JACKSONVILLE – The Jaguars' defense is good.
Gus Bradley made that clear Monday. The statement is supported by statistics in recent weeks – and really, the entire season. But the Jaguars' fourth-year head coach said the defense isn't great yet.
On Monday, he outlined reasons why.
Bradley said while the Jaguars' defense has held opponents to low yardage totals more often than not in recent weeks – and while it currently ranks No. 4 in the NFL in yards allowed – it's not yet making the impact plays necessary to decide games.
"When you know you've arrived is when the defense starts dictating the outcome of a game," Bradley said Monday, a day after the Jaguars held the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos to 206 total yards in a 20-10 loss at EverBank Field.
The Broncos' defense on Sunday forced three Jaguars turnovers, and turned an interception thrown by Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles into a key third-quarter touchdown. The Jaguars' defense did not force a turnover, and Bradley said that element defined the difference between the teams Sunday.
"They got a pick-six, and you felt like, 'OK, their defense really dictated the outcome of that game,''' Bradley said. "That's the mark of a really good defense. Right now we're not there yet. We're not getting those. We're not dictating the outcome of it."
Bradley said while that's true the defensive improvement the Jaguars have made this season has him "really excited about this group of guys."
"It's not there yet, but that's the next step," Bradley said, adding that the defense's improvement is particularly impressive this season because the team added a slew of new defensive starters in the offseason through free agency and the draft.
"I think guys really understand their roles and they're playing fast because of it," Bradley said. "It's impressive what those guys have done, how they've come together."
Jaguars running back Denard Robinson sustained a left high-ankle sprain Sunday and did not return. His status will be updated later in the week.
Two Jaguars players – defensive end Yannick Ngakoue (ankle), safety Peyton Thompson (ankle) -- left the game after re-aggravating injuries. Their status also will be updated later in the week.
Tight end Neal Sterling (hip contusion) and linebacker Dan Skuta (elbow) returned to the game after sustaining injuries Sunday. Center Brandon Linder (ankle) also returned to the game after initially leaving with his injury.
Defensive end Jared Odrick (shoulder), wide receiver Allen Hurns (hamstring), running back Chris Ivory (hamstring) and tight end Julius Thomas (back) all missed Sunday's game. Their statuses also will be updated later in the week.
Bradley on Monday emphasized a lack of explosive offensive plays against Denver, particularly pointing to the run offense. The Jaguars rushed for 154 yards on 38 carries Sunday, but the longest run was a 22-yard touchdown by quarterback Blake Bortles. The longest run by a running back was eight yards. "You need explosive runs, and the only explosive run we had was Blake getting the touchdown," Bradley said. "When you run it that many times, you're hoping you can wear the defense down a little bit and spring one."
Bradley said there was a reason the Jaguars didn't work the ball downfield offensively more in the passing game Sunday: Broncos linebacker Von Miller. The NFL's sacks leader with 12.5, Miller's ability to disrupt the opposing offense was a concern to the Jaguars entering the game. Miller had pressure on two of the Jaguars' three turnovers – an interception that cornerback Bradley Roby returned for a 51-yard third-quarter touchdown and a lost fumble that led to the Broncos' game-clinching, fourth-quarter field goal. "He is that disruptive, so going into the game we knew it was important to chip and try to slow that down," Bradley said, adding that the approach also changed the routes run by receivers. "You've got some deep routes and then if those aren't there you have to check it down and hit some things underneath. It was never designed to hit underneath first. … We went into this game saying we have to protect."
OUT OF JUICE
Bradley said if he had it do over again he likely would have substituted for wide receivers Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee more Sunday. With Hurns out with a hamstring injury, Robinson played all 83 of the Jaguars' offensive plays and lee played 81. "These guys play a tremendous amount of plays, and to say that they had the same juice from beginning to the end when you play that many plays …" Bradley said. "It's so important and we have to keep guys fresh and be aware of that."
"We're not connecting as well as we need to in the passing game when we have opportunities."
"There is no doubt you will see splash plays from him [defensive end Dante Fowler Jr.] He is chasing and his effort is outstanding. You see him trying some different things to see how he can more effective in the run and the pass. I think the challenge for him still is the consistency. You see a splash play and then you see the one where we have to get him in tune. He definitely has made improvement."