Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams defended his players' effort through the first five games of this season, denied that the team has undergone a major change in defensive scheme and shared his vision for the remainder of the season, during a press conference on Thursday.
"This is not Gregg Williams' defense. This is the Jacksonville Jaguars' defense. We're doing 85-90 percent of what was done here in the past. There are only a certain number of ways you can line guys up," Williams told reporters.
Williams replaced Mike Smith shortly after last season ended and Smith was named head coach of the Falcons. Under Smith in 2007, the Jaguars were perceived to have played a bend-but-don't-break style of defense. In the season-ending playoff loss at New England, Tom Brady completed 26 of 28 passes and it was hoped Williams would impose his reputation for pressure defense on the Jaguars.
A fair expectation?
"There were more pressures called last year than this year," Williams said.
The major issue in giving the Jaguars a make-over on defense is that it will largely depend on the speed with which rookie defensive ends Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves develop into the productive pass-rushers an attack defense must possess. The Jaguars traded away a total of five draft picks to move up in each of the first two rounds of this year's draft to select Harvey and Groves. Clearly, the Jaguars determined that they needed to improve their pass-rush if they were going to give Williams what he needs to play attack-style football.
"I thought that in the last week and a half I've seen a rise," Williams said of Harvey's play, which does not include a sack but does include an interception in the season opener. "He's kind of had his training camp now. You see a counter move now. That only comes with time."
Harvey, of course, missed all of training camp before he signed a contract. Groves was present for all of training camp and he's been credited with a sack and a half.
"This is a long season. I think he'll continue to do better," Williams said of Harvey. "It's evolving," he added of his defense. "I think I've seen improvement. It comes down to an ability to get off the field on third down. We have to do a better job in that area."
It is one of two aspects of the defense that require improvement. Opponents are converting 49.2 percent of third-down tries, but the most critical failing of the Jaguars defense is at protecting leads late in the game. The Jaguars defense has failed to protect a fourth-quarter lead in each of the last four games.
"We're having to dig and scratch and win as a team. We have to step up and do our part in critical situations," Williams said.
The most recent late-game failing was against Pittsburgh this past Sunday night. Attempting to protecting a 21-20 lead late in the game, the Steelers went on an 80-yard, game-winning drive. The big play in the drive was an 18-yard pass completion from Ben Roethlisberger to Hines Ward on third and eight. Roethlisberger had two Jaguars defenders draped on his body as he somehow freed his right arm and completed the pass. Coach Jack Del Rio later referred to the play as "special."
"Ben executed and was able to overcome," Williams said.
"It's a half inch there and an inch here. In most cases, there was a great throw or a great catch. We've had more plays within six inches to an inch of getting the ball out (of the quarterback's hand). We've knocked the quarterback off the spot pretty well," Williams said.
The Jaguars played a lot of aggressive, single-high safety defense in the first half against the Steelers, and Roethlisberger threw for 239 yards. In the second half, the Jaguars played more "cover two" (two safeties) defense and were able to hold the Steelers to just that one touchdown drive, though it came at the deciding time in the game.
Williams, however, said "there was only a two percent change in pressure. Pressure for us is when you bring more than four" rushers.
Instead of scheme, Williams says good defense is about execution.
"Being a hard-hitting, challenging defense; being able to run sideline to sideline, setting up short fields for our offense and getting off the field better on third down," Williams said of his vision for his defense in what remains of this season.