The Jacksonville Jaguars defeated the New York Jets by a score of 29-15 on Sunday, and the defense was a big reason why. The unit was menacing for a second consecutive week, taking down quarterback Sam Darnold eight times, and forcing three turnovers.
The Jaguars struggled to create turnovers and get pressure on the quarterback in the early season, but both categories have increased astronomically over the past two weeks. Jacksonville has 10 sacks and seven takeaways in the past two games. The team is also undefeated when forcing a turnover this year.
This begs the question, is “Sacksonville” officially back? Prior to tonight’s Monday Night Football game, the Jaguars currently rank third in the NFL with 29 sacks — just two sacks behind the New England Patriots for first place.
For comparison sake, Jacksonville only had 37 sacks as a team in all 16 games of the 2018 season. The 2017 team, which finished second in the league with 56 total sacks, had 35 through eight games. Currently, Jacksonville is averaging about 3.6 sacks per game in 2019, and is on pace for 58 sacks on the season.
Calais Campbell, Abry Jones, Yannick Ngakoue, Dawuane Smoot, Ronnie Harrison and Josh Allen all recorded at least a half-sack on Sunday. Campbell, Ngakoue, Smoot and Allen all have registered at least four sacks this season — Smoot had zero career sacks through 24 games entering the 2019 campaign.
Other than Smoot’s emergence, a big reason why the team is getting after the quarterback more often this season is because of Allen, the team’s first-round pick. Allen now has seven sacks this season, which ties him for the lead with all NFL rookies. He also has the most sacks through a player’s first eight career games in franchise history, and has also recorded at least one sack in four straight games.
Allen’s teammates have taken notice:
“I liked Josh (Allen) when he first came in, and you just see that he gels with the locker room, Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye said after the game, via Jaguars.com. “He’s a rookie, but he don’t act like a rookie. He talks with us about everything, and he’s a fun guy to be around, and I love being around him. Just to see it translate on the field and see him have fun, that’s amazing.”
In addition to Smoot and Allen’s phenomenal starts, a healthier Ngakoue, and a leader in Campbell —who just seems to get better with age — are also huge pieces to the puzzle in the Jacksonville pass rush.
In fact, Bouye says that this year’s unit reminds him of the incredible 2017 defense that prompted the Jaguars to a run to the AFC Championship game:
“(2017) is definitely what it felt like (on Sunday),” Bouye said in postgame. “We were talking about it all week, Me, Myles (Jack) and some of the other guys. Just the vibe and energy feels way different (than it did early in the season). We’re appreciative of that, the coaches and players are just buying into it.”
Granted, the Jaguars’ last two opponents have a combined record of 1-14, so we will see if Jacksonville can keep this pace against a much better opponent against the Houston Texans in London. With that said, Houston’s offensive line has allowed 24 sacks and 45 quarterback hits this season, so the Jags should be able to put pressure on Deshaun Watson. The Jags took Watson down four times in the first meeting.