On October 22, 2017 the Indianapolis Colts will host the Jacksonville Jaguars. In this week seven match-up I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea for what we’re up against.
The Jags finished 2016 with 3 wins and 13 losses. One of those wins came against our Colts. Our win against that bad Jags team came at home and is best remembered by the visual of a pumped up Andrew Luck running off the field, wearing a brace on nearly every visible joint, pumping his fist like a kid who just won the Super Bowl. This all despite the win coming against a 3-12 team at a time the Colts had already been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.
Luck’s display of fight and competitiveness will live on in memory but this time the Colts will have to face the Jags without Luck — hopefully his absence won’t hurt our chances this time around. Let’s figure out what we can expect in week seven.
To answer the question that is the title to this article, yes, it turns out you can build a good defense with a quarter billion dollars. With that said this Jags defensive cap hit over the course of the full length of their deals is closer to half a billion dollars. You can say they’ve invested heavily.
For the third time this year we’re playing a team who uses the 4-3 under hybrid as their base defensive set. If you want to read a different take on some of the basics, I don’t blame you and it can be found on ninersnation who take a look at some of the height-weight-speed aspects of each position in this style of defense.
Each team is going to include it’s own wrinkles. Every coach is going to put their own stamp on their team and you will see subtle changes from team to team even if their base set is the same. Some of that is going to be due to the coach wanting to make the scheme his own, and part of it is going to be fitting personnel to scheme.
With that said these Jags will see a lot of the same cover 3 looks that we have seen so far this season. This article from PFF on the coverage NFL teams ran in 2016, documents that well:
It won’t surprise anybody to see that the Seattle Seahawks led the league in snaps in a Cover-3 defense, at least from a percentage standpoint. Seattle ran Cover-3 on 54.0 percent of their snaps, with members of that coaching tree taking the system to Atlanta (51.5) and Jacksonville (46.4) making up the rest of the top three. The Falcons actually ran 45 more snaps overall in Cover-3 than the Seahawks, but that represents a lower percentage of their total snaps on defense last year. Cover-3 was the second-most common coverage deployed league-wide last season.
One thing that you may not know about me; a few years ago I began the PFF hiring process. The job entailed charting college football games and compiling data. I wasn’t going to be ranking or grading players, just watching and rewatching the same plays dozens of times to accurately chart players on the field, their position and likely assignment. I’ve said it a lot that PFF rankings aren’t the best metric, because I believe that. Any attempt to rate a players performance based on a rigid criteria is going to be flawed. PFF’s system is as good as it gets in that regard, but no system can ever be trusted to tell you 100% of the story.
The one thing I trust, probably to a fault, is the data they release like the information above. I understand that process, because I’ve done it. It’s very demanding work for very little personal benefit and when I took on their hiring process I just wasn’t in a place in my life I could take on the role. I bowed out after completing the first “test” and true to PFF form they congratulated me and I was informed that 86% of applicants didn’t make it past the first round, so I should feel good about myself. So I felt good about myself. Bottom line, I don’t put much stock in their ratings, some are good, others aren’t. I almost always trust the data they release similar to the sample above. Your mileage may vary, but it is something for you to consider.
Anyway back to this Jags defense. The following should look familiar but it’s no less relevant as these Jags run the same system:
A book could be written with the information that the guys over at Field Gulls have compiled. If you’re looking for a resource this is a fantastic place to start and I’m going to do my best to give you the basics in an easy to understand format. If you want to go deeper, you absolutely can, just click that link and have a good time.
The 4-3 Under, in it's simplest terms, is a gap control system meant to stop the run and to pressure the passer. For the most part, each lineman and linebacker is responsible for one gap - this makes each player's responsibility fairly cut and dry and eliminates a lot of the reads and thinking from the game.
In the late 1980's, Monte Kiffin began coaching for the Minnesota Vikings with a coach named Floyd Peters and they further developed the 4-3 Under that emphasized rushing the passer. The 4-3 Under system uses almost exclusively a staggered alignment to the offense in this basic set.
