Jack Del Rio referred to "power football" on a couple of different occasions, and he repeatedly spoke of the San Diego Chargers' penchant for and intent to run the football. It was easy to see Del Rio was establishing a mind-set for his players.
"There's a mind-set of physicality that comes with stopping the run and our guys are preparing this week to stop a very strong running attack," defensive coordinator Mike Smith explained.
The Jaguars may have lost some of that stop-the-run mentality they established last season, when they rose to second in the league in run-defense. So far this season, the Jaguars have been middle of the pack against the run. Buffalo rushed for 95 yards in the opener, Denver topped the 100-yard mark at 106, then Tennessee gained 119 and Indianapolis 117 and, all of a sudden, a defense that had gone more than a season without having allowed a 100-yard rusher was teetering on the brink of doing it every week.
Last season, the Jaguars allowed their opponents to rush for 100 yards or more five times; only once in the second half of the season. It's happened three times already this season, and though the Jaguars' 16th-ranked run-defense hasn't been mauled by any of their first four opponents, it hasn't mauled any of those four teams, either.
All right, what's going on here? Well, here's what's going on.
Teams are running almost exclusively at the Jaguars' perimeter. None of the Jaguars' first four opponents have even tested the Jaguars' defensive tackles, Marcus Stroud and John Henderson. Why would they? Stroud is a Pro-Bowler and Henderson is thought to be on the verge of becoming the same. Meanwhile, the Jaguars have a very distinct personnel issue at defensive end, where the top three players from last season are gone.
The two defensive end positions have been left to Rob Meier, who is really more of a defensive tackle, Lionel Barnes, a journeyman attempting to establish his career, Bobby McCray, a rookie seventh-round pick, and Brandon Green, a sixth-rounder a year ago. In those four players, the Jaguars' ultimate fate may rest this season.
"We're going to keep working with the guys we have, impress technique on them and try to get better play out of them," Smith said.
The Jaguars need for an especially improved performance against the run this Sunday, when they face LaDainian Tomlinson and the Chargers. Tomlinson is the league's fourth-leading rusher. He is averaging 4.9 yards per carry and Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer admits to having made the mistake of not getting Tomlinson enough rushing attempts in the Chargers' 27-21 loss to the Jaguars last year.
"We didn't give him the ball enough. That was our fault. The thing about LaDainian is if you give him the ball enough times, you know that somewhere along the way, even if they have the perfect defense, he has the ability to make something happen and get away. He needs to get touches in the neighborhood of 18 to 25 each week for us to be effective and win," Schottenheimer said.
So Del Rio is preparing his team for a ground war this Sunday. Del Rio attempting to shape his players' mind-set: Be physical, be tough, stop the run. It's what will be required of the Jaguars to beat the Chargers, the league's eighth-ranked rush-offense.
"We game-plan each week for what the opponent is good at, trying to take away what they're best at; force them to do something they don't want to do. There is no question what Marty Schottenheimer likes to do. It's power football, run right at you, smash you in the mouth, play pass off it, take vertical shots. Our preparation will be based on that," Del Rio said.
It's time to stop the run, and the Jaguars will be counting on their defensive ends to play a major role in that effort.