The start to the Jacksonville Jaguars' season has been about as up-and-down as it can get. Two blowout victories, each followed by two disappointing losses. One in blowout fashion, and one in a game the Jaguars had a plethora of chances to win.
With such an inconsistent team, it can be hard to pick out what is real, and what is a fluke. Here are some things I think we have learned from the first quarter of the season.
The defense is legit
The Jaguars had a solid defense last year. They weren't flashy, but they kept the team in a lot of games. We saw the development of Jalen Ramsey and Yannick Ngakoue, and debated all year whether or not Myles Jack should start over Paul Posluzsney.
This year however, the defense has taken the next step.
So far in the season, they have played three-and-a-half games of good football, outside of the defense tiring down against the Titans in Week 2. While they gave up two huge runs against the Jets last week, one was a fluke play, and the other was a anomaly. Big plays are going to happen, and it is usually better to look at the bigger picture when discussing how effective the defense has been overall.
There are many reasons for the improvement of the defense.
The pass rush is ferocious, as the team leads the league in sacks with 18. The pass defense has been elite as well, giving up the fewest yards per game in the league, while also giving up the second least yards per attempt at 5.7. They are sixth in scoring defense as well, but the big issue right now comes in the running game.
Now, I don't expect what happened in the Jets game, where they broke two runs over 60 yards, to happen every week. However, it is an issue to keep an eye on. While Myles Jack has played very well, he has struggled with his run fits a bit this season, and Telvin Smith will always be limited as a run defender due to his size. They also miss a guy like Roy Miller on this team, who ate up blockers like nobodies business. Don't get me wrong, Abry Jones is good, but he isn't the run defender Miller has been in past years.
Overall though, the defense has a chance to be an elite unit. And if you are giving me the choice, I'd rather be elite at stopping the pass in this era, and figure out the run defense later.
This year's free agents were excellent signings
Free agency is a tricky game to play. Teams know they are usually overpaying guys, but by how much is the question they ask themselves? Many praised the Jaguars for their free agency this offseason, but they had been burned in the past. The shopped at the top of the market with Campbell and Bouye, and spent big money. it has however, payed off excellent so far.
Campbell may be playing the best football of his career. He played on some good defenes in Arizona, but I don't think he ever played well a front as talented as this one. Campbell is second in the league in sacks with 5.5, and has been one of the few guys who has been stellar against the run. Campbell is also a leader, and it is clear the guys respect him in the locker room, especially on the defensive line.
Some questioned whether Campbell could still bring it at 31, but he is playing better than ever.
Bouye has not received as much praise, and a lot of that has to do with Ramsey, who has played like the best cornerback in the league so far. Bouye has played well though, and has two interceptions on the year to show for it. Bouye is going to picked on some in this defense, simply because teams will usually shy away from throwing at Ramsey, So lets not expect him to only allow a catch or two a game. However, Bouye has played well so far, and the duo between him and Ramsey is proving to be one of the best in the league. Again, many were wary of giving Bouye a ton of money after one good season, but Bouye has proved so far he could probably be a number one corner on most teams.
Barry Church has been the quieter pick up of the three, but the simple fact he isn't Johnathan Cyprien is a win. Church has played well so far, and has been a calming influence in the secondary. Church rarely makes mistakes in coverage, and is solid against the run. Nothing is flashy about him, but he gets the job done. Church's versatility also allows them to do more creative things with Tashaun Gipson, which is something Gipson specifically complained about last season.
Any way you put it, these three guys have been a home run so far. After completely flopping on free agents from 2013 to 2015, it is nice to have some guys who are making real impacts for a change.
Leonard Fournette and Cam Robinson have been the real deal
A case could have been made at this time last year, that both Fournette and Robinson would have been top-five picks. Both were wildly heralded out of high school, all the way through their respective tenures at LSU and Alabama. Both had high ceilings, but some questioned what their fit would be like in the NFL.
Fournette has obviously been a bright spot in an otherwise painful offense. He ahs played better than his stats have shown, and his ability to make nothing out of something, as well as his ability to catch out of the backfield have made him an already proven playmaker at the NFL level.