Have the Jacksonville Jaguars Assembled The Perfect Passing Defense?
At the risk of speaking in hyperbole: is it possible that the Jacksonville Jaguars have assembled the perfect passing defense?
Everyone knows that the NFL has become “a passing league,” given all the rule changes that favor the offense, the increased sophistication of offensive schemes in general, and the level of physical talent owned by the offensive skill players entering the league each year. In today’s league, the truth is, you win games by throwing the football on offense, and stopping other teams from throwing the football on your defense.
And this current group of players on the defense of the Jacksonville Jaguars is as skilled as any group we’ve seen in recent memory, in terms of shutting down opposing passing attacks, thanks to a lethal combination of youthful exuberance, veteran leadership, and an unfathomable amount of overall talent and athleticism.
First and foremost, any great defense needs to be able to rush the opposing passer. The Jaguars are the only team in the NFL with two different players ranked in the top 10 in the league in quarterback sacks this season: defensive end Calais Campbell — one of the team’s major free agent acquisitions this past offseason — is currently ranked second in the league with 14.5 sacks, while defensive end Yannick Ngakoue — Jacksonville’s third round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft — has 11 sacks. Both players have been so good that they’ve actually made defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. — the fourth overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft — a situational rusher whom the team can bring in on passing downs to help create even more pressure.
And the scary part? Campbell and Ngakoue aren’t the only pair of players at the same position on the Jaguars defense that are among the best in the league. Jacksonville is the only team in the NFL this year that will send two different players from its secondary to the 2018 Pro Bowl: cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey (their top pick in the 2016 NFL Draft) and A.J. Bouye (another major free agent acquisition this past offseason). It could be argued that Ramsey and Bouye were two of the very best cornerbacks in the entire NFL this year, as evidenced by the fact that those two were actually named the starters for the AFC Pro Bowl team.
But it doesn’t stop there. Linebackers Myles Jack (a second round pick in 2016) and Telvin Smith (an absolute steal of a fifth-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft) are very much in-line with the new age of linebackers in today’s NFL: strong enough to take on the biggest guys on offense, but small and swift enough to run with the fastest guys on offense. Both players are ranked among the top 30 in the NFL in total tackles this year, and are on pace to finish with somewhere near 100 tackles each. More importantly, they present athletic problems that opposing offenses have to constantly account for.
On the defensive line, tackles Malik Jackson — who came over from the Denver Broncos after winning a Super Bowl there, during the 2015 season — and Abry Jones are big-bodied guys that are darn near immovable. Safeties Tashaun Gipson and Barry Church were both shrewd free agent acquisitions; Gipson plays the deep safety role wonderfully in the base Cover 3 scheme the Jaguars run, while Church is more of the “moneybacker” strong safety that plays near the line of scrimmage but also patrols the flats.
When you add all of this up, you see why you get a defense that’s on pace to give up the lowest average passing yards per game in eight seasons. While the Jaguars’ offense has played well at times this season, with quarterback Blake Bortles even starting to show signs of growth, it’s this group that has been the biggest reason why Jacksonville now owns a 10-4 record, and looks like they’ll win their first AFC South division title in a decade.
If — or when — they do get into the postseason, this could be the proverbial team that nobody wants to play. The AFC really only has two elite quarterbacks, among the group most likely to make it to the posteason: Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger. While both players are still excellent, they’re not nearly the guys they used to be. As a fan of either of those teams, would you really want either of those quarterbacks going up against this Jaguars defense?
This team wasn’t just built to win games in the regular season; it has all the ability to win a few postseason games as well.
After all, doesn’t defense win championships?