Scouting Report: Jaguars Defense Will Give Steelers Biggest Test

As we have been for several years now, we’ll break down the Pittsburgh Steelers’ opponent each week, telling you what to expect from a scheme and individual standpoint. Dan Vasko and I will break things down. Dan the players, myself the scheme.

Another check in of a very tough Jacksonville Jaguars’ defense.

Alex’s Scheme Report

Jaguars Front Seven

It’s a base 4-3 defense. And a good one top to bottom. Up front, you have #93 Calais Campbell, the surging vet who racked up 14.5 sacks this season to lead the team. He generally plays as the strong side 5T, meaning he’ll flip, and so both tackles have to be prepared to face him (Gilbert is a much better matchup than Hubbard). Malik Jackson will play the three, Marcel Dareus the one, and Yannick Ngakoue the weakside defender and primary pass rusher.

Linebacker has some serious speed. Telvin Smith weakside, Myles Jack strongside, and Paul Posluszny in the middle. Some injuries to that group, Posluszny left last week with a bum hip and the backup is hurt too but it looks like all three will be available Sunday. In sub-packages, Smith and Jack stay on the field because of their athleticism. I think it’s going to be tough to run to the perimeter against these guys. Fast flow makes it hard to win the edge, which is unfortunate, because the Steelers have been showing success there.

One example. Stretch run by Lesean McCoy. Flow to the frontside forces the cutback and into the nose tackle’s arms.

I’m trying to keep everything between the tackles. Though that may not be easy either.

They went out and got Dareus for a reason. Look at the entire season’s stats and the Jags’ run defense looks weak. They’re giving up 4.7 YPC, tied for 23rd in the NFL. But go from Game 8 on and that run defense is much improved. Since then, it’s down to 3.7 YPC, tied for 5th best. Drastic difference.

Point is, there is no easy answer. But I’d rather go up the middle than to the outside. At least you’re gaining ground.

Some stats. Since Game 8, they’re allowing 25 runs of 10+ yards, slightly below average. Three of them went for 20+, tied for 5th best in the league. As you probably know, they finished the year with 55 sacks. Campbell with 14.5 of them. The defensive line combined for 39 of those 55, so you know they’re relying on that front four to get home.

Their red zone defense is excellent. Second overall at 37.9%, and tops in the league on the road. So tough to defend. Third down defense is top five too, coming in 4th place at just over 32%.

Jaguars Secondary

The same suspects as before. Jalen Ramsey, AJ Bouye, Aaron Colvin in the slot. Safety is a little weaker but not by much. Tashaun Gipson at FS, Barry Church at SS.

Pass defense is tops no matter how you slice it. 6.0 YPA is first. 56.8% is 1st. 17 TDs is tied for third best. Sacks are second. Ditto interceptions and points per game (21, 16.8).

Bouye leads the team with six interceptions though they come from a lot of sources. Mostly the secondary though Telvin Smith has three of them.

What’s interesting about their pass defense is they don’t give up many big plays. 40 passes of 20+ yards, top five in the league. But when they give up a big play, it’s usually a biiiig one. 12 have been completed for 40+ yards, one of the worst figures in the league. So a chance to go deep on an aggressive group that puts their corners on islands.

Mainly a man coverage team and I expect that to remain against the Steelers. But they throw some wrinkles in there off that. Here’s a zone coverage/pattern match the Steelers use too, 2 Trap, with Ramsey quickly putting a stop to this out route.

But you’ll get a heavy dose of Cover 1, sometimes with a Rat like Jack, who will key the quarterback and deny any crossing routes.

Though most of their pressure comes from the front four, they aren’t afraid to mix in some blitzes. In Cover 1, you’re often going to get a six man pressure and they’ve brought the corner from the boundary several times. Like here.

It’s an aggressive mindset through and through.

Dan’s Individual Report

Defensive Line

A rejuvenated unit, this group is playing well over the course of the last several games, making it even more difficult to gameplan against. They’ve been highly productive along the defensive line, and they’ve welcomed a newcomer who has made a significant impact.

