The Jacksonville Jaguars just defeated the Giants on the road in their season opener this weekend and we got a chance to check out the most hyped defense in the nation. And while they weren’t perfect, they totally delivered. So… do the Jags have the best defense in the NFL? And will they be able to keep it up heading deeper into the season? Only time will tell.
As a team last year, the Jaguars exceeded all expectations – playing exceptionally well, wearing out the opposition, and showing the nation what an elite defense looked like as they made their way to the AFC Championship to take on the Patriots. (Heck, people kinda even got on board with Blake Bortles as a quarterback last season, something we never expected to happen.) They really showed up as a team, and we’re betting you see a LOT of bandwagon Jaguars fans this season. They’re a fun team to like. But man, that defense is what has really gotten a lot of people talking. Can the Jags continue to perform at that level this year?
Last season, the Jaguars were second in total defense and second in scoring defense. They’ve also added some new players to the team despite already having six pro-bowlers on D. They drafted first-round pick Taven Bryan, and it looks like Leon Jacobs is going to be a seventh-round diamond in the rough. The Jags also traded for Marcell Dareus, a guy in the middle who should help their defense improve against the run.
Younger but more athletic this year, the Jaguars also have linebackers that can run – Myles Jack, Telvin Smith, and the aforementioned Taven Bryan. If they can stay healthy, we already know what their defense can do. And with these new guys, they might be even (dare we say it?) better than last year. On Sunday, we saw Myles Jack score a touchdown off an interception, the second of his career.
The defense is able to take control of a game, often scoring just as much as the offense. After Sunday’s matchup, Jack told reporters, “That’s what we like to do. We feel like we’re so talented on defense. We got DBs that can score, linebackers can score, even d-linemen can cause strip-sack fumbles and score. We don’t put any pressure on the [Jaguars] offense. If the offense scores, that’s just even better for us. We just try to create points.”
So long as everybody can avoid injury and the Jaguars can keep the core of their young defense together, there’s no telling how far they’ll go… or at least we think so.
Some experts, however, are saying that last year was a lucky one for the Jags’ defense. For one, they stayed healthy. Like exceptionally so. They also had a great adjusted sack rate and a high rate of turnovers per drive. But, so they say, it’s hard to keep all those stats consistent from one year to the next. Typically, a team that improves their pass defense by this big of a margin in one season ends up falling somewhere in the middle the following year. Statistically, it’s just hard to maintain those kinds of numbers. So their defense will still be good, but whether or not you’ll still be raving about them after this fall will depend on how you measure it… supposedly.
That doesn’t mean everybody’s a negative Nancy….
Lots of other sports guys out there are still on board with the Big Cats, arguing that they have the deepest defense in the NFL. Like, we’re talking talented dudes in every position. Calais Campbell is a leader up front, getting to the quarterback 14.5 times last season, an AFC best. Alongside Campbell, you’ve also got Marcell Dareus, Malik Jackson, and Yannick Ngakoue.
In Sunday’s game, Campbell got his first sack of the season – the 72nd of his career – against QB Eli Manning. Campbell says he was proud of the way the team showed up against the Giants, showing a lot of resilience throughout the game.
And of course, the Jags have also got crowd favorite and big-time trash talker, Jalen Ramsey, at cornerback with AJ Bouye, probably the best CB pairing in the league. Their safeties – the duo of Tashaun Gipson and Barry Church – are incredibly solid too.
After losing one of their top offensive players, Leonard Fournett in the second quarter of Sunday’s game, it looked like the Jags wouldn’t be firing on all cylinders. But Quarterback Blake Bortles said in an interview afterward, “Our defense bailed us out and played really well, and for us to find a way to win, I think it’s a good start.”
If the Jacksonville defense doesn’t measure up to our expectations, it’s not for lack of talent. That’s for sure. But it could be because the Jags set our sights SO high after last season that we’re all just out of touch.