As you can see, in a basic 4-3 Under, the SAM linebacker is lined up to the outside shoulder of the tight end off the line of scrimmage a yard or two and is responsible for the D gap (to the outside of the tight end). He's also responsible for running in pass coverage from time to time. The strongside defensive end is lined up to the outside shoulder of the tackle, in a 5-technique alignment, and is responsible for the C gap (to the right of the tackle). The strongside defensive tackle is usually lined up shading the center in a 1-technique alignment and is responsible for the strongside A gap. The weakside defensive tackle is lined up in a 3-technique alignment off the weakside guard and is responsible for the weakside B gap in front of him. The weakside defensive end is lined up to the outside shoulder of the weakside offensive tackle and is responsible for the C gap on his side.
This leaves the strongside B gap and the weakside A gap open. These are the responsibilities of the MIKE and WILL linebackers.
Still with me? Good.
The defense that Pete Carroll now employs uses the basic tenets of the Monte Kiffin 4-3 Under defense and mixes in a variation originally pioneered by the legendary George Seifert in San Francisco. Seifert wanted to create mismatches against the opposing offensive line so he started using his weakside defensive end to rove around and rush the passer from a two-point stance (standing up position). This was the beginning of the "Elephant" position and one that Carroll uses today. We also see this position called the LEO, and in the Hawks' defense can rush standing up or in a three-point stance.
It's the same basic alignment but as you can see, the SAM linebacker comes up closer to the line to play hard contain and the weakside LEO is pushed out a bit, maybe a yard off of the weakside tackle. The LEO's main job is to control the C gap while rushing the passer like a wild banshee and the SAM plays contain against the TE, runs in pass coverage with him, or rushes the passer in some situations.
Okay cool. So ole’ Pete likes his 4 man fronts and uses a DE in a 2 point stance. Danny Kelly goes on in part two to explain that the Seahawks will use more 2 gap responsibilities when their personnel allows. Based on their current roster, I believe they will continue 1 gapping.
Okay cool, these are the basics of their front seven. What about the Pete Carroll secondary? Danny Kelly talks about that too here:
Three main principles of secondary play:
#1 Eliminate the big play
#2 Out hit the opponent on all plays
#3 Get the ball -- either strip the ball or make the interception when in position.
These are Pete’s objectives for his DB’s. Got it.
"We play man-to-man or Cover-3, not much more than that. It's not a secret." - Kam Chancellor
Thanks for giving up your game plan, Kam. Danny wrote yet another piece that goes a little deeper into their coverage schemes:
Example 1: Three-down lineman nickel Cover-3 look
Again, this is a very general Cover-3, three deep, four under scheme I've drawn up.
Defensive line: In the illustration above, the Hawks have two defensive-end types rushing (No. 91 Chris Clemons and No. 56 Cliff Avril). Those players may go inside or outside the tackle/tight end to achieve pressure. Michael Bennett (No. 72) is aligned over the center ('nose tackle' ), and he'll look to slice through and pressure the quarterback.
Linebackers: I've shown a look here where MLB Bobby Wagner (No. 54) would come in on a blitz, perhaps stunting or drafting off of Bennett. In any case, K.J. Wright could come with pressure here as well and alternate coverage responsibilities with Wagner. There's flexibility. On the outside, you could see Bruce Irvin rush off the edge or stunt with Avril. Seattle has the athletes at the linebacker position to allow them to do both.
Safeties: Because Chancellor (No. 31) is almost a de facto linebacker, you'll most often see him in the box, stopping the run and taking away short crossing patterns. He can drop into coverage, run in man-to-man or blitz. Earl Thomas (No. 29) would take the seam or post route into his area. If there are two, he splits the difference between the two.
Example 2: Four down lineman nickel Cover-3 look
In this case, I've replaced Bruce Irvin with NT Brandon Mebane. This could also be Clinton McDonald. In the case above, Thurmond could be playing man on the slot receiver, with everyone else in zone.
Example 3: Four down nickel look, mixed man/zone coverage
In this case, you see man on Sherman's side, zone on Maxwell's, nickel in man, and Chancellor lined up in man against Julius Thomas, for instance. This could easily be K.J. Wright switching with Chancellor, as well.
Kelly really gives us a great look into the basics of the Seahawks (in this case the Jags) defense and what we can expect. If you want more about the 4-3 Under and the Seahawks (and Jags and Falcons and 49ers) brand of it Mike Chan wrote a great piece with a ton of play breakdowns and plenty of X’s and O’s that you can find and enjoy here.
