JACKSONVILLE – Given time to reflect, Todd Wash focused on the basics.
The key to improving the Jaguars' defense?
Simple things, the Jaguars' defensive coordinator said early Thursday afternoon. Playing better on first and second down to get opponents in more third-and-long situations, for instance, would help a struggling pass rush.
That's a basic thing and Wash said it will be a focus moving forward. But mostly, Wash said improving is about players being in the right position and making plays from those positions.
"Looking back during the bye week, a lot of what we figured out is when our guys know what they're doing, they can play well," Wash said Thursday as the Jaguars (1-6) prepared to play the Houston Texans (1-6) at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville Sunday at 1 p.m.
The Jaguars' defense has struggled much of the season, allowing 31.4 points a game and ranking 31st in the NFL in total defense at 424.4 yards per game. They allowed 33.3 points per game in a six-game losing streak leading into this past week's Week 8 bye.
A pass rush that ranks last in the NFL with six sacks in seven games had one of its better games of the season in the last game before the bye – registering a season-high six quarterbacks hits and a sack in a 39-29 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
"We've done a lot better job getting them in third-and-seven plus, which allows our defensive line to in their ears back; it's not a 50-50 down for them," Wash said. "We've also been bringing a little bit more pressure, but I think a lot of it has to do with just getting these guys in third-and-seven-plus situations."
Part of the issue Jaguars' defensive issues has been inconsistency against the run. The Jaguars allowed 105.6 yards per game rushing in the first two games of the season but have allowed at least 123 yards in every game since and rank 28th in the NFL in rush defense at 142.6 yards per game.
"We've had some spurts of some good things," Wash said. "The biggest thing for us is we've got to continue to put them in the right spots and when they get in those right spots, they've got to be able to make some plays.
"Anytime you get a bye week, you get to be able to self-scout yourself in great detail. You get a little more time to teach. We'll see what happens when we get to the game."
One issue facing the defense in the first seven games has been health. Safety Jarrod Wilson missed four games with a hamstring issue, weakside linebacker Myles Jack missed two of the final three games before the bye with an ankle injury and defensive end Josh Allen – the team's sacks leader with 10.5 last season – missed two games with a knee injury before returning against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 7. Head Coach Doug Marrone said early this week he expects Wilson and Jack to play Sunday and Allen on Thursday said he feels fully healthy. "I feel great right now, and I'm ready to go," Allen said, with Wash adding of Allen: "You see him out there in practice the last couple of weeks, he's really moving around well. He doesn't have a little stutter when he changes direction. I think we're going to continue to see him improve as the season goes on if he stays healthy."
Wash on Thursday also discussed the progress of rookie defensive end K'Lavon Chaisson, who through seven games has a sack and two quarterback hits. "It's tough as a rookie defensive lineman, especially as a pass rusher, to come in and make an impact right away – especially when you haven't had an [on-field] offseason [because of COVID-19]. We see flashes of good rushes. We see him beating guys and maybe the ball is out. We sat down and made a list of things he needs to get better. He's getting better as the season has gone on. It's too bad we don't have an offseason for some of these young pass rushers and some of these young players."
Left tackle Cam Robinson missed practice with a knee injury Thursday after working full Wednesday. The fourth-year starter was among seven players missing practice Thursday with the other being quarterback Gardner Minshew II (thumb), running back Devine Ozigbo (hamstring), cornerback Josiah Scott (not injury related), linebacker Dakota Allen (ankle), tight end James O'Shaughnessy (scheduled day off) and defensive end Adam Gotsis (scheduled day off). Jack and Wilson worked limited in practice for a second consecutive day Thursday, with four other Jaguars players also working limited: guard A.J. Cann (shoulder), center Brandon Linder (hip), safety Brandon Watson (hamstring) and cornerback Sidney Jones IV (ribs). Tight end Tyler Eifert (neck) returned to practice after missing Wednesday.
Allen: "We're trying to win. Everybody in that locker room is trying to win. We prepare ourselves like we're going into a battle to win each play. That's the mindset we all have to have. That's the mindset that we have in the locker room. We're all excited about this matchup this week and we're looking forward to it. That's what everybody's mindset is – just to come out here and win."