Jaguars defense collapses carrying both offense and special teams

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars' defense has shown it is capable of carrying the offense and winning games. That's what it did last week in Pittsburgh.

But asking it to carry the offense and overcome a rash of special teams mistakes as well is just unfair, which is what happened Sunday afternoon in the Jaguars' 27-17 loss to the Los Angeles Rams at EverBank Field.

It was another disappointing performance in that stadium, and it kept the Jaguars from winning back-to-back games for the first time in a year. The Jaguars are now 9-29 since 2012 at home (not including games played in London or Mexico City). That's the worst mark in the NFL.

"In the NFL when you give up a that many points on [special] teams it’s very difficult to win the game," coach Doug Marrone said. "I thought we were trying to battle our way back in there but obviously that hurt. We weren’t able overcome that, which is difficult to do in this league."

The Jaguars' special teams gave up 17 of the Rams' 27 points:

  • Pharoh Cooper's 103-yard opening kickoff return for a touchdown. Jarrod Wilson was in position to make the tackle but Cooper evaded him with a spin move.

  • Greg Zuerlein's 56-yard field goal was set up by a 16-yard punt by Brad Nortman.

  • Cory Littleton blocked another Nortman punt and Malcolm Brown returned it 8 yards for a touchdown. The Jaguars' protection broke down and gave Littlton an easy run at Nortman.

In addition, kicker Jason Myers missed a pair of 54-yard field goal attempts.

"It's very disappointing," said receiver Arrelious Benn, who is the Jaguars' special teams captain. "As a special teams guy, we gave up 14 points. We gave up 14 points and it starts with me. Joey D [special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis] had a great game plan going into this game. We can't sit back and wait for offense and defense to do it. We've got to go out there and do it. We're not in a chaos situation right now. We've just got to regroup and correct some things that we're not executing out there."

The blocked punt was especially damaging because it came with 2:25 remaining in the first half and put the Rams up 10 points. A two-score deficit with this team's offense is hard to overcome.

"When we’re down by two scores the offense doesn’t play into the strengths of our defense, which I think is our pass defense right now," safety Barry Church said. "Once they’re up 10 points, they can kind of drain the clock a little bit. As a whole, we’ve just got to make sure that no matter what happens on any other phase of the football game we’ve got to be, as a defense, on our Ps and Qs and can’t let them get up.

"It kind of sucks right now because I felt like we had their number and we let one slip away. If we want to be the team we need to be we can’t let games like this fall away.”

Rams running back Todd Gurley rushed for 116 yards, but quarterback Jared Goff threw for only 124 yards and didn't throw a touchdown pass as the Rams' offense generated only one touchdown. Los Angeles managed just 12 first downs and converted only 4 of 13 third downs.

The limitations of the Jaguars' offense is well-documented, especially in the pass game. Quarterback Blake Bortles has been a turnover machine in his career (an NFL-high 68 before Sunday since he entered the league in 2014). The loss of top receiver Allen Robinson to a torn ACL in the season opener left the Jaguars without a consistent downfield playmaker, and neither Marqise Lee nor Allen Hurns have been able to make up for his loss. The tight end position has contributed only seven catches in the first five games.

The only bright spot has been rookie running back Leonard Fournette, but the Rams bottled him up pretty well after he scampered 75 yards for a touchdown on the Jaguars' first offensive snap.

That leaves the team -- the defense, especially -- with little-to-no margin for error.

The Jaguars have been able to get by with the defense carrying the offense. They picked off the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger five times and took two back for touchdowns last week, and Dante Fowler and Myles Jack have each returned fumbles for touchdowns this season.

It's clear by this point in the season that the Jaguars' success hinges on the defense. That's not going to be enough if it has to carry the special teams, too.