FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — When New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked several questions about the Jacksonville Jaguars in his Monday morning conference call, and his answers weren’t particularly detailed, he finally said, “I’m not trying to be evasive about Jacksonville here, but we didn’t know who we were playing until last night and we’re really starting to get to work on them now.”
So that has been what Belichick, his staff and players began doing in earnest, which provides a springboard to do the same in this space. Along those lines, ESPN.com Jaguars reporter Mike DiRocco relays his Jaguars scouting report.
Offensive philosophy: Run, run, run. Play-action passes. It’s pretty simple, but that’s what the Jaguars want to do. They’ve made no secret about it, either. Coach Doug Marrone joked in June that he’d be fine if the Jaguars didn’t throw any passes at all. The Jaguars drafted Leonard Fournette fourth overall and left tackle Cam Robinson 34th overall to get that done, and they ended up leading the NFL in rushing during the regular season. The Jaguars would prefer quarterback Blake Bortles to attempt fewer than 30 passes per game, which isn’t always realistic, but the Jaguars’ first priority is getting the run game cranked up.
Defensive philosophy: The defense has its roots in the Seattle system. Former head coach Gus Bradley was Pete Carroll’s defensive coordinator in Seattle and brought the Seattle style with him to Jacksonville when he was hired in 2013. It has undergone some modifications under second-year coordinator Todd Wash (who was Bradley’s defensive line coach in Seattle), but it’s basically the same attack. The Jaguars like to rush only four and have been so successful in getting pressure that they blitzed the fewest times in the league in the regular season. Wash is able to be more creative in his coverages because the safeties are interchangeable, which helps disguise things pre-snap. Having two lockdown cover corners in Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye allows Wash to mix and match the corners on the opponent’s top receiver and play sides instead of always matching Ramsey up on the opponent’s best receiver.
What stands out on special teams: Kicker Josh Lambo has made 21 of 22 field goal attempts (including the postseason) since being signed as a replacement for Jason Myers on Oct. 17. The only kick he missed was a 41-yard attempt in the swirling winds in Cleveland. He’s also 2-for-2 of attempts of 50 or more yards (51 and 56 yards). It was one of the team’s most underrated signings and solidified a spot that was pretty shaky under Myers.
Best player no one talks about: If it’s possible to have double-digit sacks and be relatively anonymous, then that’s what defensive end Yannick Ngakoue is. The second-year player had 12 sacks and led the NFL with six forced fumbles during the regular season but seems to get overlooked behind all the stars on the Jaguars’ defense. Eight of his 20 career sacks have been strip sacks, and he added another one in Sunday’s victory over Pittsburgh that linebacker Telvin Smith returned for a touchdown. Ngakoue also has forced an NFL-high 10 fumbles since the start of the 2016 season.
Injury situation: The Jaguars’ secondary is a bit banged up. Free safety Tashaun Gipson was walking around the locker room with his right foot in a protective boot, but it’s too early in the week to know his status. Strong safety Barry Church left the Steelers game with a shoulder injury but did return; still, that’s worth monitoring. Fournette also left the game with an ankle injury but returned and was walking around the locker room with no limp or wrap on his ankle on Monday. He’s dealt with a sprained right ankle for months, so this isn’t anything new for him.
Strengths: The performance against Pittsburgh notwithstanding (545 yards allowed, including 462 passing), the Jaguars’ defense has been one of the league’s best. They finished second in scoring, total defense, sacks and turnovers, and led the NFL in pass defense. They held eight opponents to fewer than 10 points this season, including Buffalo in the wild-card round.
Weaknesses: Bortles has made key plays when it counted the past two weeks but has also had stretches where he has played pretty poorly. His inconsistency is the team’s biggest weakness. The Jaguars don’t know which version of Bortles is going to show up each week.