We’ll start with an obvious candidate for defensive player of the year, defensive end Calais Campbell. He has 14.5 of the team’s 55 sacks this season, a career high for Campbell. Not much to be said about this guy that hasn’t already been covered extensively. He has deceptive speed for his size, and can create problems for even mobile quarterbacks.

Abry Jones and Malik Jackson are the interior tackles (Jones often lines up as a nose), and Yannick Ngakoue comes in as the other defensive end. He and Campbell line up on both sides and will throw in some different looks along the line.

The team added a nice piece to their rotation midseason after acquiring DT Marcel Dareus from Buffalo. He’s been a valuable asset in combating the run game, and is used in a rotation largely on early downs. He is strong enough to plug gaps, but is athletic enough to combat zone blocking schemes and double teams. Here’s a solid example of his push downfield.

Dareus is lined up in a 3-technique between the guard and the tackle. They are running a weak zone, so the guard chips Dareus, while the tackle tries to push him as far left as he can. But Dareus’ speed and power help him fight off the chip and bring him downfield much quicker than the tackle can recover from. It’s a quick stop in the backfield for negative yards. He’s a big-time force, and it’ll be interesting to see how the Steelers plan to implement their zone schemes.

The Jags also like to show different looks along the line, and this opens up opportunities in the pass rushing game. Take this play below, for example. The Jaguars have four down with six in the box. They rush five including the corner with their linebacker dropping into coverage out of the three point stance, and the sam, Myles Jack, rushing from a two-point. This causes some confusion at the line, and Malik Jackson wins out.

He’s head up on the center, and is very active with his hands at the point of attack. Splits the center and guard quickly, forcing the offensive lineman out of position which gives Jackson an easy lane to the quarterback. When this team switches up their blitz schemes, it’s very confusing for the opposing line, and that’s when these interior defensive lineman can make huge impacts as pass rushers.

Linebackers

Perhaps the weakest group on the defense, they also find themselves a little banged up heading into Sunday’s tilt at Heinz. Mike linebacker Paul Posluszny didn’t participate on Wednesday with an abdomen injury, but upgraded to limited on Thursday. Meanwhile his backup, Blair Brown was limited Wednesday, but didn’t participate Thursday. It looks like this unit should be intact come gametime. Posluszny is the run-stuffer of the group and is great at plugging gaps. He’s the guy you’ll find somewhere in the pile every play.

Myles Jack is the most highlighted member of the group. He’s a very physically gifted athete, and is well-rounded in both the run game and pass coverage. He is often used to blitz from the sam position. Will linebacker Telvin Smith is also a promising, young player. He, too, was limited this week, but should be a go on Sunday as well. He’s very good in coverage, can run down backs sideline to sideline, but sometimes struggles when taking on linemen.

Defensive Backs

The highly touted secondary for the Jaguars is as good as advertised. They’ve allowed the least passing yards this season, the least yards per pass, the least yards per game, the second-most interceptions, and have allowed the lowest passer rating. So, yeah, these guys are good. It all starts with their high-profile cornerback Jalen Ramsey. He’s got 4 interceptions this year, 5 if you include the game-icing interception versus Buffalo last weekend.

A.J. Bouye lines up on the other side, with Barry Church as the strong safety, and Tashaun Gipson as the free safety. Aaron Colvin is the nickel corner. We know how good these guys are against the pass, but they are incredibly well rounded.

Church and Gipson are solid at covering tight ends, and are physical safeties that make plays all over the field. And as we’ll see below, the corners can make impacts in the run game as well.

That starting four have combined for 301 tackles this season; that’s a lot for a secondary. They fly to the ball, and much of it has to do with their discipline. They don’t overpursue very often.

Here A.J. Bouye finds himself in the c gap on this zone run. It’s just him and shady McCoy in space, usually not a good sign given McCoy’s shiftiness. But instead of trying to make a play further in the backfield, Bouye chops, holds his lane forcing McCoy outside and then wraps him up for a tackle for loss. This could have been a very dangerous play, but here Bouye shows good discipline and makes a nice play in the backfield.

