What Future Moves Could Jacksonville Make to Fix Its Run Defense?
In the modern era of football, with young quarterbacks posting video game numbers and prominent running games dwindling more and more each season, it can sometimes be lost just how important run defense is.
One team that is having to face the reality of that importance is the Jacksonville Jaguars, who too often have been bullied by opposing offenses.
Jacksonville's defense has allowed 200 rushing yards or more in three different games this season. On Sunday, the team got the ball figuratively and literally ran down its throat during a gut-punch 33-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, a game where the Colts rushed for 264 yards and had two different running backs reach the 100 yards rushing mark for the first time in Colts' history.
“I just got done with the players (and) I told them, ‘Hey, we got handled out there.’ Hats off to Indy, they got after us pretty good,'" Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone said following Sunday's loss. "We tried to stop the run a couple different ways and weren’t able to do it. So we’ve got to take a good look at ourselves and figure that out."
Sans a three-week period where the Jaguars' faced a banged up Alvin Kamara and two of the worst rushing offenses in the Cincinnati Bengals and New York Jets, the Jaguars' have been putrid at defending the run. From Christian McCaffrey to Carlos Hyde to Marlon Mack and Jonathan Williams, many have found success on the ground vs. Jacksonville this year.
The Jaguars, who rank 29th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (134.6) and dead last in yards per rush allowed (5.3), don't have any quick solutions to their run defense, either. Marcell Dareus is sidelined for the foreseeable future with a core muscle injury, and with the trade deadline long gone Jacksonville has to live with the defensive lineman and linebackers it currently has.
Jacksonville has already tried different things to fix its leaking run defense in 2019. From moving Najee Goode into the starting lineup at weakside linebacker to giving second-year defensive tackle Taven Bryan more snaps, Jacksonville has tried to find in-house solutions. None have worked, though.
“We tried everything, but all those things came into play. I mean if you look at it whether it was missed tackles, out of gaps, whether we’re not spilling things," Marrone said Sunday after the game, "Pretty much when a team rushes for that many yards it’s not going to be one thing, I can tell you that. It’s going to be multiple things and it seems like we could never get it stopped.”
So since the Jaguars have to lay in the bed they made for 2019, are there any future moves the team can make following this season to fix the porous run defense? We have identified a few that would make sense.
Select Auburn DT Derrick Brown in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft
This is the most obvious solution and, in my opinion, would be the most surefire way to change the defense's ability to stop the run. Derrick Brown is a true star in college football and shouldn't slip past the middle of the first round of the upcoming NFL Draft, and he could instantly become a key part of the Jaguars' defense if selected with one of their two first-round picks.
The Jaguars' front seven is currently built around speed and explosion but lacks a lot of strength and size upfront, especially after Dareus went down with his injury. From Yannick Ngakoue to Myles Jack to Quincy Williams to Taven Bryan, the Jaguars have a ton of athletes on defense but not a lot of true anchors.
That has been one of the biggest issue's with the run defense all season. Other things, such as poor scheming and misread plays by linebackers, have hurt the defense but the lack of a true run stuffer up front has been the most glaring issue.
The 6'4", 320-plus pound would instantly solve that problem. He is a mountain of a man but also plays with unique quickness for his size. Much like Dareus, who I have been comparing Brown to throughout the college football season, Brown can overhaul a defense's ability to stop the run thanks to his size, strength and ability to make plays sideline to sideline.
Restructure Marcell Dareus' contract and invest in a DT in the 2020 NFL Draft
As it stands today, it is hard to imagine Marcell Dareus is on the Jaguars roster in 2020 without restructuring his contract in some form. He is set to have a staggering $22.5 million cap hit next season and has a $10 million roster bonus due on March 22. He has a $2.5 million dead cap hit if released, so unless something changes with his contract there really is a slim to zero chance he remains.
But should the Jaguars want to improve their run defense without investing in a nose tackle in the first round of the draft, they should look to redo Dareus' deal and try to keep him around in 2020. His play slipped some in 2019 but he is still a solid run defender and adds a size and strength dimension to the defense that no other defender on the roster does.
If they do restructure Dareus, they should still invest in a defensive tackle during the draft to serve as his backup and eventual successor. And I am not talking about a seventh-round pick like Dontavius Russell was, either. More so along the lines of players like University of Florida defensive tackle Tedarrell Slaton, who is listed as nearly 350 pounds, or Ole Miss defensive tackle Benito Jones. Each fit the nose tackle profile and should be selected in the first four-to-five rounds of the draft.
Sign Danny Trevathan to play ILB and move Myles Jack to OLB
One final move may be to move past the team's nose tackle issues and address linebacker. In his second full season playing middle linebacker, Myles Jack has been the epitome of inconsistent. Too many times he has guessed wrong on a play and found himself out of a gap, allowing the opposing offense to have their way with the Jaguars' run defense.
Jack still provides a lot of value to the defense thanks to his speed and range, but maybe a true mike linebacker joining the roster would help Jack elevate his game. After all, Jack's best season ever came in 2017 when Paul Posluszny was beside him.
Chicago Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan is set to become a free agent in 2020 and though he is currently injured after a Week 10 game against the Detroit Lions, he has proven to be a key player on a good Bears' defense over the last several seasons.
Trevathan is only 29 so it is not like he is too far out of his prime, and since 2016, he has 327 tackles and six sacks in 46 games. He has traditionally called the Bears' defense and has always been held in high regard due to his leadership and on the field instincts, so theoretically he would fit a few needs along the defense.
What moves do you think Jacksonville should make to fix its run defense in the future? Let us know in the comments below!