Jaguars Defense Improves, But Foles Fails to Elevate the Offense

The defense, though not quite the terror it was in 2017, regains its form, but Nick Foles is not enough of an improvement over Blake Bortles at quarterback to transform the Jaguars offense.
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The 2019 NFL season is just a few weeks away, so Andy Benoit makes a few predictions for each NFL team. Today he examines the Jacksonville Jaguars, who finished 5–11 and last in the AFC South in 2018.

The defense bounces back, to a point. Adding first-round edge rusher Josh Allen from Kentucky opposite the unheralded Yannick Ngakoue and alongside veteran Calais Campbell reignites this four-man rush, leading to more of the sacks and turnovers that this group missed out on last year. Losses at linebacker and safety, however, keep Jacksonville from being as dominant as they were in 2017.

Telvin Smith’s sabbatical hurts. Smith has said he is taking 2019 off for personal reasons. Speed and awareness at linebacker are essential to Jacksonville’s Cover 3 zone foundation. Myles Jack still delivers, but that unit suffers without Smith.

Jalen Ramsey has contract drama. He’s the rare corner who can handle No. 1 receivers of all speeds and sizes one-on-one. Defensive coordinator Todd Wash, saddled with inexperienced safeties and linebackers, goes on the attack, calling for more pressure designs, which means more man coverage. This only works because they have Ramsey. He will want the team to forgo his fifth-year option to give him a long-term extension, but Jacksonville’s 2020 cap issues make that difficult.

Nick Foles looks more like a journeyman than a former Super Bowl MVP. The Jaguars simply don’t have enough talent around the mechanically methodical 30-year-old QB, whom they signed to a four-year, $88 million contract. Second-year wideout D.J. Chark improves on the outside, but not enough to elevate a receiving corps comprised mostly of agile role players (Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole, ex-Chief Chris Conley and Marqise Lee). New offensive coordinator John DeFilippo knows how to scheme for Foles from their days in Philadelphia, and he employs the clever 3x1 formations, three-level play-action passes and switch release routes. But because Jacksonville lacks dynamic receiving backs and tight ends, the schematic wrinkles only help so much.

Demands to run the ball hound DeFilippo again. His reluctance to lean on the ground game with a bad O-line in Minnesota got him fired last year; now in Jacksonville, he will again be asked to emphasize the run by the NFL’s most old-school offensive regime, led by Executive VP of Football Ops Tom Coughlin and coach Doug Marrone. The Jaguars have built around Leonard Fournette, who has proven to be an inconsistent power runner. But fortunately for DeFilippo, Jacksonville’s O-line, though not as strong as some think, is more than adequate. It boasts expensive veterans (LG Andrew Norwell, C Brandon Linder) and high-second-round tackles (Cam Robinson from the 2017 draft and new addition Jawaan Taylor). The ground game improves in the second half of the season, once the Jags begin to rely more on man-blocking than zone-blocking.

BOTTOM LINE: With iffy offensive personnel, the Jaguars must depend on big plays from their defense. Even with a D as talented as theirs, it’s hard to win that way week after week.