Overall it’s an improved run defense, and a secondary that continues to dominate. A tall task for the Steelers this Sunday.

About the Author

Alex Kozora
Full-time blogger from mom's basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.
  • CountryClub

    I’m repeating myself, but I expect the Steelers to throw early and often. And they’ll have to if they’re going to win. Steelers win 27 – 9.

  • srdan

    IDK why would they do that. Jax struggles to get leads. We can run it on them between the tackles in my opinion.

  • CountryClub

    As Alex states in his post, the idea that it’s easy to run against Jax is just not true. And the Steelers struggle to run up the middle anyway. They do better off tackle with one or two lineman pulling. Jax is good at defending that type of run. Anyway, we’ll know in about 54 hours.

  • Steeler4life

    Lots of screens..Their front 4 are very aggressive. Once in the backfield, dump it off the LevBell. Receivers will have the DBs up field and the rest is up to LevBell. Open space. That will stop their aggressive rush.

  • ATL96STEELER

    The Steeler OL vs the Jags front 7 was a no contest loss in week 5.

    I like the JAX DEF in general, especially the OLBs and the secondary. The DL is good, but when you break them down, I’m not intimidated. Campbell is a good player having a career year. Ngakoue is a smallish DE…I like to pull that power play at him a few times to see how he holds up…The two DTs are good, (of course no Dareus on week 5) but we’ll see how Foster, Pouncey and DeCastro hold up this time.

    I think Haley has to mix it up keep JAX off balance and still take your shots down field.

  • ATL96STEELER

    The Steelers will try to get the edge sometimes which does play into the teeth of a fast DEF, but I like the pulling G power play to the weak side DE. Gilbert vs Campbell I feel pretty good about…Ngakoue vs AVill…I don’t feel as good about that matchup in pass/pro so I would like to run at him to get him on his heels a little.

  • cencalsteeler

    Quick, short passes and screens. Vance and Jesse should be big targets this game as well as Ju Ju and Bell. And, yes, I do think this is a game where the bubble screens will work, too.
    The run game should be alot of Georgia counters and getting the big boys out in front of Bell. The delay runs up the middle won’t work.

  • JNick

    I realize what Alex is saying, but you can run on them and the Steelers can pound it. There is no reason to just come out throwing. The Steelers offense is as strong as the Jags defense. They have no glaring weaknesses and their weakest position, TE can show up and give a team trouble. The rest of their offensive units are top 2-3 in the league.

  • CountryClub

    Don’t get me wrong, Bell will get his touches. But this won’t be a 3 yards and a cloud of dust game, IMO.

  • ThatGuy

    Doesn’t hurt that our offense is way better this time around. Bryant has been fighting for catches, JuJu has been JuJu, AB is unguardable, Bell has rounded from rusty to all-pro production and Ben has been making awesome decisions since the buy week utilizing his check downs finally. Won’t be easy but I think we have too many weapons for them to contain everything all day.

  • JNick

    I get it but you’ve said the same thing over and over again this week that they need to come out tossing. It’s just ludicrous to want them to do the same thing that cost them the game last time. Yes they will throw it, they need to mix it up and keep the defense from keying on anything, but if they are going to win, they need to be productive in the run game.

  • CountryClub

    The first game was a fluke. People are putting way too much importance on it. And of course the Steelers will run. But I think anyone expecting 30+ carries is going to be disappointed.

  • Steeler4life

    Bell out in space with a blocker or 2 in front. Eli/Vance will be keys to this game.

  • CountryClub

    Honestly, I don’t care how they win. I just want them to win. I’ll be quite happy if they run it 50 times and get the victory.

  • nitrous12

    The Bills missed some chances in the passing game that the Steelers should not. I don’t think Bell gets to 100 rushing yards. Maybe in the 70 to 80 yards range with another 40 in the passing game.

  • JNick

    It was not a fluke. The Jags defense can do that to any team that goes pass heavy. They have the skill at every DB position to do that. You want them to throw, throw, throw, you can’t expect a different result. Simple as that.

