The NFL’s Next Great Defense Belongs To The Jacksonville Jaguars
Ignore the fact that the Jacksonville Jaguars are coming off a week in which they allowed 37 points to the Tennessee Titans. Because, if you look closely enough, outside of last Sunday’s aberration, the Jaguars have quietly assembled one of the most intriguing defenses in the NFL.
By and large, defensive coordinator Todd Wash continues to run a very similar defensive scheme to that of the Seattle Seahawks, which former Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley brought over with him when he took the position back in 2013. If you look at the way the team was constructed, you can see just how much of an uncanny facsimile this defense has become, when compared to the group up in the Pacific Northwest.
For the second straight year, Jacksonville went out and spent liberally in free agency, enhancing the young and talented foundation of players they’ve taken via the NFL Draft with veteran players at key positions. This year, the Jaguars were able to secure the services of one of the true crown jewels of the 2017 Free Agency period: defensive end Calais Campbell, formerly of the Arizona Cardinals. They envisioned Campbell coming and and playing the Michael Bennett role in this Seahawks-esque defense; given the fact that Campbell started the season with four sacks in his first game with the Jaguars, you could say things are working out so far. Opposite Campbell, the team had previously envision Dante Fowler Jr. — the team’s top pick in the 2015 NFL Draft — filling the “elephant” pass rusher role in this defense. But after Fowler missed all of his rookie season with a torn ACL injury, the team spent a third round pick on defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who looks like he might’ve supplanted Fowler for this dedicated pass rushing role; Ngakoue led the team — as a rookie — with eight sacks last year. Up the middle, Seattle has two, large, able-bodied guys in Malik Jackson (last year’s prized free agent signing) and Abry Jones, who free things up for the guys on the outside.
At the second level of the defense, linebackers Myles Jack and Telvin Smith could easily be Jacksonville’s version of Bobby Wagner and K.J Wright in Seattle: undersized, super-athletic players with uncanny abilities to chase anyone with the ball from sideline to sideline. And while the Jaguars have experimented with playing Jack at the middle linebacker position, veteran Paul Posluzny is still the guy with the most experience and savvy at the position, giving a solid contrast to the young, freak athletes at his flanks.
Jacksonville also added two key additions to their secondary via free agency. They signed cornerback A.J. Bouye to a five-year, $67.5 million deal; as one of the breakout stars of 2016, not only does Bouye give the Jaguars one of the very best tandems of cornerbacks in the NFL (alongside uber-talented rookie Jalen Ramsey), but it also makes a key division rival — the Houston Texans — weaker in the process. And one year after signing free safety Tashaun Gipson to do the same for their defense (think of him as the Earl Thomas of this group), Jacksonville signed free agent safety Barry Church — formerly of the Dallas Cowboys — to play the strong safety position (think of him as the Kam Chancellor role). The early results for the duo have been very promising, as they’re reportedly gelling splendidly.
It’s ironic that this group will be taking on the Baltimore Ravens this weekend, because the Jaguars could find themselves in the position that the Ravens were in for much of the 2000’s: with an ultra-stout defense that has to play at its full potential because of the team’s offensive shortcomings. Clearly, Jacksonville has as much talent as any unit in the NFL. It’s just a matter of when it’ll come together, and if it’ll be enough to overcome the team’s offensive struggles.After all, great defense beats great offense and great defense needs protective gears.