Can the Jaguars Change Philosophy?

The Jacksonville Jaguars have gone through a few different identities in their 13-year history. Early on they achieved inexplicable expansion success, as they, along with the Carolina Panthers (Sunday's opponent), became the quickest franchises to ever reach a conference title game (both in their second year of existence).

The Jaguars had an explosive offense in their early years, led by dynamic quarterback Mark Brunell, along with Fred Taylor, Jimmy Smith, and Keenan McCardell. Along with the explosive offense, this franchise had a spendthrift philosophy when it came to free agency under head coach/general manager Tom Coughlin. The result was an exciting brand of football for a few years, before having to pay the proverbial piper when they spent themselves right into "salary cap hell." After the team became salary cap stricken at the turn of the millennium, the Jaguars were forced to rebuild and the "new era" began with Jack Del Rio as head coach. Shortly after Del Rio took over, the Jaguars transformed themselves into a team with a physical defense that generally played close, low scoring games, and a newfound respect for the salary cap and it's ill effects if managed poorly.

Despite the Jaguars transforming themselves over their brief history, they've stayed with their base 4-3 defense since their inaugural season of 1995. With the steady decline of the Jaguars pass defense this season, especially in terms of pressuring opposing quarterbacks, it may be time for a change in philosophy. Defensive tackle Marcus Stroud commented about the lack of pressure--

"We've got to shore up our technique and get to the quarterback."

Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio chimed in about the pass defense--

"We've got to do things better. We'll coach through that. That'll be something as we go through December and -- if we earn it, beyond -- that's going to be an area we need to be better at."

There are currently just six teams that employ a full-time 3-4 philosophy on defense, mainly because it takes a while to acquire 3-4 personnel. Among those six teams are division leaders New England, Pittsburgh, San Diego, and Dallas. Those six 3-4 teams currently have combined record of 49-23, a winning percentage of .681. Four of the last six Super Bowl champions run 3-4 defenses, and it is very likely that one or more of this years Super Bowl participants will be 3-4 defensive teams.

Assuming the Jaguars would be open to running a 3-4 or at the very least a hybrid defense, what personnel changes would have to occur? Not as many as you'd think. The Jaguars have a few lighter, quicker defensive ends that could play the role of end or linebacker. Bobby McCray is a smallish end that could be more effective in a 3-4, as well as Brent Hawkins and Brian Smith, who the Jaguars have drafted with the hopes of becoming designated pass rushers. Jacksonville spent a second-round pick on linebacker Justin Durant back in April, and when Mike Peterson is healthy that gives the Jaguars four very solid, athletic linebackers. In Peterson's absence over the last two seasons, linebacker Daryl Smith has moved to the middle and has played nearly flawless football. Linebackers Clint Ingram and Justin Durant are both athletic enough to play with their hands on the ground, or drop back in coverage. With this potential 3-4 scheme, defensive coordinator Mike Smith would be able to disguise his coverages better, and confuse opposing quarterbacks easier.


Marcus Stroud
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
One of the only negatives to this scheme would be up front, where the Jaguars wouldn't be able to play both Marcus Stroud and John Henderson at the same time very often. Marcus Stroud talks about he and Henderson being on the field together--

"Me and Big John, we play well together. If I'm able to go out there and do well, nine times out of 10, he's playing well. We feed off each other,"

The "feeding" that Stroud referred to recently hasn't been nearly as plentiful as in the past. As the level of play of both Stroud and Henderson has seemed to decline of late, a 3-4 scheme would offer the team the opportunity to spell each other and both would be fresh for longer periods of time. Rob Meier would likely be able to rotate in at both the defensive tackle and end positions, and if Grady Jackson were to be retained, he would fit in perfect as a nose tackle. Add in fifth-round draft pick Derek Landri injured tackle Tony McDaniel, and the Jaguars would have a formidable rotation up front.

Whenever a major change in defensive philosophy, such as switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 is made, there is a certain adjustment period, and frankly, it's too late in this season to make this type of adjustment. That being said, the parts are there for a switch in 2008, or at least a switch to a hybrid 4-3/3-4. One of the primary reasons that the Jaguars haven't been able to overtake the Colts for the AFC South title is their lack of a pass rush on Peyton Manning. Manning and the Colts have historically struggled against 3-4 defenses, and they've lost their last five games against Dallas, San Diego, New England, and Pittsburgh combined.

The Jaguars have failed to win big games under the Del Rio era, and in most of the losses, the defense hasn't done its part. In two games against Indianapolis this season, the Jaguars gave up 29 and 28 points respectively, and have made the Colts look even better than they are offensively. Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio addressed his teams perceived inability to win a big game--

"You get those things that are talked about (failing to win big games) that become almost truths. So until you do it, then you're going to answer those kinds of questions."

With the Jacksonville pass defense being the sixth worst in the entire NFL, what harm would a change do?


Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of JagNation.com, and a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports.com, Sirius NFL Radio, MySpace Sports and Sportsillustated.com. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and is a columnist for the New Smyrna Observer. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.



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