Shortly after he was named the Jaguars' defensive line coach, Joe Cullen had the "defensive linemen" sign taken down from outside his unit's meeting room and had it replaced with a sign that reads, "Rushmen." Cullen wanted to make it perfectly clear to his defensive linemen that the emphasis in 2010 would be on rushing the passer.
To that end, the Jaguars are greatly improved. Through 12 games they have 21 sacks, seven more than last season's worst-in-the-league 14. The Jaguars are a more respectable 22nd in the league in sacks per pass play this season and though Cullen would like that ranking to be even higher, it must be acknowledged that he lost his star pass-rusher, Aaron Kampman, a month ago.
For this Sunday's game, however, rushing the passer isn't likely to be nearly as important as stopping the runner. For this game, against the power-running Oakland Raiders, Cullen's rushmen will have to be run-stuffingmen.
"A rushman has to stop the run on the way to the quarterback. We have to make them one-dimensional," Cullen said on Thursday, as he contemplated the challenge facing his unit on Sunday.
The Raiders wouldn't mind being one-dimensional. In fact, they'd prefer it be that way. They are fourth in the league in rushing attempts. Care to guess who's second? Yeah, the Jaguars.
"They are an excellent running football team," Cullen said of the Raiders. They have an excellent offensive line. McFadden is playing as well as any running back in the league. We have to gang-tackle him and get 11 people to the ball. They'd like to run the ball every down, if they could," Cullen said.
Darren McFadden leads the Raiders with 870 yards rushing and a 4.9 yards-per-carry average. Michael Bush has added 453 yards and a 4.0 average. The two have each scored five touchdowns rushing.
The task of stopping the McFadden-Bush duo will fall primarily on Jaguars defensive tackles Terrance Knighton and Tyson Alualu. They are the cornerstones of the Jaguars defense of the present and the future.
"I coached Shaun Rogers in Detroit. I've been around tackles that can dominate the game. They're not just run-stuffers. They can rush the passer," Cullen said of Knighton and Alualu.
Cullen thinks the Raiders defensive tackle combination of Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly is the best in the league. The Raiders' run-defense ranking of 23rd might be misleading; they stopped the Chargers cold last week.
"Kelly and Seymour have been the best tackle combination I've seen in the league. That's what we're trying to get to," Cullen said.
Journeyman Jeremy Mincey and rookie Austen Lane have been better than adequate at the ends. Mincey has been saddled with the task of replacing Kampman.
"Mince is a great effort guy. We felt, as a staff, it was time for him to play more and he's played excellent football," Cullen said of the decision to replace Derrick Harvey in the starting lineup with Mincey. Kampman's injury then forced Mincey to switch sides and Lane stepped into the left end spot Mincey vacated.
"He played his best game against the Giants," Cullen said of Lane. "He's continuing to get better. The biggest thing for a young guy is to develop his pass-rush and that's what we're working on with him."
This week, stopping the run might be good enough.