KANSAS CITY—A defense that was seeking improvement, got worse. That's what's really eating at the team's head coach, Jack Del Rio.
Once upon a time, Del Rio was a rookie head coach who made two mammoth defensive tackles the centerpieces of his team's reconstruction. Around Marcus Stroud and John Henderson, Del Rio would build a swarming, bruising defense. Any design of employing that same strategy the second time around, however, was dealt a harsh blow by the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.
The Chiefs pounded out 236 yards rushing, which included a 70-yard run by Thomas Jones on his way to a 125-yard day. The worst part about the Jaguars' 42-20 loss, however, was the Chiefs' game plan, which called for a run-early, run-often strategy that thought so little of the Jaguars' run-defense that the Chiefs chose to largely ignore the Jaguars' greatest weakness, their pass-defense.
Against the league's 29th-ranked pass-defense, Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel attempted just 18 passes. He tried just six in the first half.
KC Head Coach Todd Haley and his offensive coordinator, passing-game guru Charlie Weiss, targeted the Jaguars' run-defense, which was largely considered to be one of the strengths of the team. Today, it is definitely not one of the team's strengths.
"It's a matter of shedding blocks and tackling. It's fundamental football. It's just ridiculous in week seven, talking about those types of things," a frustrated Del Rio told reporters following the loss.
Forget about the beleaguered pass-defense. Forget about the 29.8 points per game the Jaguars are allowing. Even forget about sacks. The Jaguars' full attention must be turned to stopping the run because if you can't do that, you can't do any of the other. It all starts with stopping the run.
"We weren't tackling. They were getting to the second level and, from what I can tell, we didn't tackle," defensive end Aaron Kampman said.
Missed tackles: It's a tired, old song.
"There had to be some misfits in gap control, some missed tackles on the back end. We have to play better defense on the back end. Todd (Bouman) gave us an opportunity to win the game," cornerback Rashean Mathis said.One of Del Rio's postgame remarks should be noted: "I didn't see nearly enough fight today," Del Rio said.
Was he questioning his players' effort? Remember, the Jaguars were coming off a game against Tennessee in which they stopped the run until the Titans executed a nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to kill the clock at the end of the game. All of those plays, by the way, were runs.
Did the Jags take a run-defense hangover to Kansas City?
"There's no carryover," Mathis said. "We have too many guys who are enthused to play football to quit."
At 3-4 and with a game upcoming at Dallas, there may be an element of quit in the fan base this week. They saw the game. They know.
There's something more important, however, than the harsh blow this loss dealt to the Jaguars' playoff hopes. Hey, as Jim Mora would say, "Playoffs?"
What's most important is the growth of a young football team. As it nears the halfway point in its season, it shouldn't have to go back to square one, but that's exactly what the Jaguars have to do this week. They have to go back to learning how to execute the most fundamental element of the game: Stop the run.
"The reality is we need to experience growth as a football team. We didn't grow today," Kampman said.