The Jacksonville Jaguars have been one of the best stories of the NFL season. They currently sit at 10-5 and have clinched the AFC South title. This will be the first time the Jags make a postseason appearance since 2007, which was also the last season they had double-digit wins.
How has Jacksonville been able to turn things around? Defense.
The Jags have the No 1 ranked passing defense in the NFL, allowing just 173.5 yards per game in a pass-happy league. They also have 21 interceptions, one behind the NFL lead. Cornerback A.J. Bouye leads the team with six, tied for second in the NFL.
Bouye isn’t the only member of the secondary having stellar seasons. Barry Church, Jalen Ramsey and Tashaun Gipson all have four picks of their own. The impressive secondary holds opposing quarterbacks to 56.8 completion percentage.
Jacksonville also gets after the quarterback at a high rate, leading the NFL in sacks with 52. Calais Campbell is having a great season with 14.5 sacks, which is tied for second in the NFL and only trails the leader by half a sack. Joining Campbell in pursuit of opposing quarterbacks is Yannick Ngakoue with 12 sacks, Malik Jackson with eight and Dante Fowler with 7.5. The Jags have the No. 2 ranked defense in the league, allowing 16.9 points per game.
For as good as the defense has been this season, they didn’t play as one of the top defenses in the league last week against Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers. Jimmy G and company hung 44 on the vaunted Jags defense, by far the most points they allowed this season. Garoppolo got the best of the league’s best passing defense, throwing for 242 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also rushed in from the one on the opening drive of the game. With the touchdown, that snapped the Jaguars 21-consecutive game streak of not allowing a touchdown on the opening drive.
Is this a sign of things to come or just a blip on the radar? Bouye said that the loss “humbled a lot of people.” This could be just what the Jaguars needed right before the playoffs. They need to experience what could happen if the defense can’t adjust. There is a scenario in which they could play Pittsburgh and New England in back-to-back weeks, there is no room for a game like this.
If you think this defense is capable of stopping the likes of Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady in consecutive weeks, that’s all fine and great. However, if you do believe the Jags defense can lead a Super Bowl run, you have to ask yourself one question; can Blake Bortles play good enough to win games?
Bortles is having a solid season, throwing for 3,529 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He is also third in the team in rushing with 313 yards and two scores. That’s not a bad season, but can he sustain this success in the playoffs?
If the Jaguars defense can somehow limit the offenses of Pittsburgh and New England, can Bortles actually play better than his counterparts? That is a tall task to ask of the fourth year player, but it is a step he will have to take if this team wants to continue to make strides and take the league by storm.
Rookie running back Leonard Fournette is having a very impressive rookie campaign. With one game remaining, Fournette is 29 yards away from 1,000 on the season. He said earlier this season that last season the Jags didn’t have a running game and now, with him, they do. He has 971 yards and nine touchdowns on the season.
This team has a ton of potential and could very well make a Super Bowl run, led by the defense. They have a running game and in the playoffs, a good defense and a good running game has a team set up to make a serious run. If Bortles can manage a game and his defense is holding up their end of the bargain, this team could be scary in January.
With all of that said, this will not be the year the Jaguars make that Super Bowl run. The Steelers and Patriots are too good and have done this too many times. A year or two from now, the Jaguars will be playing in the AFC Championship game, but not this year.