  • CountryClub

    intelligent people can agree to disagree.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Calais Campbell is a stud. The Cards miss him big time and the Jags have benefitted greatly. But you are correct and as much as I would like them to establish a run game, I truly believe you take advantage on 1st downs some with Dareus in there. Try some play action with a little dump off to Jesse James or Bell and take you 5 yards or so.

    If you watched the Buffalo game you obviously saw that Taylor had some chances down the field but was either unable to make a good throw or did not see guys come wide open. So occasionally they absolutely should take some shots down the field. I would throw a couple of deep passes early to keep them honest. Then take what they give you.

    In the second half I want to see a couple of good old fashioned Big Ben pump fakes. Those CBS are so aggressive that all it takes is a pump fake and the WR does a double move, and I will guarantee you at least 1 long TD. Maybe on first down or even just once on 3rd and 1. They are a great D but they can be had if the Steelers play well.

  • Rotten Sircus

    I’m tired of hearing about how great the Jags defense is. The 49ers exposed them & I do believe they have more than 1 loss this season meaning they’re beatable !!! Steelers 30 Jags 10 !!!

  • JNick

    And generally when you start insulting the poster instead of replying to the post, it’s a clear sign you have nothing left to say. Especially in such a passive, aggressive way.

    If you can’t have a discussion without insulting people, this is not the place for you. Especially when you make the same posts over and over again through the course of the week. It’s not so much that you posted it, it’s that you posted it time and time again as the right way things have to be done. It’s just silly to expect a different result, doing the same thing as last time. If you get upset by me pointing that out and replying to your continued posts, I can’t help that.

  • CountryClub

    huh? I didn’t insult you or anyone. It was a good discussion, but we were going in circles. No need to keep going back and forth.

  • Doug Andrews

    These DB’s are good but I like my chances with L Bell in the open field versus any DB on Jacksonville.

  • Doug Andrews

    This should be a big game for Vance and Maybe Jessie James. I think the key to loosening up the Jags defense is by attacking the middle of the field.

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    I think this Jaguars team over achieved this year. I think the defense is very good even great, but they will have to do a ton to stop us.

  • Charles Haines

    They beat Buffalo at home 10-3 with only 230 yds of offense. I’d like to think Steelers are a better D. Buffalo was in that game by putting 8-9 players in the box and letting Bortles beat them with a below average receiving corps. How is JAX going to score in 20 degrees on the road?

  • ATL96STEELER

    Stud? Okay no push back there, but this is a career yr for him…my point here is I expect him to make some plays, but Idt he’s going to dominate Gilbert.

    BUF…yes, and that’s obviously why they only scored 10 points…poor QB play. I’m having a debate now with a big Jags fan that thinks their DEF is the second coming of the ’76 Steelers….they’ve played exactly 3 teams in the playoffs, and 2 other > than .500 teams.

    Everything starts up front per norm and I feel pretty confident PIT will play better on both sides of the ball in the trenches this week.

  • JNick

    Um. I’m not sure why you are posting this as a reply to me. I didn’t mention anything about the Jags offense. But I do agree and have said a couple times this week that the Jags offense barely has a pulse. That barely part being what is left of Fournette after taking a beating this whole year, and Bortles when he pulls the ball down and runs. I hope Bortles tries to run the first series and gets a little introduction to Bincenzo.

  • nutty32

    We had some success running in the middle against them in Week 5, but that was w/o Dareus who is a good run stuffer. Not sure the 1st gif is a fair sample as the Jags clearly had a slant right called and Tyrod could not esp that and check the run the other way. We need to run inside and outside to make their corners tackle. Jags played 8 and 9 man fronts almost the entire 1st half in Week 5, but Bell still got some decent runs against it. He actually did better running against the stacked box v. when the steelers went shotgun/spread the field to get the Jags out of stacking the box. Ramsey is much like Artie, allergic to contact and not great at run support. Looking forward to throwback football. Hopefully, its their D that gets worn down late this time.

    Sounds odd, but outside of the picks and redzone failures, our O moved the ball fairly easily on them.