The 3-4 is dead. Long live the 3-4, just not in Jacksonville.
Sunday's it-wasn't-as-close-as-the-final-score-would-indicate, 24-21 win over the Kansas City Chiefs saw the Jaguars return to their familiar 4-3 defense, and the results were stunning.
- The Chiefs were held to 60 yards rushing, a week after the Jaguars allowed a franchise-record 305 yards rushing by the Titans.Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel was sacked three times, by a team that had just five sacks through seven games.
Coach Jack Del Rio offered neither condemnations of the 3-4 nor proclamations of commitment to the team's return to the 4-3. Del Rio and his players all downplayed the difference one more defensive lineman and one fewer linebacker made in the Jaguars' defensive performance on Sunday, but they all agreed on one thing: Defense holds the key to whatever hope the Jaguars have of making December meaningful.
"You don't win in September, you don't win in October and you don't win in November. You have to be alive in December," Del Rio said. "What we have to do defensively is harden up. Offensively, we're doing some good things. It falls on the defense's shoulders to get stingy."
That's it in a nutshell. Any chance the Jaguars have of making games in December against Houston, Miami, Indianapolis and New England meaningful, rests with the defense's ability to start playing the kind of football it did in Del Rio's first five years as head coach.
Letting running backs rush for 228 yards can't happen. Missing tackles must be eliminated. Breaking down in coverage is a no-no, and allowing quarterbacks to sit in the pocket and survey the field is a mortal sin in today's game.
"You can see some reason for hope. I saw some guys show up and play well today. We've got to get that edge back and we're working hard to do that," Del Rio said.
It was the Jaguars' linebackers that appeared to be the winners on this day. They are not of the 3-4 variety. Daryl Smith, Justin Durant and Clint Ingram are 4-3 types who appeared to be much more comfortable with another 300 pounds of beef in front of them taking on blocks and stripping the interference.
Smith led the Jaguars with eight tackles, two tackles for loss, two quarterback hurries and 1.5 sacks. There's your big winner. You think Smith likes the return to the 4-3?
"We wanted to get a little more speed on the field and give ourselves a chance to rush the quarterback a little better on early downs," Del Rio said in answering the question of why and when he ordered a switch to the 4-3.
Did the switch give the Chiefs' problems?
"I'm sure they spent the week blocking '30' looks," Del Rio said.
OK, let's cut through the camouflage and get to the truth: The 3-4 is dead. The 3-4 might be the Steelers' identity, but it's not the Jaguars. When this team was playing its best football, it had two dominant defensive tackles keeping the blockers off its linebackers and allowing them to find and frustrate the ball-carrier.
Now, eight weeks into the season, the Jaguars looked like the Jaguars again, and that's why this team suddenly has reason for hope. Yeah, those are the Chiefs the Jaguars just beat, but did you see the way the Jaguars did it? Instead of letting a bad offense drive up and down the field, the Jaguars completely dominated the Chiefs until allowing their effort to be spoiled statistically in garbage time.
What if the Jaguars defense gets back to its dominant ways of the past? What if, in the second half of this season, the 4-3 Jaguars start playing as they did in Del Rio's first five seasons as coach?
"Oh, man, you're talkin' about a nice run," defensive tackle John Henderson said. "I feel we're going to get back to that."