Jacksonville Jaguars coach Doug Pederson’s idea of a gadget play Saturday in the Jaguars’ playoff game against the Los Angeles Chargers was to take a trip back to the 1940s and re-visit the T-formation.
But the Jaguars’ version of the T worked better than any reverse-pitch or jet sweeps Pederson has dialed up all season — mainly because the 25-yard gain by Travis Etienne to the Chargers’ 16-yard line with 1:27 left in the game on fourth-and-1set up Riley Patterson’s 36-yard field goal for a 31-30 victory to send the Jaguars (10-8) to the next step of the playoffs on Saturday at AFC top-seeded Kansas City (14-3).
The game at Arrowhead Stadium will be 4:30 p.m. on NBC and is a rematch of a regular-season game on Nov. 13, won by the Chiefs 27-17. However, the Jaguars have since gone 7-1 and the victory over the Chargers, in which they rallied from a 27-0 deficit, was their sixth in a row.
Walter Camp credited with inventing the T
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For those unfamiliar with football’s ancient history, the T has the quarterback under center, with three running backs behind him, a fullback and two halfbacks. The formation usually is run with two tight ends and emphasizes power running.
Historians credit Walter Camp with inventing the formation in 1882. It was brought back in the 1940s and used by Stanford coach Clark Shaughnessy and Notre Dame coach Frank Leahy. Eventually, coaches in college found it better to move the fullback up a bit and run option plays out of the wishbone, and NFL coaches abandoned it completely by the 1950s, turning one of the halfbacks into a wide receiver.
Penn State coach James Franklin has used the formation on a sporadic basis this past season for short-yardage situations and the Nittany Lions scored their first touchdown in the Rose Bowl out of the T.
Pederson said Monday during a news conference at TIAA Bank Field that the formation has been in the Jaguars’ playbook for short-yardage situations and the team has practiced it throughout the season. The personnel grouping put Etienne at left halfback, tight end Luke Farrell at fullback and tight end Chris Manhertz at right halfback.
Wide receiver Zay Jones was the right end, split slightly from tackle Jawaan Taylor. At the snap, Lawrence went left, then handed the ball off to Etienne going right. Jones blocked to the left, taking out safety Alohi Gilman, Taylor buried linebacker Kyle Van Noy and Etienne bounced outside, got leverage on Chargers cornerback Asante Samuels and was dragged down by linebacker Drue Tranquil
One play later (a 2-yard loss by Etienne to leave him with 109 yards in his first playoff game), Pederson ran the clock down to three seconds, called time out and sent Patterson out for the game-winner.
O-line coach lobbied for the play
‘It’s not necessarily designed to get to the corner,’ Pederson said. ‘It happened to bounce to the corner and that was TJ’s gift, right? That was his opportunity to bounce it to the edge. It worked because they crowded the box.’
The Jaguars faced the fourth-and-1 after the two-minute warning when Etienne was stopped 1 yard short of the first-down marker on second-and-5, and Lawrence threw incomplete on the next play.
Pederson initially called for a play out of a conventional short-yardage formation but after Lawrence and the offense got to the line, he called a timeout.
‘I wasn’t thrilled with the look we got defensively,’ Pederson said. ‘[Trevor] liked the play so he wanted to keep us in it. I didn’t, but that’s fine. I get the final say.’
Pederson wouldn’t say what the original play call was and said during the timeout, offensive line coach Phil Rauscher made a pitch for the T-formation play.
The implications were obviously massive: if the play got stuffed, the Chargers would take over on downs and likely run out the clock, which showed 1:20 left when Etienne was tackled. The Jaguars would have only two timeouts left in that case and the math wasn’t on their side.
Pederson said the formation sold the Chargers’ defense that it would be a quarterback sneak, with Farrell and Manhertz in position to give Lawrence a shove forward. Almost the entire defense crashed down and pinched the interior, setting up Etienne to turn the play into a foot race to the edge and then into the open.
‘He gave the appearance of a quarterback sneak with the way everybody lined up tight behind the quarterback,’ Pederson said. ‘You’re starting to see some of the push technique … around the league so we sort of simulated that with the formation. The guys executed really well and kind of won the game.’
Pederson said the formation might go back into cold storage for the foreseeable future.
‘Plays like that are kind of one-and-done,’ he said. ‘You probably won’t see that one again.’
Once was enough for the Jags.