In the past two weeks, the Jacksonville Jaguars have given up 73 points and lost to two two-win NFL teams, kicking losing streaks for both of them. While the defense hasn’t been the sole issue for the past two losses, entering Week 13 of the 2015 season, it’s pretty clear the defense is a dumpster fire and it’s not going to get any better.
The Achilles heel of the Jaguars currently is the fact that they absolutely cannot get pressure on opposing team’s defenses, so they continue to give up back break scoring drives that will likely doom the team in the final four games of the season, considering the quarterbacks they’re going to be facing.
When Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley faced the media on Monday, he faced a lot of tough questions from the beat writers, but he didn’t really offer any actual answers.
"I think that as a coaching staff we’re trying to figure it out. We ran three-man, four-man, five-man, six-man, different styles of pressures," Bradley said when asked how much of the defensive struggles are on the coaching staff. "We’re trying to find out what works."
When I head Bradley say "We’re trying to find out what works," I couldn’t help but just laugh. Why are you in Week 12 of the NFL season and still trying to find out what works? It’s not some surprise that your pass rush would struggle. It’s struggled every year you’ve been here.
|Points Per Game||28.1||25.8||28.4|
"I think we look at it and say, with that, is that taking away from us playing fast? I think we had 16 missed tackles yesterday," Bradley continued. "I think that we’re competing to try to figure out what works best for our guys. We’ve got some good players and right now, we’re not playing fast. I think that’s what we need to take a look at more than anything."
The big problem I have with Bradley’s logic here is, as I mentioned, you knew it was going to be an issue. It’s not a surprise this is a problem, and if it is, then you messed up somewhere in your self-evaluation. For all intents and purposes, the Jaguars defensive front seven is virtually the same it has been, and in fact has been upgraded each season, yet the pass rush and pass defense seems to stay bad, if not get gradually worse.
- 2013: Tyson Alualu, Roy Miller, Sen’Derrick Marks, Jason Babin, Geno Hayes, Paul Posluszny, Russell Allen
- 2014: Red Bryant, Roy Miller, Sen’Derrick Marks, Chris Clemons, Geno Hayes, Paul Posluszny, Telvin Smith
- 2015: Jared Odrick, Roy Miller, Sen’Derrick Marks/Tyson Alualu, Chris Clemons, Dan Skuta, Paul Posluszny, Telvin Smith
As you can see, each year the team has upgraded the defensive line/linebacker position and each year the same problem persists. The Jaguars predominantly rush four down lineman and cover with seven players, the Jaguars struggle to actually put pressure on the quarterback but pick up coverage sacks, and quarterbacks pass the ball almost at will.
"I don’t know if the team that we have defensively with adding more things, we’ve added more pressures, we’ve added more coverage concepts. I don’t know if that’s slowing us down. Because of that, if it’s not allowing us to play fast and by us not playing fast, we’re seeing more missed tackles and missed assignments, and it’s coming back to haunt us. I think that’s more of the issue," Bradley said when asked if there could be a change at who is calling the defense in the final four weeks, dancing around being critical of defensive coordinator Bob Babich.
But again, the Jaguars knew this would be a problem and should have known they’d have to manufacture pressure on the quarterback through pressure packages, outside of their standard "lightning" package on third down. To wait until Week 12 of the season and act like a bunch of mistakes on the defense came because players weren’t playing fast because they were thinking too much is absurd. Why did it take you until Week 12 to do all of this, when you should have known it would be a problem? These should have been things ironed out in training camp, the preseason and early in the season. If your defenders aren’t playing fast in Week 12 on some of your pressure packages, something is wrong.
But, they don’t have Dante Fowler Jr.!
This is probably what you’re thinking as you’re reading this, and yes it’s true and it has an effect. The Jaguars lost their first round pick, Dante Fowler Jr., who was supposed to help their pass rush on the first day of rookie mini-camp. It was a loss, however it isn’t the reason why the Jaguars defense is getting shredded by quarterbacks sitting in a lawn chair each time they drop back to pass.
Fowler undoubtedly would have helped the pass rush to some degree, but this is putting quite a bit on a rookie pass rusher we’ve never seen play a down in the NFL. He might have helped, or he might have been like all the other rookie pass rushers this year and had minimal effect on the defense, while showing some flashes for the future.
The Jaguars knew they would not have him, though. They had plenty of time to compensate for his loss, maybe not by signing someone else, but by adjusting what you do defensively. You know the players you have at your disposal. You’ve had the players that you have for lots of games and multiple seasons. The loss of a rookie pass rusher and Sen’Derrick Marks for a handful of games should not have hamstrung your defense to this magnitude, because you knew those pieces were going to be missing from the puzzle. You knew the types of players at the LEO spot you had weren’t going to be able to get the job done, because they hadn’t been getting the job done in previous years.
"I can’t argue that fact. When we’re looking at the LEO spot, what we’re getting out of the LEO the last couple of weeks, we need to find a way to get more. However we do it, whether it’s through pressure, through rotations, through looking at Chris Smith," Bradley responded when it was pointed out that the team is getting nothing out of the LEO position on the defense. "We just have to look at it to challenging more. We have to find a way through us as a coaching staff, put them in better position.
The Jaguars have had Chris Clemons and Andre Branch for a while. They knew what they’d be getting out of them from the LEO position, which is exactly what we’ve seen through 12 games in the season: Not much of anything. Many people, be it fans, media and even myself have been screaming for Gus Bradley and Bob Babich to give other players a run at that position, be it Ryan Davis, Chris Smith or even someone from a practice squad just to see if you can squeeze blood from a turnip, but they don’t sound too keen on trying it.
"I would say that it’s not that they don’t absolutely do nothing. They’ve done some good things in the run game," Bradley added about the LEO position. "The pass game is where we haven’t seen as much production as we need out of that."
That’s great. The pass rushing focused position has done good things in the run game.
On Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, the Jaguars sent multiple pressure looks. Bradley explained in his press conference on Monday that they felt they needed to send pressure at Marcus Mariota to disrupt him passing the football, and he noted their sacks and turnovers came off pressure packages, but ultimately blitzing did them in at times because players couldn’t get home.
Bradley was continually pressed by members of the media on what could be done to fix the defense, and all of his long-winded convoluted responses essentially ended up translating to, "I don’t know."
At this point in the season, help isn’t on the way and the scheme isn’t working. On Sunday, Week 12, the Jaguars finally decided to adjust some things in their scheme and it was an absolute disaster, but so is keeping the current scheme they have. Typically the Jaguars defense tries to play like the Seattle Seahawks defense, who’s scheme is their model, but they don’t have the players to execute that and they’ve waited too long to adjust their scheme to compensate for it.
This is something the Jaguars coaching staff should have been working on early, prior to the season when they knew about all the injuries.
The Jaguars defense doesn’t seem to be able to stop anyone in the passing game and Gus Bradley doesn’t appear to even have a band-aid for the gaping wound. The Jaguars offense can carry them somewhat, but on Sunday, six touchdowns weren’t enough to win the game against a sub-par offense marching up and down the field on the Jaguars defense.