So that’s it. That’s the defense we’re facing for the third time in seven weeks. We should be used to seeing these looks and game planning will be similar but will vary when we look at individual match ups. With that said, you have to have players capable of executing, we’ll take a look at the talent at each position next.
Defensive Line: This is What a Top 5 Pick and $150 Million Gets You
The Jacksonville Jaguars, obviously, run a base 4 down linemen set. They have invested a lot in their line, they have used both the draft and free agency in an attempt to bolster their defensive line and they have succeeded.
Calais Campbell was given a 4 year $60 million deal at 31 years old. Which at the time seemed like a ton of money to give a 3-4 defensive end on the wrong side of 30 who has never had more than 9 sacks in a season. For their gamble the Jags have been rewarded by Campbell having a career year. Through six games the 6’8” 300 pounder is second in the league with 8 sacks.
Malik Jackson was given a 6 year $90 million deal last off season, like 99% of all massive defender deals, Jackson has yet to live up to the expectations that a contract of that size tends to instill. Last year he finished the season with 6.5 sacks and 28 tackles. If I pay a guy $15 million per year I expect more production, with that said, he has been a good defensive tackle and the Jags are currently under the salary cap, so it doesn’t really matter what he makes, but it is interesting.
Arby Jones was a UDFA in 2013, if teams were given a chance to redo that draft, Jones might have been a day two pick. He isn’t a flashy player, he’s not going to jump off the page with some insane display of athleticism, instead he’ll eat blocks and let his backers flow like a good NT should.
The Jags have also drafted well. Dante Fowler Jr. was a top 5 pick in 2015 and in true Jags form he was hurt before he ever had a chance to get on the field in 2015. Last season saw him produce 4 sacks on the year starting in only one game. This season he is off to a good start notching 4 more sacks and by all accounts is playing well. A top 5 pick playing well isn’t surprising.
Drafting someone in the third round you hope that they contribute early and that they might develop into a player who is good enough to start. Every now and then you find a guy like Yannick Ngakoue, instead. Last season at 21 years old, fresh out of
NCAA powerhouse Maryland, Ngakoue started 15 games notching 8 sacks. He, like Fowler Jr. has 4 sacks thus far this season. Both are on pace for 10+ sacks and the Jags are leading the league with 23 sacks on the year.
- Brissett is going to need painkillers on Monday:
Here we see both sides of the line stunt. Either way Ngakoue and Campbell lined up on the same side of the line is terrifying. Ngakoue crashes inside, Campbell then loops outside for one of his 8 sacks this season. That’s the part of this play everyone notices, but it’s made possible on the other side of the line by Malik Jackson working from the RG to the RT while Fowler works inside to occupy the center.
If Fowler doesn’t flash towards the center early, he may have gotten a hand on either of the rushers on the left side of the line, preventing this from developing like it did. This is a thankless play from a top 5 pick that was executed well by all 4 down linemen.
- Forced fumble:
Calias Campbell doing more than rushing the passer. Someone thought it was a good idea to block Campbell with a tight end. Campbell lets them know they were mistaken. To be fair this shouldn’t have been a fumble, but here we are. Marlon Mack needs to keep it high and tight this week more than ever.
- Ngakoue, I can’s say his name but the man can fly:
Once again the “sack” (this was a forced fumble which is scored as a sack) came from the left side of the pocket. Yannick shows he’s just a better athlete than Kendall Lamm (this was the first and last game Lamm started this season) and blows by him.
Once again look on the right side. Once again Jackson looks to occupy both the RG and RT while Fowler loops back inside to the center, while Myles Jack blitzes outside. If Jackson could have gotten off the RG to the RT, Jack would have been given essentially a free run at Tom Savage.
This is the kind of play that you’ll see a defensive linemen flagged for holding, which leaves most of my friends and for some reason announcers saying or thinking “how/why would a defensive linemen hold anyone?” followed by the idea that they should just let them play. I like a game with fewer flags, but I love seeing defensive linemen get flagged for holding. If they don’t Myles Jack removes Tom Savage’s head on this play.
