If the Jacksonville Jaguars are going to march to Super Bowl 53 in Atlanta, they cannot ease up on the accelerator. That means the defense must continue to do what it did last season, where it abused opposing quarterbacks and scored touchdowns via turnovers.
This is not your father’s Jaguars anymore.
There are a few areas the defense must improve on – things that were outlined in press conferences and discussed in team meetings. Anyone doubting how good these 11 starters and reserves are should ask Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts what it feels like to be run over and held at bay for 60 minutes.
Just like the offense that I spoke about earlier in the week, there are three things this defense must do in 2018 that will ensure success on the field. It also might be a trip to Atlanta, where the Jaguars would = reach their final destination and potentially win the franchise’s first Lombardi Trophy.
Harass the Quarterback
One of the things Jacksonville defensive coordinator Todd Wash stressed last season in his weekly press conferences was the fact the team did not have to use many blitz packages to get to the quarterback. That trend should continue. Jacksonville had 55 sacks last season, one less than the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Jaguars did a great job of scheming with a four-man front, which is intact from last season and has added more speed with Taven Bryan on the outside. If Dante Fowler, Jr. is healthy, and the middle of the line can still put pressure up the middle, it allows the rush ends to get to the outside to cut off mobility out of the pocket.
These Jaguars know how to close in quickly and shot the pocket down in obvious passing situations.
Wash was complimentary of Malik Jackson and how he came back to camp in great shape. After a year that produced eight sacks, this could be his best season in the NFL.
“The biggest thing I think with our whole unit is that we have to have consistency down in and down out. He did a really nice job affecting the quarterback,” Wash explained.
“He had some good numbers pressuring the quarterback, sacking the quarterback. As the season went on, he got better and better versus the run. I know that is a big point of emphasis.”
Get Off The Field Early
One of the things the defense did work on during OTAs and minicamp and will continue to work on in training camp is 3rd-and-6 situations. The Jaguars must make things happen on third down – more so than they did last year.
“We practice third-and-three to third-and-six. That is kind of simple. We work on that down and distance. It is a situation where we study a lot of teams in the league. We figure out what we did well and what we didn’t do well,” Wash said in his press conference on May 31. “We see what schematic changes we have to make, what other people are doing that are really good in those areas. That was a big offseason study, two to six, for us. I know Doug [Marrone] talks three to six, but for us defensively, three to six – I think we were 18th in the league in that standard. We have to do some things schematically, and we just have to do a better job coaching.”
Even with the aggressive nature of the defense, giving up first-down yardage on third down was an Achilles Heel for this defense. Jacksonville has speed all over the field, but in times played too soft over the middle, which cost them opportunities to get off the field.
Let Jalen Be Jalen
I was going to write about how this team must remain healthy like it did last season, but that is a given around the NFL. If Jacksonville and its players are to take this to another level – as some talked about in the locker room during minicamp, then stars will have to play as good, if not better than 2017.
That means a steady dose of Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye and the secondary that was one of the best in the league. While the Minnesota Vikings may have a gripe over which unit is better, give me Jacksonville all day.
Yes, this is a biased announcement.
Ramsey already told the local media if they thought the 2017 season was impressive, they haven’t seen anything yet. It’s nice to see someone with that kind of swagger on this team who believes he is the best at what he does.
He is probably right.
While Ramsey, et al continue to make life difficult for opposing wide receivers, he still has plenty to work on, as he explained at his press conference two weeks ago.
Adam Rank of NFL.com acknowledges what many of us know to be true – Ramsey is the best cornerback in the NFL. He was also the highest ranked at his position in the NFL Top 100.
“When Ramsey rolled into EverBank Field after the Jaguars’ win over the Steelers in the Divisional Round (don’t you dare call it an upset) and implored fans to bring the noise because they were gonna go to the Super Bowl and win that [female dog] — well, I was into it. I loved everything about it,” Rank wrote. “The swagger. The killer jacket. It was classic Ric Flair. Stylin’ and profilin’ out there. Only this Space Mountain isn’t the oldest ride in the park — it’s the best attraction, even though it’s still relatively new.
“Yes, what I’m saying is Ramsey is the best cornerback in the game. I don’t care who knows it. He’s entering his third NFL season. He’s just getting started. And what’s scary: This is the first offseason where he hasn’t had surgery.”
Now, if Ramsey continues to back up what he says – which has been the case since he strutted into this league, then there is no doubt the Jacksonville defense will be better in 2018.
It’s scary to think something so good could be better than it was.