The Jacksonville Jaguars defense played its first game under new head coach Doug Pederson and first-time defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell in a Week 1 loss to the Washington Commanders.
I went through each defensive play from Sunday on a recent live stream (recap below):
Let me sprint through some players notes before I get to scheme stuff.
Jacksonville’s biggest positional weakness on defense may be safety. Cornerbacks Tyson Campbell and Shaquille Griffin had some mistakes here and there on Sunday but also showed some highs and generally played well against the run and the pass. Safeties Rayshawn Jenkins and Andre Cisco, however, struggled in deep coverage. Darius Williams also struggled at first but impressed more and more as the game went on. His size is a concern but I liked his man coverage and IQ.
Travon Walker and Josh Allen were mostly ineffective against Washington’s tackles, though each had a handful of big-time plays to keep Jaguars fans hungry for more. Walker wasn’t as impressive against the run as I’d hoped, but DaVon Hamilton and Folorunso Fatukasi both played great against the run with multiple beastly pass-rushing reps as well. Those two are the undisputed backbone of Jacksonville’s defense.
K’Lavon Chaisson played just nine snaps but had at least two good plays, while Roy Robertson-Harris didn’t stand out in his 44 snaps. Arden Key seemingly didn’t do anything and looked just as ineffective as Jihad Ward last year running outside on stunts (albeit small sample size). Dawuane Smoot and Adam Gotsis each had a single great rep, so nothing new there.
Foyesade Oluokun underwhelmed in his Jaguars debut with no big plays, but he also didn’t make any big mistakes either so that’s cool. Devin Lloyd was very inconsistent, as he had several brutal missed tackles but also had arguably the best pass rush rep of the day on a fourth-quarter blitz. I’m hoping he was just rusty from injury and not playing in the preseason.
As you may have been able to tell, the story of the game was big mistakes: penalties, missed tackles, and busts in coverage. But the film also told us that if those mistakes get cleaned up, Jacksonville may have a very sound system defensively.
Caldwell called a lot of two-high coverages, which isn’t a surprise considering recent league-wide trends. That resulted in a lot of Cover 2.
It kinda feels like a waste to keep your high-investments at cornerback in the flats near the line of scrimmage rather than defending deep. But the reason it works well in this case is because Campbell and Griffin are big, athletic corners who play well against the run, and secondary run defense is an underrated aspect of the game.
The reason it doesn’t work, as we saw, is miscommunication and bad coverage on the back end. Jacksonville didn't respect sideline perimeter throws, perhaps due to the quarterback it was facing, and got burned for it. While I’m not confident in the safeties becoming better deep coverage defenders overnight, I do have hope that the coaching staff can make adjustments in the future to help their players out.
We already saw one of those adjustments with inverted coverage calls (e.g. Campbell switches positions/assignments with Cisco post-snap). Those were very cool to see. This week in practice Caldwell and co. will need to focus on improved communication and technique by players in the secondary, but I though the play designs and coverage calls by the coaches on Sunday were good.
That's similar to what I saw watching the Jaguars offense. We all noticed the big mistakes live, but on a down-to-down basis the Jaguars look like they have a solid foundation. And the mistakes aren’t a surprise considering the fact that Jacksonville has a new coaching staff and 11 (!) new starters compared to last year’s season opener.
Can the players shake off their rust to catch balls and make tackles and not commit penalties? Or will it be the same old Jaguars this season? I think the Week 1 film gave us hope for the latter.