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Stop asking the Jaguars defense to be perfect

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NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Jacksonville Jaguars defense came into the 2018 season with a significant degree of hype. The word “elite” was used to define the unit by fans, media, and the team. Setting such a high bar requires execution at a high level, and unfortunately the season has given us games in which the Jaguars defense looked anything but elite.

Still, a 4-8 record is not indicative of how the defense has performed. The “offense is terrible” horse has been beaten to death, and while injuries are a justifiable reason for that unit under performing, a strong argument can be made that the Jaguars record could easily be flipped if the team had better execution at the quarterback and wide receiver positions.

Oh yeah, throw in cooler heads off the bench too.

In last night’s “O-Zone Late Night” column, John Oehser fielded a question that encapsulates the unreasonable demands that were put on the Jaguars defense. This idea that somehow this season’s failed expectations are because the defense is not playing perfect every weekend.

QUESTION

The defense was spectacular, but would it be fair to say if the defense played at anywhere close to this level a bit more often the team would not be basically playing for pride? Why would it take essentially being out of it to find your best performance?

ANSWER

No, your question’s not fair because it implies somehow the Jaguars’ season is lost because the defense didn’t play all season as it did Sunday. The Jaguars’ defense played phenomenally well Sunday. They shut out a team that was scoring 33.1 points a game in its last eight games. They shut out a quarterback who had thrown at least three touchdown passes in eight consecutive games. They got some breaks to do it because the Colts could have – and probably should have – kicked at least a couple of field goals in the first half, but the point is they did it. But you don’t shut out offenses every week in the NFL these days. The Jaguars’ defense hasn’t been bad this season. It actually has been far better than its many critics have realized, and it has been hurt dramatically by rarely playing with a lead; its demise has been greatly exaggerated. The defense was as good Sunday as it has been this season – maybe ever. But it has been good enough much of the season for the Jaguars’ record to be much better than 4-8.

I would not pretend that I am somehow above the person asking the question. At times my expectations of this defense have been unreasonable, bordering on a demand of perfection. A fans disappointment is proportional to success, especially after being minutes away from a Super Bowl, and all you need do is look at my Twitter feed to see my obscenely incorrect prediction that the Jaguars would have the division wrapped up by December, while the Patriots would be wallowing in a season absent of Super Bowl potential.

This far into the season, however, such questions should not be asked. The offense trotted out one starter on the offensive line yesterday. A backup quarterback is now under center. The work horse running back has seen injury and suspension to keep him off the field. The offense coordinator has been fired. The defensive tackle drafted in the first round has not offered help off the bench.

Amidst a cavalcade of misfortune, the defense is:

  • 3rd yards allowed per game
  • 3rd in passing yards per game
  • 16th in rushing yards per game
  • 5th in points per game
  • 13th in sacks

What we saw on Sunday was a glimpse of how elite the defense can be against a team playing top shelf football. Yes the Colts had some questionable play calling, but the defense still had to embrace the opportunity and execute. Yannick Ngakoue, Myles Jack, Jalen Ramsey, Dawuane Smoot, Telvin Smith, and many others did not have physical and mental lapses seen in the last Colts game.

And all while the offense was playing near as bad as they did in the Titans loss.

If you need to put some loses on the defense this season, have at it. I will agree that losing to Dallas and...and...and...

Hard isn’t it?

Titans? A 6-9 loss is a demand of perfection.

Chiefs? A 14-30 loss was more about bouncing balls off helmets.

Texans? A 7-20 loss where the team was driving for a second score mid 4th quarter but a tipped interception stalled the comeback.

Eagles? An 18-24 loss thanks to a wide receiver fumble.

Colts? A 26-29 loss thanks to another wide receiver fumble.

Steelers? A 16-20 loss where the offense couldn’t get a first down in the second half.

Bills? A 21-24 loss...yeah, I may be inclined to give this one to both sides. Can’t let Josh Allen run like that.

The defense, at the very least, has kept the offense within striking distance. As John notes, the defense has been good enough most of the season. In a league that favors offensive production, it is insane to ask a defense to play a 16 game regular season as the Jaguars played yesterday.

The Jaguars defense is not perfect, and surely not elite, but they are one of the best in league. They are capable of playing at an elite level. Football is a team sport. Demand more from all units on the team.