- Malik Jackon beats the zone run:
Jackson does a really good job maintaining his gap, keeping his eyes in the backfield and disengaging from the guard who just doesn’t do a great job on this play. If Jackson doesn’t make this play (he’s making $15 million more than I am this year, he should make this play) this play goes for 7-10 instead of the 2-3 yards it managed.
This shows both a great play by Jackson and the reason the Jags are 31st in run defense. The Titans have a good offensive line, no doubt but these Jags just aren’t maintaining their gaps in a lot of the plays I’ve seen. That’s not a talent issue, it’s a coaching issue. Disciplined defenses play their responsibilities and while it’s early in the season, this Jags front seven just hasn’t done that yet.
Watch for stunts, speed and aggressiveness from this Jags line. I do believe they can be stretched out and if we catch them on one of their stunts and they don’t maintain the edge, Marlon Mack could rip off a few long runs. If that doesn’t happen I still expect Frank Gore to have room on the interior.
I do hope we see a few screens run to the left side of the field with the hopes that if successful it might help to slow down Campbell and Ngakoue. Either way if we don’t give Anthony Castanzo help consistently he’s going to get beat often. Not because AC is bad, he isn’t, it’s because this pass rush is going to give most left tackles all they can handle. I hope Castanzo proves me wrong, but there’s no shame in needing a tight end or back to chip these pass rushers.
Linebackers: Why is There So Much Speed Here
Ultimately that was the plan for this team, run, cover, hit. It’s not difficult. The two players that match that speed theme are Telvin Smith and Myles Jack. Both guys play linebacker, both guys are insane athletes, both guys fell in the draft and the Jags took risks on both and those risks are paying off, big, in coverage.
The third guy you should know about is someone you probably already know about. Paul Posluszny. You know the guy that looks like Stan Smith from the adult cartoon, American Dad. They both have a ridiculous jaw line and seemingly insane levels of natural testosterone. I digress, Poz isn’t seeing a ton of playing time and at 33 years old on a team that is so focused on speed, it isn’t surprising. You can expect to see him in on running downs but not much more than that.
- I put this in the LB section but this was a failure of everyone on defense:
The runner wasn’t touched down, the play was reviewed automatically, as it went for a touchdown and no Jags defender made contact. Crazy play. Even before that failure, there was a nice running lane for Bilal Powell to run though. The run would have gone for five or six yards had he been touched which isn’t what you want to see from your defense.
- “If you don’t block these guys, they’re going to make plays.” -John Madden
Okay, so that’s not a Madden quote, I mean it probably is, he probably said that at some point on air, but it just seemed like something he would say.
Back to the play, at first you look at this play and think that the right guard just dives out of Myles Jack’s way. While that’s true, he kind of did, it’s because Malik Jackson crosses in front of him, the guard thinks he’s doing his job, passing off Jackson to the center and he’ll just help with the guy blitzing. He never saw Jack who was on a delayed blitz and was hidden behind Jackson’s stunt.
It’s also important to note that I don’t know what protection scheme the Jets had in place but you would assume that the right guard is responsible for Jack (which no one saw and adjusted for pre-snap) and the back would pick up the outside rush. Regardless this is a lot for any offensive line to try to digest and adjust to on the fly. The Jags know that and it’s why they do it.
UPDATE: AS @Orc0909 has pointed out, I incorrectly attributed this to Myles Jack, it is actually Barry Church. Not that it matters now, as only @Orc0909 will read this just to see if I actually updated it as everyone else stopped reading this article on Thursday.
- When opportunities present themselves Myles Jack takes advantage:
This was a backwards pass, which means if it’s incomplete it’s a fumble. Well it ended up becoming a fumble and Myles Jack probably isn’t the guy you want to scoop up a fumble against your team.
To be fair a lot players would have scored a touchdown after fielding the ball that cleanly, none of our linebackers would have, but a lot of other players around the league.
Right place, right time. It’s only luck if it only happens once.
- Tough to outrun:
I know I said that I thought Marlon Mack could rip one off on the edge against these guys, and I still believe that. With that said if he sees this many jerseys he needs to look for the cutback because he isn’t outrunning these guys to the corner.
These linebackers have amazing speed and are excellent in coverage. Jack Doyle could be completely taken out of the game if his newly developed hands of stone don’t take him out of it first. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if these backers made a couple surprising plays on the ball, especially if Jacoby Brissett continues to struggle in the redzone.
