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Jaguars' run-first formula can work: Just look at Peterson's career

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Is Fournette the biggest Week 14 disappointment? (1:39)

Field Yates and Matthew Berry anguish over the low output from Leonard Fournette in the first week of the playoffs. (1:39)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Tom Coughlin knows he's a bit old school, but he also believes his 1980s philosophy of building an NFL franchise can work in an era when the league is doing everything it can to help promote wide-open offenses.

He says the Jacksonville Jaguars' success in 2017 is proof.

The 2017 Jaguars led the NFL in rushing, had one of the league's top defenses, and got by with an efficient quarterback who cut down on his turnovers. That formula got the Jaguars to the AFC Championship Game and they were 10 minutes -- or, as Coughlin likes to say, an inadvertent whistle -- from reaching Super Bowl LII.

Need more proof? From 2007-16, the Minnesota Vikings were Super Bowl contenders with running back Adrian Peterson -- who comes into TIAA Bank Field on Sunday (1 p.m., CBS) with the Washington Redskins.

So Coughlin, the Jaguars' executive vice president of football operations, sees no reason that it cannot work again in 2019.

"Our formula a year ago was play great defense, run the ball and do a superb job of play-action pass," Coughlin said in a recent interview on a Jacksonville radio station during a fund-raising event for The Jay Fund. "Obviously, I still believe in that very much."

Coughlin drafted Leonard Fournette No. 4 overall in 2017, little more than a month after the team added high-priced defensive free agents Calais Campbell and A.J. Bouye to a young defensive nucleus that included defensive tackle Malik Jackson, linebacker Telvin Smith and cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Though quarterback Blake Bortles was coming off the worst season of his career, the team decided not to make a change -- or even bring in any legitimate competition to push him.

Things got off to an uneven start. Bortles was benched briefly in the 2017 preseason before regaining the job a week later, and the Jaguars lost an overtime game to the New York Jets to drop to 2-2. They surprisingly won in Pittsburgh 30-9 by intercepting Ben Roethlisberger five times and went on to win seven of their next nine. They won the AFC South and clinched their first playoff berth since 2007.

The Jaguars led the league in rushing and Fournette ran for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns despite missing three games. Bortles completed a career-high 60 percent of his passes and threw 21 touchdown passes and a career-low 13 interceptions.

The defense finished second in scoring, sacks and forced turnovers and No. 1 in pass defense. It also scored an NFL-high seven touchdowns.

Everything seemed in place for a run at the Super Bowl in 2018, but it fell apart because of injuries (especially along the offensive line and tight end), poor quarterback play, Fournette missing six full games and parts of two others because of a hamstring injury, and the defense not playing at the same elite level.

They're 4-9, out of the playoff race and headed for their ninth losing record in the past 11 seasons. Yet Coughlin is still committed to that philosophy, and Peterson's Vikings teams, who reached the playoffs four times and made it to the NFC title game after the 2009 season, offer reason for optimism.

Peterson was the premier back in the league during that 10-year span, leading the NFL in rushing in 2008, 2012 and 2015. He ran for at least 1,200 yards in seven of those 10 seasons and the three seasons he didn't were because of injuries (2011, 2016) and a suspension (2014). The Vikings made the playoffs in three of the years in which Peterson was the league's top rusher (2008, 2012 and 2015) and he led the NFL in rushing touchdowns (18) the other season in which Minnesota made the playoffs.

The Vikings also had defenses that were among the league's best during those years as well, ranking in the top 10 in total defense and top 15 in scoring defense each of those four seasons.

The Vikings' best season with Peterson came in 2009, when they reached the NFC title game and lost in overtime to New Orleans. However, that was also the only season Brett Favre played with Minnesota and he threw for 4,202 yards and 33 touchdowns during the regular season.

A quarterback is still important in Coughlin's style of football. He has seen first-hand the past two seasons that you can't consistently win with a below-average or inconsistent starting quarterback, which is why fixing that position will be the team's No. 1 priority in the offseason -- but he's not going to alter the way he wants the team built.

"If you're going to rush the football, you've got to have the explosive plays. You've got to put the ball down the field," Coughlin said. "There was a time when our big plays were all kinds of big plays. And it was this style of offense still being played. But that's the formula that you still have to get to, in my opinion."