. They could have settled for a field goal and a 3-0 lead, but they instead went for the score and Leonard Fournette reached the ball over the goal line for a touchdown and 7-0 lead they would never give up.
With that play in their mind, the New England Patriots are preparing for an aggressive Jaguars offense that will be aggressive on fourth down and try to convert in short yardage.
“Bill [Belichick] said that in a meeting the other day, that they are a team who is not scared to go for it on fourth down,” Patriots free safety Devin McCourty said about the Jaguars. “The biggest thing is awareness. We’ve got to know once they get in that territory that we kind of call ‘Cuatro situation,’ that third down is not really third down.
“We’ve got to be prepared for a play that might gain a couple of yards, but not maybe a first down, but get them close enough to the stick. Whether it’s in a goal line situation like last week, or you stop them on third down and you’re going crazy, you’ve got to realize that they’ll line it up and go for it.
“So, I think it’s more awareness, because at the end of the day we’ve got to execute whatever defense we call. And we’ve got to just be aware of how it might change the play-calling and what they’re trying to do.”
Special teams captain Matthew Slater echoed McCourty’s sentiments by noting that the Jaguars special teams also play “very aggressively” and noted three fake punts and one score that should put New England on high alert.
When asked about his team’s aggression, Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone simply pointed to the math.
“I don’t know if it’s really ‘aggressive’ because we feel really good about the situations, the play we have or whether it’s the analytics on the fourth down stuff that we look at,” Marrone replied. “The fourth down one, analytically, it’s the right thing to do. So I’m more of that type of guy. I’m looking at situations, looking at how we’re doing it, obviously, what the matchups are, things of that nature. It’s not one of those things where it’s like off the cuff like we need to do something or anything like that. They’re well planned out and they’re obviously part of the game plan.”
The Jaguars must have fourth-and-short in their playbook and the Patriots are prepared, with Belichick himself saying the Jaguars fourth down opportunities are “very well calculated...I’m sure they will keep doing it.”
So how often do the Jaguars go for it on fourth and short? Well, it turns out that Jacksonville isn’t more aggressive than any other team in the league. They’re simply average.
On fourth-and-one or fourth-and-two, the Jaguars went for it on 9 of 27 attempts for an “aggression rate” of 33.3%. The league average aggression rate was 32.7% and the Jaguars themselves actually ranked an average 16th.
The Patriots, in comparison, went for it on 36.0% of their fourth-and-shorts, which was not statistically different than the Jaguars aggression. So both teams are equally aggressive, or average, or however you want to describe it. Jacksonville has a league-high 4 touchdowns on fourth down, so that probably shifts the narrative.
Only a few teams in the NFL were notably aggressive on fourth down, with the stats-driven Cleveland Browns atop the list. Cleveland went for it on 9 of their 14 fourth and short situations for a league-high 64.3% and they never settled for a field goal, showing that if the Browns were going for points they would go for a touchdown.
On the other side of the spectrum, the Minnesota Vikings went for it on just one of their 15 attempts as they were the least aggressive team in the NFL at just 6.7%. This definitely highlights the difference in aggression between the two teams in the NFC Championship Game.
At the end of the day, New England should be aware of the Jaguars willingness to go for it on fourth down, but they don’t need to worry anymore than they would against other team. They should simply be more prepared in the red zone because the Jaguars are going to go for the touchdown by the goal line.