Which Jaguars are trending in the right direction heading into week two of the regular season?
The Jaguars boasted one of the most porous run defenses in the NFL last year, surrendering 153.3 yards per game on the ground and 4.7 yards per carry. At first glance, the Jaguars appeared to struggle against the run a bit on Sunday against the Texans, but upon further inspection, one Tyrod Taylor scramble that went for 29 yards dramatically impacted the stat line. But when defending designed runs, the Jacksonville defense was stout, allowing only 3.2 yards per attempt. A big piece of that was Malcom Brown, who helped control the line of scrimmage with his strength and leverage. This spring, the Jaguars traded a seventh-round pick to the cash-strapped Saints in exchange for Brown. He made three tackles right around the line of scrimmage and held the point of attack all day. He totaled five tackles and appears to be a catalyst for an improved run defense in Jacksonville.
The Jaguars' offensive line as a whole played below average on Sunday. They were asked to pass block 51 times, which is never ideal. Right guard AJ Cann was a squeaky wheel, surrendering seven pressures. Left tackle Cam Robinson, center Brandon Linder, and right tackle Jawaan Taylor all picked up costly penalties. But Andrew Norwell was a model of consistency at left guard. On the few plays he was tasked with clearing holes in the running game, he succeeded. In 51 pass pro snaps, Norwell didn't surrender a single pressure, helping his rookie quarterback greatly. Norwell has received unfair criticism during his years in Jacksonville, largely due to his mammoth contract, but performances like this should continue to quiet the noise.
After a sophomore season marred by injuries in 2020, Josh Allen burst back onto the scene for the Jaguars' defense. The seventh overall pick in 2019 racked up ten sacks as a rookie but missed eight games last season. In week one, he picked up a sack, four quarterback pressures, and two run-stuffs. The Jaguars need Josh Allen to be a force in 2021 and beyond if they hope to improve on the defensive side of the ball and as a whole. If he can build off this performance in Houston, Allen could be poised for another Pro Bowl campaign.
This is as much about K'Lavon Chaisson's inability to finish as it is about Jihad Ward. It's not yet time to give up on 2020 first-round pick K'Lavon Chaisson, but he struggled to finish plays in week one. On multiple occasions, the young edge rusher had Texans' QB Tyrod Taylor dead to rights in the backfield and came up empty. Taylor is one of the more elusive quarterbacks in the NFL, but those are plays Chaisson needs to make. Despite starting the game, Chaisson finished with fewer snaps than veteran free agent signing Jihad Ward. Ward is bigger and plays a more physical, tenacious brand of football. He finished tied for the team lead in pressures with four, picked up a QB hit, and set the edge well against the run, picking up three tackles. For the time being, the Jaguars should use Ward as the starter, with Chaisson rotating in.
Chris Manhertz is widely regarded as one of the best blocking tight ends in football. On Sunday, he blocked well and then some. He lined up as a blocker 17 times and helped protect Trevor Lawrence, giving up zero pressures and creating push in the run game, helping the Jaguars average 4.8 yards per carry. Manhertz also contributed as a receiver, albeit on just one target. But what a target it was. Manhertz ran a seam route down the left side and found the soft spot in the Texans' zone coverage. Trevor Lawrence placed the ball perfectly in between the two defenders, and Manhertz found the endzone for the first touchdown of the Trevor Lawrence/Urban Meyer era.
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