JACKSONVILLE – Call it a feeling. A good feeling.
That's what cornerback D.J. Hayden said he has about the Jaguars' defense – even if he can't quite explain it.
"I'm a real superstitious type of guy; I just get feelings – you know what I mean?" Hayden said Monday as the Jaguars (1-2) began preparing to play the Cincinnati Bengals (0-2-1) at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio, Sunday at 1 p.m.
"It's something I can't explain. There's no textbook of how to explain it. I just get good feelings."
The Jaguars have allowed touchdowns on the game's opening drive in all three games this season, and they have fallen behind 14-0 the last two weeks in losses at Tennessee and at home to Miami. They rallied to win or two in Weeks 1 and 2, but never led or tied Miami after the opening drive.
"The first couple of drives have been really slow for us," Hayden, the most experienced player in a young secondary, said Monday via videoconference. "I think it's taken us a little time to get the blood flowing. It's a young team. We're still growing, and some guys are still learning…
"It's going to come. You've just to be a little patient. You can't play perfect all the time. Guys are going to make mistakes, but I feel like this team is going to learn and correct the mistakes and get better from it. That's going to make us a better team in the long run."
The Jaguars rank 16th in the NFL in total defense and 19th against the pass. Miami quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on Thursday completed 18 of 20 passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns – with the two touchdowns coming as the Dolphins scored on their first three possessions.
"Some of the issues we've had have been technique, so I feel like we're focusing just back to the basics," Hayden said. "Square one, technique, eyes in the right spot where they're supposed to be – just basic football."
And while he can't explain his feeling, Hayden on Monday left no doubt about his confidence that the Jaguars defense not only can improve but will improve – and that it will do so Sunday.
"I'm excited about this next up and coming week," he said. "I feel we're going to play a lot faster. … We're going to have to lock in, strap up, get some turnovers, make [Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow] uncomfortable, get some sacks.
"We've got to ball out. The last two weeks we didn't get it done. We've got to get it done this week."
Jaguars right tackle Jawaan Taylor said the offensive line's primary focus "is just being more consistent with our play, giving [quarterback] Gardner [Minshew II] more time. We have a good quarterback behind us. We have to give him more confidence in the pocket and keep the pocket more solid – the depth and width of the pocket. That's our focus going into this week – getting better with that and being more consistent." One factor to consider when analyzing sacks is that it's more difficult to pass protect when trailing because opponent know an offense is going to pass. Nine of the 10 sacks allowed this season came with the Jaguars trailing – including seven when the team has trailed by a touchdown or more. All four sacks allowed against Miami came with the Jaguars trailing by 14 or more.
Hayden on being a veteran leader in a young secondary: "I might have to pop it off next week with a pick so everybody gets juiced or something. We're going to have to do something, though. This is not fixing to ride, though. We're going to do it."
Hayden on whether to defer and play defense or take the ball when winning the pregame coin toss: "I don't care. We're going to be out there regardless of whether we go out first or whether we go out second. Whichever team goes out there first, they just have to punch them in the face – whether it's the offense or the defense. It shouldn't matter who goes out first. We should just go out and play our type of football."