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Jaguars film room: Three-play sequence against Atlanta’s offense

Gus explains Mike Caldwell’s defensive philosophy using a three-play sequence from the Jaguars’ Week 4 win over Atlanta

NFL: London Games-Atlanta Falcons at Jacksonville Jaguars Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Hello and welcome to the Week 5 edition of Gus’ film breakdown!

Last week, 1010XL’s Mia O’Brien asked Jaguars defensive tackle Roy Robertson-Harris where the team needs to grow in order to generate sacks. (They ranked 6th in pressures but 24th in sacks entering Week 4.)

Robertson-Harris replied, “Stop the run so we can have fun, point blank period. We stop the run, that’ll lead to getting us more rush opportunities, and then we’ll go from there.” When O’Brien asked if the Jaguars have stopped the run so far (they have), Roberston-Harris said, “Uh, we’ve done okay. I feel like we do need to be a little more solid, we know what our standard is and we need to uphold that.”

As a lot of players tend to do, Robertson-Harris was basically speaking for his coach when he gave his answer. The idea of stopping the run to set up the pass rush comes from Jaguars defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell, who got the idea from his former mentor and current Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles.

Their philosophy is less about running setting up passing as it is early downs setting up late downs. (Early down play calls are usually runs, hence the generalization.) The real key is to limit opposing offensive production on first and second downs so that the offense has a long way to go on third or fourth downs.

Based on how the Jaguars’ offense has been performing, everyone in Jacksonville should understand how valuable third down production is when it comes to winning football games. Just one or two big stops or conversions could swing an entire game.

The point is, one way that you could describe Mike Caldwell’s defensive philosophy is ‘to prioritize winning on early downs to make life easier on late downs’.

Here’s an example.

Limiting early down production is a good and important strategy against any NFL offense, but especially one with a quarterback as talented as Josh Allen.

Allen is one of a handful of young passers, including Trevor Lawrence, who’s recently had to learn ‘how to take what the defense is giving him’. Tom Brady made that task look easy for two decades, but it’s a lot easier said than done, especially for gunslingers like Allen or Lawrence who have the arm talent to put the ball anywhere on the field.

We just watched Desmond Ridder react to a 3rd-and-long situation by spinning backward into a sack. In Week 1 against the Jets, Josh Allen threw three boneheaded interceptions that came on a 3rd-and-8, a 2nd-and-13, and a 3rd-and-2.

He’s cleaned up his act considerably since then -- and looked unstoppable last week against the Dolphins -- but this Week 5 game between the Jaguars and the Bills will come down to one thing: whether Mike Caldwell can make Josh Allen look like he lost his supersuit in critical late down situations.

According to Clev Analytics, the Bills currently rank first in third down conversion rate over expected, which is third down conversion rate relative to the distance to the sticks. Meanwhile, the Jaguars rank fifth in success rate allowed against both the run and the pass, which means they’re doing a good job of carrying out Caldwell’s strategy. Something’s gotta give.

The last time these two teams met was in 2019, aka the first edition of the Josh Allen Bowl. The Bills were 6/15 on third downs and 0/1 on fourth downs and committed three turnovers.

Jacksonville will need a similar defensive performance to pull off an upset over Buffalo once again.

Thank you for watching!