Jaguars find mild success blitzing, but next opponents handle it well

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars sacked Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson twice Sunday.

Normally that wouldn’t be anything of note, but the Jaguars’ pass rush has been one of the most disappointing facets of their defense in their 1-7 start. Getting Watson -- or any quarterback they’ve faced -- on the ground more than once is, unfortunately, significant.

They did it by blitzing the most times Sunday as they have in any game this season.

Per ESPN Stats & Information, the Jaguars sent five or more rushers on 17 of Watson’s 40 dropbacks, surpassing the previous high of 16 -- which they set against Watson in their Oct. 11 game against the Texans. Sunday, however, was their second-highest blitz percentage of the season (42.5%) behind the 46.9 percent against Detroit.

“I feel like we could have called anything because when we rush four [players], we were getting pressure,” said defensive end Josh Allen, who had a half-sack against Watson. “When we blitzed, we were getting pressure. The game plan was definitely swell, and I was liking how everything went.”

The success of coordinator Todd Wash’s defensive scheme is predicated on being able to get pressure while rushing only four players. That’s why the 2017 unit was so successful. The Jaguars didn’t need to blitz to get pressure because their front four of Calais Campbell (14.5), Yannick Ngakoue (12), Malik Jackson (8.0) and Dante Fowler (8.0) combined for 42.5 of the Jaguars’ 55 sacks. The Jaguars blitzed a league-low 106 times that year and only 18 of their 55 sacks came while blitzing. Campbell (3.5), Ngakoue (3.5), Jackson (3.5) and Fowler (0.5) combined for 11.

This year, however, the Jaguars have gotten all eight of their sacks when rushing five or more players. Allen split his sack with middle linebacker Joe Schobert and cornerback Tre Herndon came in untouched to drop Watson on Sunday.

“Tre’s a scary blitzer,” Allen said. “He’s definitely a guy that can really sneak in there and come in there and hit somebody. Obviously, you saw. When Tre’s coming down and he’s on the blitz, everybody else has to do their part so he can get free because he’s going to make a lot of big plays in that position.

“Those blitzes are made for that nickel to come in and be the free hitter. So it’s for us to do our job and occupy the rest of the O-linemen so he can just come in there scot-free, which we did, and he came in and made the play.”

Blitzing obviously carries some risk. The Jaguars have given up the third-most yards against the blitz, per ESPN Stats & Information, and their next two opponents have thrived against extra rushers. The Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers has thrown six TDs to two interceptions against blitzes and has been sacked just three times on 94 dropbacks. The Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger has thrown five TDs to one interception against blitzes and has been sacked three times on 77 dropbacks.

But blitzing has been the best way for the Jaguars to get pressure. Without Campbell or Ngakoue on the other side, Allen has been the focal point of opposing offenses and hasn’t consistently applied pressure. When he has faced one-on-one matchups he hasn’t won much, either, and he has 2.5 sacks.

“I think we blitzed a lot today, more than what we usually do, and we were getting home,” Allen said after Sunday’s 27-25 loss. “I believe we’ll continue to do that.”