I have a semi-serious question to ask as I’m sitting here at Stately Thornton Manor trying to get a handle on the AFC championship game: Who the hell are these Jacksonville Jaguars?” I don’t mean that in terms of there a bunch of guys no one ever heard of. There’s talent all over the place. Tom Coughlin won the free agency last year, signing Calais Campbell, A.J. Bouye and Barry Church. Branden Albert was a solid trade. Leonard Fournette was a great pick. The Internet belongs to Blake Bortles this week. I’m just saying I have no idea what the Jaguars are as a team.
Like everyone else in the world, I’ve been saying Saxonville is the best defense in football for so long I forgot to check to see if it’s actually true. All season they’ve been like two different people inside James McAvoy in Split.
–They gave up the second fewest points in the league, the second fewest yards, the fewest yards per play and had the second most takeaways.
–They were first in fewest yards per drive (22.91), fewest points per drive (1.26), Drive Success Rate, i.e. drives that produce a 1st down or a TD (60%).
–They forced a turnover nearly once in every six drives (16.2%), also best in the league.
–Eight times they gave up single digit points, including a shutout of Indy, keeping the Steelers out of the end zone in Week 5 and holding Buffalo to three points in the Wild Card game.
–And they did this even though the offense was middle of the pack in time of possession per drive (2:42).
–Mixed in among all those single digit point totals they allowed 37 points to Tennessee, 23 to the Jets, 27 to the Rams and Cardinals, 24 to the Seahawks and 42 to the 49ers.
–They were 26th in the league in rushing yards allowed per attempt (4.26).
–This was Ben Roethlisberger’s stat line from Sunday: 37-of-58 for 469 yards and 5 TDs.
How do you process disparate performances like that? Any great defense is capable of a wet fart or two. But how can they have that many bad games and still end up with the numbers they did? I’ve heard people try to compare them to the elite defenses of recent history like the 2015 Broncos, 2013-14 Seahawks or the 2000 Ravens. But when did any of them ever allow themselves to get vivisected like the Steelers did this past week? The Denver defense that carried the unwrapped mummy that was Peyton Manning to a championship would never have been on the receiving end of such a beating.
So which is it? Are they up there with the Vikings for the best defense in football or have they just gorged themselves on Deshone Kizer, Tyrod Taylor and one terrible game from Roethlisberger? Bill Belichick said this week that the Jags defense doesn’t go in for a lot of complicated schemes and disguised looks. They’ll rotate linemen, but for the most part it’s the same personnel, either in a 4-3 front or Nickel. And that’s it. They just beat you with talent. And if they can force Brady to have to get the ball out quick rushing just four and playing tight coverage with seven, then they have a legitimate shot to slow them down. But watching Pittsburgh destroy them with flats, in cuts, shallow crosses and Vance McDonald of all goddamned people, I have to think it’s going to look a lot more like what Jimmy Garoppolo did to them (21-for-30, 242 yards, 2 TDs) than what they did to Joe Flacco (8-for-18, 28 yards, 2 picks). But that all depends on which Jags defense shows up. And on that, your guess is as good as mine. I still have no clue. [h/t to Andrew C. for crunching some of the advanced stats numbers]