AFC South: Jake Ballard

Jags stop the run, but not much else

November, 17, 2013
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks has said for a while that it would be pretty simple to fix the Jaguars’ porous rush defense.

Everyone just needed to do their job. Stay in their assigned gap. Quit freelancing. Just do what you’re supposed to do on each play.

Turns out he was correct.

[+] EnlargeGus Bradley
AP Photo/Stephen MortonGus Bradley and the Jaguars held the Cardinals to 14 rushing yards on Sunday, but were burned for several big plays through the air.
The Jaguars held Arizona to just 14 yards on the ground in a 27-14 loss at EverBank Field. That’s the second-lowest single-game total in franchise history, behind only the 10 yards the Jaguars yielded to Kansas City in 2007.

It also is pretty much the only positive thing you can say about the defense on Sunday.

Carson Palmer threw for 419 yards and two touchdowns, including a 91-yarder to Michael Floyd in which three players missed a tackle, and the Cardinals controlled the ball for nearly 36 minutes. But the defensive front -- which was without middle linebacker and leading tackler Paul Posluszny (concussion) -- showed up.

"Just like I’ve been saying the whole year, every time we’ve had runs get out on us, we have a guy out of a gap," Marks said. "Our thing was after the bye we had to hold everybody accountable. We’ve been doing it ever since we came off the bye week. We’ve got guys in the right gaps, and everybody is where they’re supposed to be.

"Everybody’s been accountable, and when you do that you tend to stop the run."

Rashard Mendenhall gained 14 yards on 13 carries. One of which was a 5-yard touchdown run, which means he managed just nine yards on his other 12 carries. Andre Ellington, a speedy breakaway threat, managed just 3 yards on eight carries. The Jaguars entered the game giving up an average of 153.0 yards per game rushing.

"We were aware of the run game, and we did not want that to get going," head coach Gus Bradley said. "We did a good job attacking the run and controlling Ellington."

The defense certainly felt the loss of Posluszny, who is by far the team’s best defensive player. He has two interceptions, eight pass breakups, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. Posluszny didn’t practice all week, and was finally ruled out on Saturday morning. Russell Allen, who normally starts at outside linebacker, filled in and made seven tackles, but failed to deliver a big play.

Actually, he made one but it didn’t count. He stepped in front of Palmer’s pass to Larry Fitzgerald inside the Jacksonville 20-yard line in the third quarter, but officials announced that the Cardinals had called timeout before the snap.

"I think you grow to appreciate Poz and what he’s all about, but for Russell to step in and manage the defense like he did ... then he had the interception that would have helped out," Bradley said. "He did a nice job managing the defense. If he got more reps [during the week] we would see even better."

The Jaguars were certainly better against the run than in stopping Palmer, Fitzgerald, Floyd, and whichever tight end happened to be in the game at the time. Floyd caught six passes for 193 yards, including a 91-yard catch-and-run in which Allen, safety Josh Evans, and cornerback Will Blackmon missed tackles.

Fitzgerald caught a modest six passes for 61 yards and one touchdown, but tight ends Jim Dray, Jake Ballard and Rob Housler combined to catch nine passes for 117 yards -- continuing the trend of tight ends taking advantage of the Jaguars’ rookie safeties (Evans and Johnathan Cyprien).

Things could have been even worse had cornerback Alan Ball not broken up four passes in the first half.

The Tennessee Titans had similar trouble on the ground (83 yards) and success through the air (288 yards, two TDs) last week. The biggest difference is the Jaguars forced the Titans into four turnovers. They didn’t get any against the Cardinals.

"We feel good about how we played against the run, and we felt like it was something we were going to be able to do going in, but unfortunately we gave up too many big plays in the passing game," Allen said. "Any time we can give our offense a short field it’s important, giving them an opportunity to put points on the board. Getting some breaks ... would have helped a lot."

Final Word: AFC South

December, 30, 2011
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 17:

Pressure tells the story: The Houston Texans sack or put quarterbacks under duress 28.0 percent of the time, the highest rate in the NFL. No one has a front that swarms as consistently as Houston's. The Tennessee Titans are recording a sack or putting quarterbacks under duress on 18.4 percent of opponent dropbacks this season, the second-lowest rate in the NFL. If Matt Hasselbeck is under constant pressure and T.J. Yates isn’t, this game will lean toward the Texans despite the fact that Tennessee has much more at stake.

[+] EnlargeMaurice Jones-Drew
Don McPeak/US PresswireMaurice Jones-Drew has 1,437 rushing yards on the season and a sizable lead in the rushing-title race.
Big milestones in range: Maurice Jones-Drew has a 128-yard lead on the rushing title heading into the day, but the Jacksonville Jaguars would surely like to guarantee that the running back secures the honor. He will be just the sixth back since 1970 to lead the league in rushing on a team with five wins or fewer and the fifth to lead the league in rushing on the NFL’s worst passing team. Tennessee receiver Nate Washington is 69 yards from a 1,000-yard season, which would be a giant accomplishment on this Titans team. Ben Tate could see a good share of carries against the Titans, but the 155 rushing yards needed to get him to 1,000 for the season is probably too much to expect.

Hands in the air: Houston is very good at batting balls down near the line of scrimmage. ESPN Stats & Info says the Texans have batted down a league-high 19 passes at the line of scrimmage this season. No other team has more than 14 (Miami Dolphins). Hasselbeck is susceptible to linemen getting their paws on his throws. He has had 13 passes batted down this season, tied with the New York Jets' Mark Sanchez for the most in the NFL. Hasselbeck had his worst game of the season in the Oct. 23 loss to the Texans. To win this one, the Titans are going to need a good passing day. Hasselbeck needs 226 passing yards to become just the second Oilers/Titans quarterback to throw for 3,500 yards in a season, joining Hall of Famer Warren Moon. Moon did it in 1989, 1990 and 1991.

Open it up: The Jaguars don’t have the pass protection or the weapons to create a lot of big plays down the field. The Indianapolis Colts have gotten far better defense as they’ve won two straight, but they still have unproven guys in the secondary. With nothing to lose, the Jaguars should not try to play it safe with short passes -- look what that did for the Titans and Texans the past two weeks against Indianapolis. When they are not handing the ball to MJD, the Jaguars should chip Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis as needed and tell Blaine Gabbert to test the pass coverage deep. I’ve written they should go crazy a few times this season. In the last game for this coaching staff, why not take chances?

Also: Despite being inactive for two games and sidelined for much of another, Arian Foster has rushed for at least 100 yards in a league-high seven games. Since the start of the 2010 season, Foster leads the league in rush yards (2,840), rush touchdowns (26) and first downs (147). ... Only the New York Giants' Jake Ballard (15.9) has a higher yards per catch average than Jared Cook (15.5) among tight ends with significant action. … Gabbert had been sacked 37 times (tied for third-most in the NFL) and has the lowest passer rating (64.3) and QBR (21.3) among quarterbacks who have had significant playing time this season.