Jacksonville used its bye week to retool its shaky defense. The Jaguars simplified the schemes, hinting at relying on “more plays and stunts” to spark a listless passing rush.
The changes will be put to the test Sunday when Jacksonville (3-7) hosts one of the NFL’s hottest teams, the Baltimore Ravens (7-3).
Dynamic quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Ravens have won four straight games, including two away. Baltimore’s defense was at its best during the streak, allowing 14.5 points per game. Sacks are up, third-down conversions are down and the Ravens suddenly look like the team to beat in the AFC North.
“I think any coach, any teacher would say the same thing: when you see your students or your players succeed in a way that you envisioned for them, that is very rewarding,” said Baltimore- Coach John Harbaugh.
“On the other hand, in our league it’s mostly mitigated by the fact that you know that next week you’ll be facing a great opponent who is very capable of turning things the other way at any time.”
Jacksonville, a 3 1/2 point underdog according to FanDuel Sportsbook, hasn’t proven capable of causing a stir lately. The Jaguars lost six of seven before their bye, all in familiar fashion, with either offense faltering in the red zone or defense giving up far too much.
Jacksonville’s biggest problem was an inconsistent pass rush, with veteran Josh Allen (three sacks) and linebacker Devin Lloyd taking the brunt of the criticism. Lloyd has been benched in each of the last two games and is expected to be replaced in the starting line-up by fellow rookie Chad Muma.
“I’m obviously looking forward to it,” said Muma, a third-round draft pick from Wyoming. “I’m done. I’m stoked. When you went to college before, you look up to all these guys, these great quarterbacks that can do it with their feet and arms, and Lamar is one of those guys.”
Jackson certainly is, despite not having thrown for 240 yards since Week 2 and having just one rushing touchdown in his last seven games.
“Honestly, you just hope to slow him down,” said coach Doug Pederson. “He can definitely beat you at both running and throwing. …You have to win your matchups on defense, and you mustn’t let your eyes wander. You have to be disciplined.”
Pederson pointed out the simplified defense systems.
“The boys have to keep working. The coaches have to enable them to be successful if it’s more games and stunts, if it’s just hustle, whatever that is. Again, it’s all about winning your matchups. That’s what the guys really need to focus on. The coaches have to do a great job to enable them to do that.”
The Jaguars are expecting a better start than in the previous two games. They were 20-0 down in Kansas City in Week 10 and were 17-0 down against Las Vegas seven days earlier the previous week. They rallied in both and even beat the Raiders.
But it’s a position Jacksonville wants to avoid for a third straight game.
“We need to get better in the first quarter,” Pederson said. “You never want to be 17-0 down, especially with a team like this who are playing well. It just opens up a lot of things for them. It’s crucial that you try to come out early and score.”
Ravens defenseman Calais Campbell is returning to Jacksonville for the first time since the Jaguars traded him to Baltimore. Campbell played three seasons (2017-19) in Jacksonville and was nicknamed “The Mayor of Sacksonville”.
The 36-year-old Campbell has 4 1/2 sacks this season, his most since leaving Jacksonville. He’s two shy out of 100 for his career. His last game against the Jags was in 2013.
“It’s a bit sentimental, I think, but actually it’s just another football game,” he said. “It’s cool because I spent three years there. It seems like it was a lot longer than it really was. It was only three or four years, but I had a lot of fun there.”
NOT SO SMOOTH SAILING
The Ravens have one game left on their schedule against a team currently .500 or better in Cincinnati in the regular season Finals.
Baltimore’s next four are against teams that are currently 3-7. Still, the Ravens needed a strong fourth quarter last week to defeat the modest Carolina in a 13-3 win, so they’re not planning on overlooking Jacksonville.
“I’ve heard people say, ‘This is the best 3-7 team,’ whatever that means. All of these teams are really good,” Harbaugh said. “This is the NFL, and this is a really good team. … This is a young team. You lost a lot (games) by one (score). They have a bunch of physical players, a physical offensive line. Their quarterback — you know their quarterback — he’s the #1 draft.”
AP sportswriter Noah Trister from Baltimore contributed to this report.
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