Sitting atop the AFC South is something new for the team in Jacksonville. And it has been a long time coming for Jaguars fans. The team has not made the playoffs since 2007, when their quarterback was David Garrard. Now, led by one of the top defenses in football, they look poised for another playoff appearance.
The quick turnaround from a 3-13 record last year might come as a surprise to some. Although their defense was 6th best in yards allowed, there were not many bright spots in 2016. So, what’s the reason for their sudden success this season?
Perhaps it can be attributed to their investment in the defense under former coach Gus Bradley. Bradley, who came in after serving as the defensive coordinator in Seattle, placed a premium on defensive players both in the draft and in free agency. During his tenure, the team drafted Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack, Dante Fowler, and Telvin Smith who have all been huge contributors. Bradley also helped sign ball-hawking safety Tashaun Gipson and elite defensive tackle Malik Jackson in 2016.
Even with Bradley gone, the Jaguars are still stocking up on defensive talent. In Doug Marrone’s first full season as head coach, he has made some big-time acquisitions to bolster what was already a solid group. They spent big money on cornerback A.J. Bouye and defensive tackle Calais Campbell. Both have been nothing short of All-Pro caliber studs thus far. But Marrone wasn’t done. During their bye week he went out and traded for Marcell Dareus, a 2-time Pro Bowler that he coached in Buffalo.
In today’s NFL, success is typically dependent on the play of the quarterback. However, Marrone and the Jags are taking an old-school approach. With Blake Bortles’ limitations under center, they are relying heavily on their defense to win games. Many critics question whether this is a sound formula in the modern game. In recent memory, teams like the 2015 Denver Broncos and the 2000 Baltimore Ravens have won despite shaky quarterback play. The Jaguars are betting that they can do it too.
While there are a variety of factors that go into Jacksonville’s success, their investment in the defense has been paramount. Drafting young impact players and spending big money is finally beginning to pay dividends. The season is more than halfway over and this team appears to be poised to return to the playoffs. The 2017 Jaguars have a chance to prove the old saying that “defense wins championships”.