Secondary: This Defense is Stupid.
It’s pretty obvious why the Jags struggle on offense save for Leonard Fournette and it’s because they’ve just invested so much on the defensive side of the ball.
I’ll start with the “worst” guy and we can suffer together as I work my way to the guy that might be the best young corner to come a long for quite some time.
Barry Church will spend a lot of time near the line of scrimmage and will act as the enforcer in the role that Kam Chancellor plays for Seattle. He signed a four year $26 million deal in the off-season. The Cowbows (that was a typo but I liked how it looks so I’m keeping it) were in a good position to let Church walk and resign a younger and cheaper option in J.J. Wilcox. The only problem for them was the fact that Wilcox signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and was then traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers. So the Cowbows missed the boat twice and early reports were the ‘Bows are missing their enforcers. Church isn’t flashy but he’ll make plays in the run game, he isn’t going to miss tackles and he is a natural leader on the field. This could prove to be a great signing.
Tashaun Gipson spent the first four years of his career with the Browns after coming out of Wyoming in 2012. Gipson went undrafted and is another guy that let NFL scouting departments know that they missed again, early in his career. Gipson went from undrafted to averaging 3.5 interceptions per year in his time with Cleveland.
In 2014 he had a career high 6 interceptions. He went from UDFA to pro bowler in three short years. After 6 games Gipson is tied with our own Malik Hooker with 3 interceptions on the year. He is on pace for 8 picks and that is exactly the type of production you hope to have out of the safety playing “middle field”.
A.J. Bouye was a major free agent last off season and I was excited about it. He was leaving the Texans and I believed the AFC South. Unfortunately he ended up staying in the South, taking his talents to Jacksonville. Bouye is a very good corner. One of the very best in the league depending on who you talk to and he’s yet another guy who went undrafted in 2013 out of Central Florida. With a redraft this guy is a high first rounder, now.
Jalen Ramsey is a 6’1” 210 pound cornerback. PFF rates him as the 3rd best corner in the league this year and while I don’t like to use PFF ratings as the end all be all, ranking him in the top 3 is accurate.
The Jags took Ramsey 5th overall in 2016. Some questioned if he was going to be better at safety or at corner and frankly I can’t imagine it’s even possible that he could be a better safety than the corner he’s turned into. Ramsey’s style of play was compared to Richard Sherman during his time at Florida State. While Ramsey is playing in the same system, he has the elite athleticism that Richard Sherman wishes he had.
This isn’t the worst part of playing him twice a year. The worst part of it is the fact that he turns 23 years old in six days. It’s not unrealistic that we’re going to be seeing this guy twice a year for the next decade and he’s one of, if not the best corners in the game. At 22 years old. Awesome.
- I wish this were a fluke:
The break he makes on this ball is insane. Most decent corners try to play the receiver and get a hand in to break up this pass. That’s a smart play, one that results in another down. Instead Ramsey does his best to disprove the notion that humans can’t fly and picks off what is a dumb pass to throw, but that’s due to the safety help over the top. Brissett will need to be perfect.
- 50/50 Ball:
Joe Flacco got the look he thought he wanted. His receiver was one-on-one on the outside and the safety couldn’t get to the ball fast enough, so he threw a pass trusting that his receiver would make a play. Instead Bouye is the one that made the play, tipping the ball to himself and picking the ball off.
- Coverage Sack:
I put this one in here due to the fact that Savage really doesn’t have anywhere to go with the ball. The receiver who lines up at the top of the screen doesn’t come open until after Savage has been hit and every other route is locked down solid.
These DB’s are good. This is probably the best secondary we have faced so far this year and we’ve played the Seattle Seahawks. If Brissett somehow makes it out of this game without throwing a pick it will be nothing short of a football miracle.
These Jags have an amazing defense. They have top end talent at all three levels of the field. Their least productive player once earned a 6 year $90 million contract. Seriously. With that said, they do have some flaws, namely they have struggled so far in stopping the run. They have the talent to seal up their gaps but thus far that hasn’t happened consistently.
If we can limit mistakes in the passing game and find success running the football there’s a chance we are in this game late. If we fall behind early and abandon the run this one could get ugly.
For the first time in five years running the ball and stopping the run will be the only way we win this one.