Grit. Determination. Dominance.
Those three words describe the Jaguars defense during the 2017 season. In 2017 the Jaguars ranked first in overall passing defense, second in total sacks with 55, and second in takeaways with 33. Those statistics were staggering by any NFL standards, and the result was a trip to the AFC title game.
Fast forward to 2018 and not only did the Jaguars drop in all those categories, but they also dropped considerably in the two most valuable on the list: sacks and takeaways. The Jaguars tied for 22nd in both sacks and takeaways this past season accounting for only 33 and 17, respectively.
How it got there
In 2018, the Jaguars were set to take over the NFL with the best defense in the league. The expectations were high, and the pessimism regarding the team, and specifically the defense, was at its lowest since before the Jack Del Rio era.
In a recent interview, Jaguars wide receiver Dede Westbrook seemed to shed some light on the situation with the team as a whole, “We had a bunch of individuals who wanted things for themselves, play time for certain guys if you know what I mean,” Westbrook told CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco. “Those guys, I love them to death, but they’re selfish ball. It’s a team sport. You have one person feuding with another person, and then you’ve got that same person that’s cool with two or three other people and then they are going to shy away from that same guy as well because they feel like they are turning on their brother. Or the person they are driving with when they leave the facility. So, it’s tough. With that being said, it’s going to separate people. That’s in everyday life. That’s not just in the locker room. It’s everywhere.”
Overconfidence, selfishness, and distraction.
Those are three words to describe the 2018 Jacksonville Jaguars, and specifically the Jaguars defense. The Jaguars got this way seemingly after a week three loss to the Tennessee Titans. Jalen Ramsey – when asked what happened to the Jaguars last season — stated in a podcast hosted by Tennessee Titans Taylor Lewan, “We lost to y’all [the Titans] .” After that game, the Jaguars would go on to win only three more the rest of the season finishing 5-11.
The Jaguars seemed to turn on themselves, and it cost them an opportunity to repeat as one of the best defenses in the NFL. Now don’t get me wrong, the Jaguars defense is still very good — they ranked 3rd in passing defense in 2018 –, however they were not doing nearly enough to repeat the same magic which occurred in during the 2017 season. While the Jaguars offense did not do them any favors at all, suffering from similar ailments including injuries, the defense was supposed to be the catalyst for the team.
The offense didn’t do the Jaguars defense any favors either last season. Suffering from a staggering number of injuries to key players — and a dramatically under performing quarterback –, the Jaguars defense was forced to play from behind far too often, and never really had a chance to get it together as they did in 2017.
How it will change
During the off-season, the Jaguars got rid of a few key players and several position coaches. Most notably defensive tackle Malik Jackson, and safety Tashaun Gipson. Two veterans on the team that included very few. Not only does this send a message to the entire team, but it also organically creates an entirely new “culture” in the locker room by forcing “younger” players such as Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack, and A. J. Bouye to take even more of a leadership role.
The Jaguars will go into this season with at least three new starters on defense. Ronnie Harrison will start at safety, 2019 third-round pick Quincy Williams is slated to start at weak side linebacker when he returns from injury, and Jarrod Wilson is slated to start at the other safety position. The Jaguars also drafted defensive end Josh Allen with their seventh overall selection. He will replace former Jaguar Dante Fowler Jr. Josh Allen led the SEC in sacks last season with 17 sacks and will add another dynamic pass rusher to the defense.
New blood on the Jaguars defense will reinvigorate them to not only outperform the 2018 version of themselves but get back on track to their 2017 version. If Harrison, Wilson, and Allen play up to their potential they could easily outperform their predecessors. Both Harrison and Wilson are long, lanky defensive backs who have a potential to be ball hawks in the back end of the secondary, as well as physical run stoppers.
One of the Jaguars major issues on defense last season was miscommunication issues. Ronnie Harrison spoke about just that when speaking with the media last week on how he thinks him and Wilson complement each other stating, “I think we do a great job. Both of us are kind of heady guys, we play above the neck. We’re very smart, we communicate well together. We kind of have the similar tools that we both can come and cover down on the tight ends or in the slot, can roam in the middle of the field, so I think we’re paired well together.”
For the Jaguars to be successful this season, communication will be key.
The Jaguars will have every opportunity to prove they can regain their dominant presence and they hope with the success of quarterback Nick Foles — and a reinvigorated Leonard Fournette –they will have an easier go at it.
Demetrius Harvey is a contributor to Post to Post Links II error: No link found for term slug "feud-sports". You can follow him and the rest of the team below.