To Blitz or Not to Blitz: The Question Facing the Jaguars' Pass Rush

John Shipley

When the Jacksonville Jaguars have been at their absolute best in recent years, it has been when the Jaguars have had ferocious pass-rushing units to ease burdens on the rest of the defense. 

But through three games in 2020, the defense was labeled 'Sacksonville' has become a different version of its former self. After the Jaguars' defense had been driven by dominant defensive linemen such as Calais Campbell in past years, the Jaguars are now left looking for new solutions from their defensive front. 

Through three games, the Jaguars (1-2) have just three sacks: One by Josh Allen in Week 3, one by K'Lavon Chaisson in Week 2 and one by Myles Jack in Week 1. The Jaguars got some pressure on Ryan Fitzpatrick at times on Thursday, but the effort still resulted in just one sack and only two incompletions. 

"I think we pressured quite a bit last night on first down, second down, third down, all three downs," Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone said on Friday. 

"We’ve got to find a way to obviously disrupt the quarterback. We have to find a way to get to it. I think there’s some technique stuff popping up a little bit and we’re a little short. We could’ve had a couple sacks, but we didn’t because we were kind of peaking a little bit. I think we have to be able to disrupt in the backend and get the quarterback not to feel comfortable with non-contested type routes and throws, which I know we can do a better job of that."

The Jaguars are still trying to enough penetration from their front four when it comes to passing downs. And when the Jaguars are getting near the quarterback, the coverage behind them is more often than not soft enough for the quarterback to deliver a pass before being sacked.

In essence, Jacksonville's defensive line and secondary are not helping each other at the moment. Coverage and pass rush both play a large role in pressuring quarterbacks and impacting their play, but the Jaguars have mostly been unable to disrupt quarterbacks either with its defensive line or secondary to this point.

One solution, of course, could be for the Jaguars to be more aggressive with their blitz and pressure packages. 

Jacksonville has not been a blitz-happy defense under Todd Wash, but could it be time to change their strategy and philosophy out of necessity? If the Jaguars continue to get no results from rushing four, then it might be time for them to rethink their approach to blitzing. 

In past years under Wash, the Jaguars were more often than not able to rush four and use the rest of their seven defenders to cover the pass. Jacksonville didn't need to blitz to get to the quarterback; they could simply win their matchups in the trenches. 

But in 2020, the Jaguars aren't winning those matchups as frequently as they have in the past. And until they do, the Jaguars will have to ponder whether they should start to consistently send more than four rushers.

"But going into it, I think it’s something we’re going to discuss. I think I’ve looked at whether you bring five, six, seven, or eight, in other words, the percentages of plays and what happens and what works. A lot of it’s going to depend on matchups, who you have on the outside, how you feel about it," Marrone said. 

"I think we’ll continue to mix it up. I think we had some good run stops with some of the pressure. You saw the safeties making plays off the corners. If it was play action, then they’d be matched up on a back. We got it against the runs, which is fine. I think there’s a lot of things that you look at: maybe where the guys are playing, who’s rushing them, what positions, are we putting enough pressure on the protection where maybe they don’t know who’s coming, and bringing different guys. [We’re] trying to look at certain things like that so right now really everything’s on the table because we’re not doing what we like to do and put them in these tough situations."

So far this season, the Jaguars have blitzed on just 20.2% of opponents dropbacks, according to Pro Football Reference. This is the seventh-lowest figure in the league, with the only teams trailing the Jaguars being the Philadelphia Eagles, Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Rams, Los Angeles Chargers, and the Indianapolis Colts. 

It is clear the Jaguars have, so far, stuck to their strategy of minimal blitzing. But for the strategy to actually find success, the Jaguars desperately need their defensive line to step up and take some pressure off of the rest of the defense. 

"But again, it’s easier when you’re trying to push the ball down the field in third-and-long than when people are running pivot routes and stick routes and crossing routes, where everything’s a little bit underneath you," Marrone said. 

"That ball’s coming out a little bit quicker and I think it all starts with, ‘Hey listen, we have to a lot better on first and second down’ and get them into this third-and-7 plus and then really get a good evaluation for what we have to do. I think it’s really both ends. We have to do a better job upfront and in the backend, so we all have to improve for us to get the results we want.”

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