- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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Posted by Scouts Inc.
What a difference a year makes. A year ago at this time, the Jacksonville Jaguars were rolling at 7-3 and headed for the playoffs, where a deep run may have been prevented only by one of the most dominant teams in NFL history (New England). This season: a 4-6 record, losses in four of their last six and lots of problems with no obvious solutions.
One of the most glaring problems has been the play of the Jaguars' defense. The team's rushing yards allowed and completion percentage allowed have risen significantly, while the sacks have all but dried up. The main difference between this year's unit and the borderline-dominant 2007 version? A gaping hole where defensive tackle Marcus Stroud used to be. Stroud's offseason departure for Buffalo has proven costly, with a once-physical Jacksonville defense having turned uncharacteristically soft. Drawing up game plans against the Jags has become far easier for opposing offensive coordinators now that Stroud and fellow defensive tackle John Henderson aren't forcing them to pick their poison. With that tandem no longer absorbing multiple blockers and crumbling the interior pocket, the Jaguars' linebackers are getting less protection in the run game and the defensive ends receive more blocking attention on the pass rush.
But the rocky transition from coordinator Mike Smith (who took the head-coach position in Atlanta) to Gregg Williams also shouldn't be overlooked. Smith occasionally mixed coverages, but he mostly played things close to the vest, featuring a lot of four-man rushes and two-deep shells. Though Williams also favors a 4-3 front, his schemes couldn't be more different. Williams is an aggressive playcaller who puts a premium on pressure and loves to blitz. His philosophy, however, isn't in sync with Jacksonville's personnel, including (and maybe especially) the team's offseason moves.
By signing cornerback Drayton Florence and trading up to acquire defensive ends Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves on draft day, the Jaguars believed they could turn up the heat on opposing quarterbacks while matching up better with their receivers. But the team overestimated Florence's matchup ability -- he fares better in zone and probably should be a No. 3 corner -- and likely overdrafted Harvey, who lacks ideal quick-twitch athleticism for the edge and clearly has suffered from missing training camp in a holdout. And from the start, the investment in edge-rushers didn't make sense for a team that hired a blitz-happy coordinator. Williams' five- and six-man blitzes haven't clicked because the Jaguars' linebackers aren't gifted pass-rushers. But the front four alone isn't creating enough pressure, so opposing quarterbacks are wisely avoiding cornerback Rashean Mathis (Jacksonville's best cover man by far) and picking apart the secondary.
The ill-advised personnel moves, coordinator switch and even the chemistry issues caused by linebacker Mike Peterson's demotion have contributed to the slippage of Jacksonville's defense. But the most surprising change has been this unit's attitude. It isn't there. The Jags used to ooze toughness. Opponents hated playing them, because they knew getting out of bed Monday was going to hurt. All the scheme and lineup changes in the world can't bring back that edge.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.