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NFL Countdown #4 and Gardner Minshew Can't Drive a Tank

NFL Countdown #4: The Jacksonville Jaguars started their 1-15 season hot with a win, but started every game colder than any other team. The Jaguars scored just 4 touchdowns in the first quarter throughout the 2020 season.

Four touchdowns in the first quarter is a very bad sign for an organization. The 2020 Jacksonville Jaguars averaged 2.8 first quarter points per game, with only the Patriots scoring less to start a football game. First and third quarter stats are particularly interesting because they give insight into how a team is coached. The first quarter shows how well teams are prepared for their opponent, and the third shows us how good a team is at making adjustments at halftime. For example, Seattle ranked 16th in first quarter scoring and jumped to 2nd in the league in third quarter scoring. This shows us that while the Seahawks weren’t exactly ready for kickoff, the were among the best in the NFL at reacting to their opponents and making the changes they needed to come out on top.

Some teams are just really good at scoring points, like the Buffalo Bills who ranked in the top eight in scoring for every quarter. The other side of that coin is the Jacksonville Jaguars, who ended up 26th or worse in every quarter except the third. The 2020 Jaguars became just the second team since the 16-game expansion to win their first game of the season then forget how to play football and lose every other game. The Jaguars ranked at the bottom of the league in pretty much every metric, but were just a touch better on offense than defense. They had no players make the pro bowl, they lost nine of their games by 10 or more points, and they fired their GM during the season and head coach just after the season. The Minshew Mania that swept through the NFL and made the Jaguars a frisky team in 2019 quickly grew stale, and Minshew himself was sort of benched after his team’s Week 8 bye.

Minshew fell out of favor with his team after he discovered two weeks too late that he had several fractures in his right thumb. He was initially injured in Jacksonville’s Week 5 loss to the Texans, but didn’t realize the extent of his injury until the bruise refused to go away. The man played two football games, throwing 71 passes with a broken thumb, because he has the heart of a competitor. There are dozens of folk tales about the mullet-wearing 6th round pick, but none is better than the time that Minshew tried to break his own hand in college. Pete Rose said he would walk through Hell in a gasoline suit to play baseball, but Gardner Minshew actually hit himself with a hammer to try and get a medical redshirt and secure another year of college football eligibility

Minshew is a man that is physically incapable of not doing everything in his power to win a football game, and it is that exact competitive fire burning within him that forced his team to make him ride the bench. Even after Gardner Minshew was medically cleared to play after Week 10, the Jaguars continued trotting out Mike Glennon or Jake Luton. The table below shows splits data from RotoViz on how the Jaguars performed on a per-game basis with (“In Split”) and without (“Out Split”) Gardner Minshew on the field. Minshew averaged the NFL’s 15th-best passer rating in 2020, tying with Baker Mayfield and beating players like Kyler Murray, Matt Ryan, and Joe Burrow. The QBs in Jacksonville ranked 37th (Glennon) and 46th (Luton) in passer rating for QBs who threw at least 50 passes. The Jaguars offense was not great with Minshew under center, but it was too good for a team that was planning to lose every game to secure Trevor Lawrence in the draft.

Minshew was immediately replaced by rookie Jake Luton, who threw 6 interceptions in his three starts. As calls for Minshew to return grew louder, Doug Marrone sidestepped the criticism and turned to 8-year “veteran” Mike Glennon. Garner Minshew made a brief reappearance coming in to relieve Glennon in Week 14, and was good enough to get his final start of the season in Week 15. The Jaguars lost 40-14, but Minshew completed 76% of his passes and ended up with a 120.8 passer rating in a hard-fought shellacking by the Ravens. After seeing the other QBs in action, it was very clear that Gardner Minshew gave Jacksonville their best chance to win football games in 2020, but thanks to the Jets’ first win of the season that same week, it also became clear that the Jaguars had a real shot at receiving the first overall pick in the 2021 draft. Minshew was sent back to the bench for the final two games of the season while his team lost by a combined 38 points, and the Jaguars punched their ticket to draft Trevor Lawrence first overall in the 2021 draft.

The benching of Gardner Minshew might have been a shrewd organizational decision, but it just doesn’t sit right with me. Behind all the memes and the funny mustache, Gardner Minshew is the type of competitor that makes the entire league better. There are quite a few football players that have openly talked about how they don’t really enjoy playing football, but there’s only one that has taken a hammer to their own body to play more football.

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