JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser's five takeaways from the day after the Jaguars' loss to the Houston Texans Sunday
*1)Pressure package. *We begin Monday takeaways with the pass rush, and the Jaguars may have no more pressing issue after six games. After registering 45 sacks last season, the Jaguars have 12 this season and have been unable to generate consistent pressure rushing four down linemen. They have had better success when bringing five rushers, but too often quarterbacks have been able to stand comfortably in the pocket for too long. The lack of pressure also has limited opportunity for turnovers, with the team registering one interception through six games. "We're trying to figure out D-line-wise where we're at, what we can count on – four-man pressure versus pressure (with five or more rushers)," Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said, adding that the Jaguars blitzed – which he defines as a rush with five or more defenders – 15 times Sunday with varying success. "When you pressure, you're going to make some plays and you're going to give up some. It just happens to be like that. What we have to look at is if what we gain outweighs what we could give up. To bring pressure with the idea of affecting the quarterback to get more turnovers, I think that's the stage we're at right now."
2)Trouble at Leo.Pass rush has been a season-long issue, with a primary concern a lack of pressure from the Leo position. In the Jaguars' defense, the Leo has primary pass-rush responsibility on first and second downs, with the rest of the line more focused on defending the run on those downs. "We need it from the Leo," Bradley said. "If we're not getting everything that we need, then we've got to look at bringing pressure and taking a guy out of coverage." The team plays three Leo ends – Chris Clemons, Andre Branch and Ryan Davis – in the three-Leo, third-down lightning package. Clemons has one sack this season in six starts at Leo, with Davis – primarily an interior rusher in the lightning package – leading the team with 2.5 sacks. The team has shown no inclination to move Davis into the starting Leo position because of his effectiveness on the interior, and Branch has yet to have a sack this season.
3)Skuta time.One option to generate more pressure without calling six- and seven-man blitzes is to use Otto linebacker Dan Skuta more as a pass rusher. The Otto isn't as much of a pure pass-rushing role as the Leo, but Skuta has been an effective pass rusher at times – particularly on first and second downs. He has a sack and a half this season, registering a half-sack and a quarterback hurry Sunday. Bradley estimated that Skuta rushed on at least seven of the Jaguars' 15 blitz/pressures Sunday, adding that that number may have been higher. "We do like what he's doing at the Otto spot," Bradley said. "We've been trying to send him more. We're trying to utilize his rush skills at the Otto spot." Skuta said most of his pressures came when the Jaguars rushed five defenders, which while technically a blitz is less all-out and less risky than sending six or seven in exotic fashion. "That's just a five-man pressure," Skuta said, adding that he agreed with Bradley when the latter said Monday that calling blitzes can "stimulate" a defense. "I like it. It gives you the opportunity to make a play. I feel like overall we've done pretty well with it. If it's working, why not, right? It creates opportunities for tackles for loss and sacks and gets you in better situations on second and third down, so from that point of view, I definitely think it's good."
4)More needed. While pass rush and lack of takeaways were a major issue when Bradley spoke with the media Monday, he focused on the offense, too. The unit has made significant strides this season, and few would dispute that the unit has played better than the defense in recent weeks. Quarterback Blake Bortles has 13 touchdowns with seven interceptions, and wide receivers Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson both remain on pace for more than 1,200 yards receiving. At the same time, Bradley noted the unit had room to improve. "Our run game isn't where we need it," Bradley said, noting that the team needs to do a better job blocking at the second level. "I think you see initial strain, but I think the challenge for us is seeing strain through the echo of the whistle. That part isn't what I'm seeing." He also noted that while the offense is ranked 15th in the NFL in total yards, points remain an issue. "We feel better about the offense because they're moving the ball, but still at the end of the half it was seven points," Bradley said, referring to the Jaguars' 10-7 halftime deficit Sunday. "We need more points so I think everybody in that room is taking responsibility. We can all do more to get this thing right."
5)Increased role.Look for Sen'Derrick Marks' opportunities to increase. The defensive tackle made his 2015 debut Sunday after rehabilitating from January reconstructive knee surgery, playing 21 snaps in a limited role. "I thought it was very good for him and the team to be out there," Bradley said. Marks according to the team did well physically and should be able to increase his workload moving forward. Marks had 8.5 sacks last season, and the team this season has missed his ability to create pressure and influence the quarterback on the interior. He also was effective against the run last season because of his ability to shoot gaps into the backfield. Whether he is able to accelerate this season as well as he did the past two seasons remains to be seen, but the more Marks can play the better for a defense that has lacked the ability to create pressure in base situations.