The Jacksonville Jaguars’ task in 2013 is simple: Get better.
That’s a realistic expectation when you blow up a roster to begin rebuilding a franchise that won just seven games the previous two seasons. Wins and losses don’t matter as much as making strides, improving incrementally and being a better team at the end of the season.
The Jaguars have met that goal on offense. Things aren’t perfect -- the Jaguars continue to bumble around in the red zone -- but the running game has gotten better, the pass protection has improved significantly and Chad Henne isn’t throwing multiple pick-sixes like the man he replaced.
Defensively, though, the Jaguars have regressed. After an impressive performance in Denver, in which the Jaguars limited the Broncos and Peyton Manning to season lows in total yards and passing yards, the defense has been woeful in losses to San Diego and San Francisco, the latter on Sunday in London by a score of 42-10.
In the last two games, the defense has allowed 66 points, 832 total yards and 379 rushing yards, while forcing only one turnover and recording just one sack. The Chargers and 49ers went a combined 13 for 21 on third downs (62 percent) and punted just four times. San Diego had five drives of 79 yards or more, leading to 24 points. San Francisco had four drives of 63 yards or more -- all of which resulted in touchdowns.
Jaguars coach Gus Bradley helped build Seattle’s defense into one of the NFL’s best, so watching his unit slop around the field the last two weeks is undoubtedly unsettling. It illustrates just how devoid of playmakers this unit is.
Linebacker Paul Posluszny is a tackling machine, and he delivered the defense’s biggest play of the season when he returned a Manning interception 59 yards for a touchdown, but that’s it. He’s the only player who has shown any kind of ability to make big plays.
There’s a lot of optimism surrounding rookie safeties Johnathan Cyprien and Josh Evans, but neither has an interception and both looked lost against the 49ers. They spent a considerable amount of time whiffing on tackles, too. They may develop into playmakers, but right now they’re just trying to absorb as much as they can and survive their first NFL season.
Tackle Sen’Derrick Marks has been the team’s best defensive lineman, but he’s not exactly Vince Wilfork or Nick Fairley. Plus, he had a costly penalty against San Diego because he shoved a lineman in the head after a play because he was frustrated at being held.
The player the Jaguars drafted in 2012 to develop into a pass-rusher, defensive end Andre Branch, has one sack this season -- which he got by touching St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford after Bradford tripped over the feet of one of his offensive linemen.
"This league is about playmakers," Posluszny said. "You have to have a guy or a group of guys that are able to make a big play when you need it the most. We are struggling with that right now."
Bradley told Fox’s Jennifer Hale at halftime that if things didn’t improve there would be personnel changes. But who? Options are limited because the Jaguars don’t have quality depth anywhere on the defensive roster.
The only way for the defense to get better is to find playmakers -- and that won’t happen until the draft in May.