The Weakest Link - Jaguars Defense

What a difference a week makes. The Jaguars went from an offense that was hiding its franchise quarterback to a team that was explosive, led by an accurate, athletic quarterback who directed his weapons to near perfection. Unfortunately, there is a big difference in the defense as well.

Looking back at the stat sheet from Sunday's 30-27 victory over the Houston Texans, the Jaguars defense allowed what was the league's 25th ranked offense to move the ball at will and score on every single meaningful possession from the middle of the first quarter on. Texans quarterback Matt Schaub entered Jacksonville as the league's 30th ranked passer and left with a 29/40, 307 yd., 3 TD/0 INT performance for a quarterback rating of 119.5.

"He played well," said Jack Del Rio of Houston quarterback Matt Schaub. "Quarterbacks in this league are pretty talented. If you don't do something to disrupt them, they can hurt you. He had a good game yesterday."

If it wasn't for the fantastic efficiency of the Jacksonville offense, the team would be looking up at the rest of the division. So what is the cause for the decline in the passing defense? Injuries? No pass rush? Poor play in the secondary? The answer is all of the above.

If there was any question about the value of Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis, it was answered Sunday when he left the game early in the second quarter with a shin injury. The Jaguars were forced to play reserve William James opposite the struggling Drayton Florence and the results were nearly disastrous. Neither player is playing up to the level of a starting NFL cornerback, and the cushion that the entire Jaguars defense had to give not to get beat deep opened up the entire underneath for Texans quarterback Matt Schaub.

The Jaguars may have been able to weather the Mathis injury better if both safety Reggie Nelson and linebacker Justin Durant hadn't missed the game. Nelson and Durant may be the Jaguars best two players on defense, and if you take them away along with Mathis, the team will certainly struggle.

"When we lost linemen, we didn't lower our expectations," Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio explained. "We lose some people in the secondary, and we don't lower or expectations. We expect to play well. We need to clean a few things up. We'll work on it."

As for the pass rush, it apparently took a day off Sunday. The Jaguars registered as many sacks as the people in the stands, and very few pressures. The Texans offensive line handled the Jaguars pass rushers, and Matt Schaub's jersey may have been a bit sweaty from the elevated temperatures, but it was certainly not soiled.

"When you're not hitting the quarterback, he can get pretty comfortable back there," Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio said. "He's an accurate passer. He's got weapons. If you're draped on him, it's hard to make some of those throws. If you're giving him time and space, he's got a chance to light you up."

With a poor pass rush most secondaries will struggle. Without talented players, most secondaries will struggle. The Jaguars finished the game without any pass rush or real talent at the corner positions.

So what is the solution? Get guys healthy. It appears that the injuries to Mathis, Durant, and Nelson aren't extremely serious, and if the Jaguars are going to keep the Pittsburgh offense from going wild on national television Sunday night, they will need these guys back.

Another solution is to move some players around when the Jaguars stars are healthy. The two biggest underachievers on the Jaguars defense have been middle linebacker Mike Peterson, and cornerback Drayton Florence. Neither player is playing up to the level of an NFL starter, and both look slow. If the Jaguars were to move strong safety Brian Williams back to cornerback, where he was solid a year ago, and start Gerald Sensabaugh at strong safety, the Jaguars defense would be improved. Florence can be shifted over to nickel corner, a position where he may not be exposed quite as often. As for Peterson, the Jaguars need to slide Daryl Smith back over to the middle linebacker spot, a position he's played each of the last two seasons when Peterson has been hurt.

"I was upset coming in here (locker room), but the coach gave a speech about enjoying the victory. That's exactly what I'm going to do," middle linebacker Mike Peterson said.

Although Peterson is an emotional leader for the Jaguars, he is missing far too many tackles and he can no longer cover tight ends. It appears as if his leadership skills may be best used from the sideline.

The Jaguars passing defense has fallen to 24th in the NFL, and they have a game Sunday against a Pittsburgh Steelers team that is intent on getting some revenge from the two losses that the Jaguars put on them last season. Jacksonville will need to patch up the secondary and Gregg Williams will need to come up with a solid defensive game plan or else Ben Roethlisberger, the NFL's second-ranked passer a year ago could have a career night.


Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering multiple teams in the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie is a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports and Sirius NFL Radio, and has been featured on the NFL Network. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.

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