Before Gus Bradley was fired as the Jacksonville Jaguars Head Coach and hired a month later as the Los Angeles Chargers Defensive Coordinator, he helped implement a defense that’s still the basis for the Jags today. He also hired Todd Wash as Jacksonville’s DC and the two will face off again on Saturday.
The Jaguars (1-5) defense knows that they and the Chargers (1-4) bring a sense of familiarity to the opposing offenses, purely from what they show in practice. As such, the Jaguars defensive game plan on Sunday is predicated on creating confusion for the Chargers. It breaks down into these three defensive keys for the Jaguars versus the Chargers.
Make Herbert Play Like A Rookie
Even though the Jags won’t risk giving another team their first win of the season, there is the possibility to give Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert his first win as a starter. In fact CBS Sports Fantasy Football analyst have gone so far as to confidently state it will be Herbert’s first win and another dominant fantasy performance.
Ever since taking over for the injured Tyrod Taylor in Week 2, Herbert has gone toe-to-toe with some of the best quarterbacks in the league (Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Brees). Over four games, he’s thrown for an average of 299 passing yards per game with a 68.8% completion percentage and nine touchdowns to three interceptions.
“He definitely makes a lot of good plays,” says defensive end Josh Allen.
“He’s a competitor. He’s a guy that came off the bench and didn’t struggle for real. He made a lot of good plays. He has a lot of great receivers; he can just throw the ball up to them and they can just make a lot of plays. He’s a good quarterback. He can scramble.”
Adds Head Coach Doug Marrone, "You look at his stats and even though it’s not a lot of a body of work, but you can see the success that he’s had and you can see how dangerous he is.”
He’s dangerous, explains Wash, because of his ability to handle any pressure from the rush.
“The first thing that pops off the tape is obviously his ability to handle pressure. You look at the analytic side of things, his quarterback rating is higher than it is pressure than it is without pressure. So, he handles pressure really well. I think he’s got a big-time arm, he can make all the throws, he avoids the rush well and he’s a good athlete.”
So how does one stop this new talent?
Remind him there’s still a lot to learn.
“The biggest thing is we’ve got to try to pressure him and play some man-to-man in the back end. Obviously, they’ve got some very good skill position players that we’ve got to take care of. But I still think if you can rattle a quarterback, your chances of winning go up,” says Wash.
Allen agrees, “He can run the ball in his read option to get his team a lot of yards, so we definitely have to be honed in on that. But he’s a good quarterback and we have to make him play like a rookie, make him play with a lot of mistakes. Upfront, [we] just have to be dominant and get a lot of pressure in his face so he can throw the balls up and we can get them.”
To “get them” is crucial and the second key of the game.
Pressuring Herbert into bad throws can allow the Jaguars to capitalize on an area of their game that has seen steady improvement the past couple of weeks; turnovers.
Herbert has kept his interceptions low, one in each of the last three games. The Jaguars defense, meanwhile, has come away with that many interceptions in the past two games. Sidney Jones IV and Jarrod Wilson versus the Houston Texans and Joe Schobert versus the Detroit Lions all nabbed the takeaway courtesy of an increase focus on tipped balls.
“We talk about it in our room, when we talk about tips and overthrows and everybody says, ‘We’ve got to get those.’ That’s a main philosophy of ours on defense,” says Wash.
“For us, we basically tell them, ‘Hey, if you play the technique right, you play the coverage right, you’re going to have opportunities,’ and that has shown up the last couple games. Even Jarrod Wilson, when he got his [against Houston], it was nothing but a tip ball and he was playing with great effort getting to the ball. So, I think if you play hard and you play with the right fundamentals, the game is going to come to you and you’re going to have opportunities for plays –and that’s what’s happened the last couple weeks with our guys in the back end.”
Break Their Tendencies
As mentioned and will continue to be mentioned between now and Sunday afternoon’s kickoff, these two defenses, for better or worse, are cut from the same cloth. If nothing else, it means both offenses will have seen a lot of the fundamental looks in practice. Therefore the goal, according to Wash, is to cause confusion and force the Chargers offense to break down in what their plan was originally.
“I think offense really tries to scheme it. We see that with Jay [Gruden] during training camp and I’m sure Gus [Bradley] sees it at his place. So, they’re going to try to scheme us and do some things that are a little bit unorthodox. We’ve seen that last year when we’ve played them, there [were] a couple things down in the red zone where we go, ‘That’s not even a concept we normally see, obviously there’s been some communication going on.’ So, we try to change some things up.
"I think tendencies are big when you go into this game, when they have an idea of when you’re playing what and how you’re playing it. And we’ve got to break those tendencies, both Gus [Bradley] and myself.”