JACKSONVILLE – By any measure there were steps forward.
That doesn't mean the ultimate goal was reached. Not even close. And Jedd Fisch said he wouldn't say the Jaguars' offense reached its full potential this past season.
But the Jaguars' offensive coordinator said without question if you compare the start of the 2013 season to the end you begin seeing good things, positive things, things on which a team can build.
That was a start, and that was progress.
"The games started feeling like the type of football you want to play," Fisch said recently in an interview with jaguars.com for this series on the Jaguars' 2013 season, a series that continues today with an overview of the offense.
That meant touchdowns. Long drives. Red-zone opportunities.
It meant red-zone conversions. First-half touchdowns. Scores on opening drives.
Those were areas in which the Jaguars struggled in the first half of the season, when the Jaguars went 0-8 with eight losses by double digits.
ICYMI - @JohnOehser's season in review for the #Jaguars QBs (http://t.co/x4CimTnNRR) & RBs (http://t.co/4FjEbPVszA)! pic.twitter.com/iOQOhp1r69 — Jacksonville Jaguars (@jaguars) January 8, 2014
But after a Week 9 bye, the running game improved, which helped the passing game improve. And as the games overall became more competitive, an offense that struggled for first downs for the first eight weeks began to form an identity.
"It was an interesting progression as the season went," Fisch said.
Fisch, who took over as the team's offensive coordinator last January, said when he considers the 2013 season, he does so in three parts – the first four games of the season without suspended wide receiver Justin Blackmon, the ensuing four games when Blackmon played, then the final eight games with Blackmon suspended indefinitely.
Through four games the Jaguars averaged 7.75 points and 224 yards a game. Blackmon returned in Week 5, and in the next four weeks, the Jaguars averaged 13.75 points and 349 yards. The team never had fewer than 300 yards during that span after never reaching that figure in four games without Blackmon.
The Jaguars in the last eight games without Blackmon averaged 19.875 points and 300.75 yards per game. Fisch said compared to the first four games without Blackmon, the second half of the season showed significant improvement.
"It felt different in those four games (when Blackmon played)," Fisch said. "So, you come back and you say, 'How are you going to compare the second half of the season? Are you going to compare it to those four games? Are you going to compare it to the first four?'
"We really said, 'Let's look at in totality, from the first eight to the second eight,' and we also said, 'Let's look at it with a comparable team.'"
Fisch added with a laugh, "Then it really wasn't a comparable team because of all the injuries that started occurring."
The Jaguars began the second half of the season winning four of five games, becoming more efficient offensively during that time. The Jaguars scored touchdowns on 64 percent of red-zone possessions in the second half of the season compared to 25 percent in the first half and rushed for close to 90 yards a game in the last eight games compared to 50 in the first month of the season.
"I was excited about the growth," Fisch said. "Now, is there a ton of room for more growth? Yes, but there was a lot of figuring out our team as the second half of the season occurred."
That was a theme Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley emphasized much of the season – that on both sides of the ball, the coaching staff spent time learning how best to utilize players, and how best to fit personnel into a new scheme.
This process occurred while changes took place around the lineup. Chad Henne replaced Blaine Gabbert as the starting quarterback permanently in Week 8, and not only was Blackmon unavailable for 12 games, four other wide receivers – including starter Cecil Shorts III – finished the season on injured reserve.
Tight end Marcedes Lewis missed five of the first six games of the season with a calf injury, returning to full strength after the bye and Austin Pasztor and Cameron Bradfield finished the season at tackle after Eugene Monroe was traded to the Ravens and Luke Joeckel went on injured reserve.
"All of a sudden, the fifth game of the season you have two new tackles you have to feel out," Fisch said. "It's a feeling-out process. Our offseason looked very different in terms of who we were playing with. It was certainly an interesting challenge to put it all together and try to figure everybody out.
"I don't know if it's confidence as much as it is really understanding what they can do. You don't want to put guys in a position of not being able to be successful. By the same token, you don't really know in the first year how they will be successful in an environment.
"You have to see it. And it's not just seeing it in practice, it's seeing it when the game is on the line. What does it really look like? You have to get a feel for it. And in practice, quarterbacks wear red jerseys. You have to also get a feel for, 'What's it really like? Do we really have time to make that throw? Are we getting early fast enough or could we get open in practice because they couldn't be tackled?'
"It's all of that, but as the season progressed it was a process of trying to figure those things out."
Fisch said the process also influenced approach. Whereas ideally Fisch said the Jaguars would be an up-tempo offense, using motion to get a wide receiver open might slow the tempo. In that situation, an offense might use a slower tempo when playing a receiver that needed motion to get open.
WR @CecilShortsIII set a new career-high for catches in a season in 2013. 2013 WRs review: http://t.co/pmseKdXWwX pic.twitter.com/4JRkoycXcZ — Jacksonville Jaguars (@jaguars) January 10, 2014
"Now, you're asking, 'Well, we want to an up-tempo team, but are we giving these guys the best opportunity to succeed?'" Fisch said.
As the season wore on, Fisch said the offense evolved, giving more players better opportunities. That's an ongoing process – and one he said will continue in the offseason.
"As the weeks progressed, we were able to use the entire offense," Fisch said. "At the same time, we were continually trying to figure out what chapter of the book we're going to open up.
"We were able to get to a lot of our scheme. We'll go back this offseason and evaluate it. Sometimes, you think something is a great idea and you realize you carried it in the game plan for seven weeks and never called it. Well, then why did you carry it? Those will be the questions we review, analyze and move forward from."