JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Is Sacksonville back?
For the last two games it was, at least.
The Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6) have pressured and sacked quarterbacks much better in their past two games, and the 27 QB pressures and seven sacks against the Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills were reminiscent of the Jaguars’ elite defense of 2017, when they finished second with 55 sacks and sixth with 105 QB hits. But that unit, dubbed "Sacksonville" after sacking Houston Texans quarterbacks 10 times in the season opener, had three very good pass-rushers and got consistent pressure all season.
That hasn’t been the case this season, but a major reason things have been better the past two weeks has been the improved push from the interior of the defensive line. Edge-rusher Josh Allen and Dawuane Smoot may get the glory, but the guys doing the dirty work deserve a lot of the credit too.
“I think our guys have been concentrating and really working, and we’ve been concentrating on getting 'pocket push,' we call it," defensive coordinator Joe Cullen said. "It was evident, and now [Bills quarterback Josh Allen] couldn’t step up, and he’s a really good step-up guy and a guy that takes off. We really limited -- he did get out a little bit -- but we limited the ability to step up, and that really helped our edge rush.
“It helped the inside guys, too, because when you step up and you’re getting pressure, you can run into some sacks, and we did that.”
The Jaguars had only 55 pressures and eight sacks in their first seven games, but they racked up seven pressures and three sacks against Seattle’s Geno Smith and 20 pressures and four sacks against Allen. That was the Jaguars’ first four-sack game since Week 13 of the 2020 season against the Minnesota Vikings and just the second time since a Week 15 victory over Oakland in 2019.
Allen has three sacks and Smoot has two in the past two weeks. Defensive tackle Taven Bryan had two sacks against the Bills, after having just 3.5 in his previous 54 games, and defensive linemen Roy Robertson-Harris, Malcom Brown and Adam Gotsis also got good pressure up the middle. The Buffalo game was Robertson-Harris’ second game back after missing Weeks 3-5 with an ankle injury, and his return the past two weeks has made a big difference.
“You give your edge-rusher a middle push and [don’t give] a quarterback a chance to step up, that’s why Josh and Smoot got all those sacks,” Robertson-Harris said. “We’re just trying to do all the heavy lifting so those boys can go crazy.”
Allen is the Jaguars’ marquee pass-rusher, and his surge the past two weeks gives him 5.5 sacks. He also had an interception and a fumble recovery last week, as he’s gotten more comfortable with dropping into coverage as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Allen had 10.5 sacks as a rookie defensive end in 2019 while he was playing with Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue, but injuries limited him to just eight games and 2.5 sacks in 2020.
The move to the 3-4 under Cullen was supposed to allow him to flourish, and coach Urban Meyer said Allen had been playing well in the first six games, even if his stats didn’t show it. Allen has had five QB pressures in each of his past four games.
“I think he’s always been playing [well], but I also think that when the quarterback can step up, they say, ‘Where’s Josh Allen?’” Meyer said. “Well, Josh Allen is actually doing pretty good. It’s just we don’t have any push. And I think DaVon [Hamilton], Roy and Malcom had a little bit of push for us inside [the last few weeks]. And I think Jihad [Ward] as well, a couple times.
“So, that’s all correlated of the two; why would Smoot and Josh have a good day? It’s the accumulation of interior push as well.”
But is what the Jaguars have done the past two weeks sustainable? The Seahawks were without top back Chris Carson, and the Bills’ second-leading rusher is their quarterback, Allen, so the Jaguars didn’t have to worry too much about stopping the run. This week, they face the Indianapolis Colts (4-5) on the road (Lucas Oil Stadium, 1 p.m. ET, CBS) and running back Jonathan Taylor, who is second in the NFL in rushing with 821 yards.
Getting pressure on Carson Wentz may be secondary to containing Taylor.
“End of the day, we’re just trying to get wins,” Robertson-Harris said. “All that stuff, it don’t really matter. I don’t care who gets the play, as long as somebody get the play and get that man down, or we get off the field and give your offense a chance to score. That’s it.”