I’m sure you’ve heard it by now, but on Sunday the Jaguars came out victorious in the Josh Allen Bowl, beating the AFC-leading Buffalo Bills 9-6. This was a defensive masterpiece by the Jaguars defense, holding the explosive Bills offense to 6 points and forcing three (Bills) Josh Allen turnovers. In fact, per Football Outsiders, Jacksonville’s -54.9% Defensive DVOA against the Bills is the best defensive DVOA the Jaguars have had since 2017.
While much of the stalwarts on the “Sacksonville” defense are gone, the echoes showed up in TIAA Bank Field on Sunday. Defensive Coordinator Joe Cullen called a fantastic game, and there was great execution from all 11 players on the field, including much maligned defensive lineman Taven Bryan (we’ll get to him later).
But what exactly did the Jaguars do to stifle the Bills defense? Let’s open the film room and find out.
Changing the Questions Before the Offense Finds Answers
With the rise in wide zone and offensive explosions happening around the NFL, defenses needed to adapt to the changing landscapes. Gone were the days of the Seattle-style Cover 3 being en vogue—teams passing more on early downs has reduced the need to have a safety down near the line of scrimmage before the snap. What the Broncos Vic Fangio and the Chargers(formerly of the Rams) Brandon Staley is live in a world of two high safeties, but use post snap rotation to confuse the QB. This is mainly done because in play action, QBs either have to turn their back or look down to do the play fake. What Staley and Fangio have done is used post-snap rotation to change the landscape of the defense after the QB thinks he has the answer built in.
On Sunday, Jaguars DC Joe Cullen did this a lot to limit the Bills explosiveness and force the Bills to play patiently. The Jaguars played a lot more Tampa 2 on Sunday than previous games, opting to leave Rayshawn Jenkins and Andrew Wingard back deep to limit Josh Allen’s vertical attacks. Allen is normally very aggressive, his 8.5 Intended Air Yards ranks ninth in the NFL, per Next Gen Stats. Against Jacksonville, Allen’s Average Depth of Target was only at 6.4, a whole two yards under his normal. Bills RB Devin Singletary was second in receptions for the Bills on Sunday, mainly because nothing was being made available deep.
After the run fake, you can see LB Myles Jack sprint towards the middle hook area. That’s because he’s the “Tampa” player: the LB who has to cover a lot of ground to take away the deep middle area of the field. Due to this, Josh Allen checks down to Singletary, and Damien Wilson and Jaguars Josh Allen rally to make the tackle.
Where Cullen and the Jaguars defense changed the questions, however, were on the two big interceptions Allen threw on Sunday. The first one to Rudy Ford is designed to be a textbook Tampa 2 beater, with Cole Beasley running an under route behind another receiver running an in breaking route as well. The Jaguars show two high safeties presnap, but once the ball is snapped they rotate into Cover 1, with Andrew Wingard taking the third man in the bunch Buffalo runs.
Change the questions before the offense finds the answers: The Jaguars played a lot of two high Tampa 2 coverage in the Bills game, and the Bills run a great concept here to beat Tampa 2(MIKE flies hard downfield, vacates MOF). However, JAX plays C1 at snap... pic.twitter.com/OMr8WfISnf— JP Acosta (@acosta32_jp) November 9, 2021
It’s actually even more illuminating from the endzone angle. You can see Josh Allen double clutch, because he’s expecting that middle route to be open. Instead he forces a throw behind Beasley, and Rudy Ford comes up with the pick.
On the Allenception interception, the Jaguars changed the questions by adding extra blitzers. On Sunday when the Jaguars blitzed, often it was Rudy Ford from his nickel position. But on this play, both Jack and Ford blitz, and Jaguars Josh Allen drops into coverage. Jacksonville rotates from a two high shell to single high due to the blitz. The Bills pickup the blitz poorly, and Allen throws his second INT of the day.
Winning the Trenches
Buffalo failed to pick up pressure very well the entire game. Jaguars Josh Allen, Dawuane Smoot, Taven Bryan and the rest of the Jaguars defensive line constantly had pressure on the Bills QB. Yes, the Jaguars did blitz the Bills, but a lot of pressure just came from winning with four rushers.
Jacksonville would use pass rush games like this tackle-tackle stunt, and they would constantly free up a man on their defensive line. Allen was forced to break contain, and ended up throwing an incompletion.
Josh Allen and Dawuane Smoot had terrific games on Sunday, with Allen taking home the AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors, but I wanted to specifically highlight Taven Bryan’s performance. The Jaguars 2018 first round pick hasn’t lived up to his draft spot performance wise (3.5 sacks in 54 games prior to Sunday), but he has quietly put together his best year, and Sunday was a display of where Bryan works best. When Taven Bryan has one gap to attack in pass rush or stopping the run, he can be a force. This push-pull move was one I haven’t seen him do before!
TAVEN BRO CHILL HE HAS A FAMILY pic.twitter.com/HMQdRZQKlS— JP Acosta (@acosta32_jp) November 9, 2021
The Jaguars also continued their good year in stopping the run. Currently they sit at 8th in the entire league in Defensive DVOA against the run, a large step up from last year, when they were 24th in the same metric. Against Buffalo, everyone made plays in the run game, dominating the line of scrimmage on early downs.
The Jaguars run defense continues to impress me this season. Chaisson does a great job setting the edge and almost making the play (Rudy Ford playing with his hair on fire too ) pic.twitter.com/Ua2qxr83Bk— JP Acosta (@acosta32_jp) November 9, 2021
Going forward, I think the Jaguars will use what they did against Buffalo defensively as a lanchpad for what they want to be. Of course, they won’t be playing the Bills OL without Jon Feliciano the entire season, but what Cullen can do to help his defense is not give the offense the answers and be so static defensively. Early in the season, the Jaguars defense was predictable, and used little movement outside of blitzes. Now, Cullen can start to change the questions before the offense finds any answers.
- Tyson Campbell played well on Sunday. He seems to be more of a zone type of corner, with the ability to keep the ball in front of him and use his physicality to make tackles.
- Rudy Ford needs to be the starting nickel. His play on Sunday, and throughout the season, has been huge for the defense.
- Shaq Griffin is worth every penny. Stefon Diggs was held in check for most of the game, and Griffin made a key tackle on third and seven to keep Diggs short of the first down (Josh Allen fumbled on the next play).