Jaguars defense off to rough start
The Jacksonville Jaguars keep things pretty simple on defense.
They don't blitz often. They don't stunt a lot. They don't even really try to disguise coverages.
It works well when the unit is fully intact. But with several key injuries and depth issues all around, the defense's simplicity has led to susceptibility.
The Jaguars (0-2) were burned in the final seconds of the opener at Minnesota, giving up a gut-wrenching drive that tied the game in regulation and led to a 26-23 loss in overtime. The defense was even worse last week against Houston, surrendering 17 points in the first five possessions and allowing 216 yards rushing.
Missed tackles and lack of pass rush have been the biggest culprits.
Players and coaches insist both will improve, beginning Sunday at Indianapolis (1-1).
"Defense should be the rock of our team, and it will be," linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "We'll get back to that."
Jacksonville ranked sixth in the NFL in total defense last season, a significant turnaround from the previous year. The defense kept the Jaguars in just about every game, even with the league's worst offense.
And with 10 starters returning, the defense was supposed to be the strength of the team.
So far, not so much.
Injuries surely have been a factor.
Veteran linebacker Daryl Smith will miss his third consecutive game with a groin injury that sidelined him most of the preseason, and oft-injured cornerback Derek Cox has been out with a strained hamstring. The Jaguars also have played without defensive end Austen Lane, an injury that forced rookie Andre Branch into the starting lineup, and linebacker Clint Session, whose career is in jeopardy after he sustained three concussions in nine games last season.
Throw in the cautious return of cornerback Rashean Mathis, who has played sparingly while recovering from offseason knee surgery, and Jacksonville's defense remains a shell of its former self.
"Will we be better when we have everyone healthy? Of course," Posluszny said. "But we need to be able to compete with the guys we have now."
Cox and Lane could return Sunday. Both practiced in full pads Wednesday. Getting them back would be significant, but everyone inside the locker room believes Smith is the key to getting things back on track.
Minnesota and Houston attacked Jacksonville with quick passes designed to negate pass rush and take advantage of backups at linebacker and cornerback.
The Jaguars expect the same from the Colts.
"Until we stop it, everybody's going to continue to do the same thing," defensive end Jeremy Mincey said.
Jacksonville hasn't altered much under defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. The simple scheme is intentional. Tucker doesn't want his guys thinking too much before or after the snap. He would rather them read and react, and just play fast.
That works with starters. But like the Jaguars witnessed late last season following a rash of defensive injuries, that style doesn't have the same impact with second- or third-stringers.
And that typically leads to others trying to do too much.
"That's not good in any of the phases," coach Mike Mularkey said. "If you're trying to do anything other than what you're supposed to do, then you're going to affect (everyone else). For example, an alignment, one simple thing before the ball is snapped. If the guy is not aligned right, somebody else is going to adjust off of you wrong. Now you got two guys out of place, and that creates a crease without even snapping the ball.
"Everything has to be just precise. That's what we're working on to make sure that happens."
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