The obvious storylines about Sunday's blowout, 41-14 win over the Buccaneers are about the breakout performance of an offense that has struggled mightily in 2011. Maurice Jones-Drew's four touchdowns and Blaine Gabbert's visible improvement are encouraging signs for the future of the Jaguars who have already been eliminated from contention in this year's playoffs.
Also encouraging, though, was been the performance of the defense. While the Jaguars were playing the very average Buccaneers offense, who came in to Everbank Field on a six game losing streak and left with their seventh consecutive loss, the emergence of a few players in the absence of injured starters is promising.Linebacker Russell Allen has started the last three weeks in the place of Clint Session after Session was placed on injured reserve with a concussion injury. Allen has responded to the opportunity with play nothing short of starter-quality and has been a playmaker for the Jaguars.
In two of his last three games, he forced fumbles, with one that was recovered by the Jaguars and another that pinned that Texans inside their own five yard line following the recovery. While Allen's contract is set to expire after the season, he will be a restricted free agent and it's hard to imagine that the Jaguars will allow him to leave after witnessing three years of growth after signing him as an undrafted free agent in 2009.
Also showing positive plays in the last couple weeks has been defensive lineman Leger Douzable. With a tremendous amount of injuries at the defensive end position including John Chick, Aaron Kampman, Aaron Morgan and Austen Lane all on injured reserve and Matt Roth out indefinitely with a concussion, Douzable has been thrust into a starting role at defensive end.
Although listed as a defensive tackle on the Jaguars roster, Douzable has done a very good job as starter, providing excellent run support on the left side of the Jaguars defensive line. While he doesn't have strong edge rushing skills, and understandably so, he hasn't done a bad job on passing downs either and almost came away with a sack on Tampa Bay's opening possession Sunday, although it ended in a facemask penalty on Douzable.
Defensive tackle Nate Collins and cornerback Kevin Rutland are two more young players that have taken advantage of the opportunity to step up and fill the role of injured players well. Considering this was a defensive unit that was arguably the NFL's worst in 2010, the ability to replace starters with adequate depth is encouraging and shows signs that the Jaguars defense can sustain itself as one of the stronger defenses in the NFL for years to come.