IF SOLID SPECIAL TEAMS PLAY CONTINUES JAGUARS WILL BE EVEN MORE DIFFICULT TO BEAT DOWN THE STRETCH
In week six the Jaguars had a special teams meltdown of the biggest proportion. On their first kickoff the Jaguars allowed a 103 yard touchdown return to the Rams' Pharaoh Cooper. Brad Nortman's first punt of the day traveled just 16 yards, setting the Rams up in field goal range to start their drive. Then Jaguars kicker Jason Myers missed two of his three field goal attempts on the day. To cap it all off the Jaguars had a punt blocked and recovered for a touchdown. They allowed 17 points just off of special teams blunders that day.
Week six wasn't the beginning of the Jaguars special teams issues. No, it was more like the straw that broke the camel's back.
It was clearly time for a change. The Jaguars new special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis, who happens to be one of the most respected guys in the business, had to make some changes. With an offseason emphasis on special teams that saw the Jaguars bring in DeCamillis and sign several in house and out of house special teams free agents the Jaguars were expected to be much, much better on special teams.
After week six the Jaguars parted ways with kicker Jason Myers, who had been the team's starting place kicker for two plus years. The Jaguars brass replaced him with Josh Lambo, who had similar career numbers to Myers, but had been released by the Chargers in the offseason. Lambo had been much more accurate from short distances than Myers, and immediately brought some life to the Jaguars kicking situation. Since signing with the team Lambo has made each and every one of his field goal attempts. He's 5/5 on field goals, including a career best 56 yarder. He's made all of his extra point attempts and recorded three touchbacks.
While the Jaguars have flirted with replacing punter Brad Nortman, who has been up and down in 2017, they've decided to stick with him (for now). Since his embarrassing performance in week six Nortman has been on a tear. In the Jaguars last two contests Nortman has averaged 50 yards per punt and pinned opponents inside their own 20 on half his attempts.
The kicking and punting is on the up and up, but perhaps even more exciting is the Jaguars return game. Jaydon Mickens, who was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Raiders in 2016, seems to have found a home as the Jaguars punt returner. Replacing Max McCaffery, who is no longer with the team, Mickens has been nothing short of electric during his short time as the Jaguars punt returner. Against the Colts Mickens didn't have a return - he saved his coming out party for his first home game as the starting punt returner. Against the Bengals on Sunday Mickens scored just the fifth punt return touchdown in Jaguars history. And he did it in spectacular fashion, flipping into the end zone as he scored after a 63 yard run back. In total Mickens racked up 83 yards and three punt returns. He appears to be the answer the Jaguars have been looking for at punt returner.
Even the formerly non-existent Jaguars kick return game found life against the Bengals. The Jaguars had just one kick return on the day, but speedster Corey Grant made the most of it. He sprinted his way to a big return, putting the Jaguars near the mid-field stripe, but of course there was a penalty. Even after the penalty yards were assessed Grant got a 29 yard return - an encouraging sign.
The Jaguars were already a difficult team to beat - if they can consistently get quality special teams play they will be nearly impossible to take down in the stretch run of the 2017 NFL season.
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