Ryan Nielsen quickly unveiled key reason for Jaguars defense's collapse in 2023

• The Jaguars defense is expected to improve under Ryan Nielsen.

• Nielsen found the root of the unit's struggles

Oct 20, 2022; Glendale, Arizona, USA; New Orleans Saints co defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen
Oct 20, 2022; Glendale, Arizona, USA; New Orleans Saints co defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen / Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Jacksonville Jaguars hired Ryan Nielsen to get the defense back on track after coming crashing down late in the season. While Nielsen has his work cut out, he's at least found out one crucial reason behind the unit's collapse.

Mia O'Brian of 1010 XL argues that the change to Nielsen will "pay dividends," pointing out that players didn't discuss alignments late in 2023 and there was no communication between position groups.

"I go back to what I was told by a source in February. Ryan Nielson arrived in the building and he asked a player, 'How much time did you spend talking about alignments?', The player laughed and said 0% of the time, O'Brien said on 1010 XL. "And then came to find out that in terms of conversations between certain position groups and those rooms with other position groups along with defensive front and they're in those rooms, there was zero to no communication the last five weeks of the season.

O'Brien continued, "That can't happen. Again, the word alignment comes into play but also physically literally on the field in terms of scheme as well."

The Jaguars defense ranked 12th in points allowed and 24th in total yards in 2022, Mike Caldwell's first year overseeing the unit. They regressed last year though. Although they got off to a strong start, they faded down the stretch and finished 17th in points surrendered and 22nd in total yards.

Late in 2023, the unit routinely missed tackles and blew coverage assignments. O'Brien's comments point to the root of the struggles: Lack of communication between the coaching staff and players. Not long after the season ended, head coach Doug Pederson dismissed Caldwell and brought in Nielsen.

Nielsen began his coaching career at the collegiate level. He made the leap to the NFL in 2017, when he joined the New Orleans Saints as the defensive line coach. He would progressively see his responsibilities increase and became their co-defensive coordinator by 2022. In 2023, Nielsen crossed enemy lines and was hired as the Atlanta Falcons' defensive coordinator.

The Atlanta defense experienced a noticeable improvement under Nielsen in 2023, going from 27th in yards allowed to 11th. They doubled their sack totals from the year prior and finished fourth in the league in Redzone efficiency. The Jaguars should enjoy a similar success with him at the helm. Here are O'Brien's comments.

Mike Caldwell and Doug Pederson deserve blame for the Jaguars collapse

This was the first time Mike Caldwell was a defensive coordinator in the NFL, so growing pains were expected. But after two years, head coach Doug Pederson had seen enough and gave him his walking papers.

While Pederson deserves praise for identifying the root of the problem, he was also responsible. After all, Pederson is the head coach and if the communication on defense wasn't optimal, he should've done something there and then. In fact, he said after the season ended that they will no longer wait until the next day or film session to correct mistakes like they did in 2023. It's good that he realized the approach wasn't working but he allowed it.

In Caldwell's defense, the pass rush was less than ideal, and that falls on general manager Trent Baalke. Throughout the offseason, he had several chances to make additions but opted not to.

Sure, the Jags had Travon Walker and Josh Allen but they didn't have anyone else. Without a consistent pass rush, opposing quarterbacks had ample time to throw, which in turn put additional pressure on the secondary. Still, Caldwell couldn't get the most out of the personnel he had.

Realizing the Jaguars' brass didn't appropriately address needs last year, they spared no expense to add playmakers and depth to most position groups the past few months. While Nielsen will stress the importance of fundamentals and technique, something his predecessor failed to do, having enough talent to install his scheme won't hurt.

The bottom line is that the defense played a role in the Jaguars' inability to make the playoffs last season. The decision-makers have made the appropriate corrections since then, and Nielsen will be a big reason they'll be able to steer the ship in the right direction in 2024.

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