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Establish the Fun: The Jaguars defensive resurgence highlights Week 4 things to watch

Establish the Fun: The Jaguars defensive resurgence highlights Week 4 things to watch thumbnail

Welcome back to Establish the Fun, where fun is being established at all-time high levels! We’re establishing the fun so hard people should just call me Ben Johnson!

We’re on to Week 4, and this week is critical in the NFL world. In a normal NFL season, this is where we can examine the team overall, and get a good feel for what each team does and doesn’t do well.

Well, this isn’t a normal NFL season. We’ve already seen Super Bowl contenders decimated by injury and teams are down to signing free agents off the streets just to get by. Oh, and Jameis Winston is attempting to play through a broken back! Football, I’ll tell ya!

Despite this, we’re figuring out each teams’ identity in the first quarter of the season and a peking order of teams is starting to become visible. This is partially why football is fun; we get to see how teams choose to win, getting a visual of the cards they’re playing and the ones they have in their deck. But enough of the Yu-gi-Oh talk, let’s get into what you should be looking for, starting in the Sunshine State.

The Jaguars are the Duval Destroyers on Defense

The amount of excitement that I, a Jaguars fan, have in telling you that the Jaguars are both good and fun is through the roof. Soon I’ll be painting my face teal and becoming the Florida Man, if the Jaguars keep this up.

Jacksonville is 2-1, and while the offensive resurgence behind Doug Pederson and Trevor Lawrence gets most of the attention, it’s the defense that has my attention. Through 3 games, the Jaguars are:

  • 3rd in EPA/play allowed
  • 4th in total defensive DVOA
  • 1st in defensive DVOA against the run
  • 7th in yards allowed per game
  • 1st in turnover margin

This is an insane defensive turnaround from last year, and it starts up front. Watching the Jaguars 38-10 demolition derby of the Los Angeles Chargers, the Jacksonville defensive front dominated the game. What stands out about the Jaguars defensive front is how fast every player on the front is. It’s like they’re all giant velociraptors with jetpacks attached.

Watch Roy Robertson-Harris on this play. The Chargers try to run split zone, and Robertson-Harris knocks the guard back into the RB. Combine this with Travon Walker erasing the split block, and you get a minimal gain.

Robertson-Harris did something similar on the literal first play of the game, when the Chargers ran outside zone. Robertson-Harris gets a great jump on the ball (his jump in explosiveness has been stark from 2021), and again, ruins this play. This is a completely different front than last year, mentality wise.

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Where Mike Caldwell really gets creative is when it’s a passing down. The Jaguars love using twisting front and a myriad of coverages, going from single high to two high at the snap. This not only changes the picture for QB Justin Herbert, but it allows the pass rush to get home.

In this, the Jaguars spin from single high into Cover 2 at the snap. Combined with the pass rush getting home using a tackle-end stunt, normally named TEX, they trap Herbert into throwing the ball into the flat for an incompletion.

This particular blitz by Caldwell caught my eye as well. The Jaguars are in a four down front with Devin Lloyd and Foye Oluokun as the off ball linebackers. Rayshawn Jenkins is the overhang defender, walked up from his safety spot.

Why this blitz catches my eye is how much attention the Jaguars DL commands, and what this frees up for the LBs. The defensive line stunts towards the field, and Devin Lloyd comes in from his off ball spot off the edge. The attention the DL commands frees up Lloyd, and he gets a free shot on Herbert. Lucky, because Olokun was running with the wheel route and it could’ve been a big play.

The Jaguars defense will face their biggest test of the season on Sunday in the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles are dynamic on the air and on the ground, and come with the best offensive line in football. This feels like strength on strength. Each team playing their strongest Pokemon. Must see television.

Enter Skowronek

(/puts on glasses)

Wait, are the Rams in I-formation?

(/squints)

Is … is that fullback wearing 18?

If this has been you while you were watching the Los Angeles Rams in the past two weeks, you’ve possibly been exposed to…Super Skowronek! Sean McVay’s sicko way of abusing teams that stay in nickel against the Rams.

The Rams face a LOT of Nickel (5 DB) groupings — fourth most in total through three games, and when you find the ratio of dropbacks facing nickel to total dropbacks, the Rams are at a 95 percent clip, which is staggering.

When it comes to the run game, 59 out of the Rams 63 attempts through three games have come when facing nickel defense, for about a 94 percent rate. The Rams haven’t been performing well in the run game versus nickel, coming in 23rd in the NFL at a 4.2 yards per carry clip and generating a -0.05 EPA/attempt. McVay needed to finds a way to become more effective at running the football against nickel, especially with an underperforming offensive line.

(/to the tune of Enter Sandman)

Skowronek’s light!

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McVay is right!

Put him in!

And then the run game will win!

After Week 1, McVay began using Skowronek, a former Northwestern man, much more in the backfield, as a lead blocker just to generate anything in the run game. His snap count on offense has gone up from 41 snaps in Week 1 to 59 in Week 3, and a large majority of it has been in the backfield lined up like a fullback. Mind you, he’s listed as 6’3, 224 pounds.

What’s so fun about this is … he’s actually been pretty good at it! Watch him lay the lumber on Zaven Collins here to spring Cam Akers on a touchdown using inside zone. He squares him up perfectly! This is a receiver we’re talking about!

Against Atlanta, the Rams used Skowronek as a lead blocker on toss plays multiple times, and he actually was successful!

What I love so much about this usage of Skowronek by McVay is that it gives you a look into the mindset of McVay and the Rams. Instead of trying to get teams out of nickel by putting another tight end on the field, they use Skowronek as a de facto fullback, keeping that DB on the field and creating creases that way. It’s a small tweak in the margins for a Rams team that needs the juice offensively.

And if Sean McVay wasn’t enough of a sicko for you, he’s scheming up passing targets for Skowronek out of the backfield. A sail concept is normally either a go route or post route by the outside receiver followed by a corner or out route from the slot, run by two receivers, or a receiver and a tight end.

McVay is running Sail with Skowronek FROM THE FB SPOT! This is DEFCON 6 level sicko the authorities need to be brought in!

On Monday night, the Rams face their NFC West foe/McVay’s boogeyman, the San Francisco 49ers. The Niners defense is extremely dangerous and full of menaces who want to make QB Matt Stafford’s life a living hell. If the Rams want to take advantage of any margins for error the Niners have, Skowronek will probably play a large role in that.

Detroit Lions CB Jeff Okudah is thriving: El Jefe’s Return

Detroit Lions CB Jeff Okudah has faced a lot of adversity early in his NFL career. After being drafted third overall, Okudah only played in 10 games prior to this season due to injury and overall underwhelming play.

However, his play has taken off in his third year, and he might finally be putting it all together for a Lions defense that sorely needs it.

Against the Vikings on Sunday, and facing Justin Jefferson, Okudah held one of the NFL’s best receivers to two catches for nine yards allowed. Pretty good if you ask me. Of course, he had safety help over top on some of the routes run, but even when he didn’t, you could see him starting to put together all of the physical tools that made him a top five pick.

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When he’s able to press and get his hands on a receiver, it’s more than likely wraps for that rep. At the NFL combine, his arm length measured in the 87th percentile, and against Jefferson, you could tell. Watch him disrupt the timing of this route, then be in perfect position to make this throw inaccurate. That’s what a top five CB pick looks like.

Watch him completely end this rep entirely for Jefferson. His physicality in press coverage disrupts the timing again, and Jefferson slips and falls. This looks like a rep you’d see at a high school showcase, when the DB is very clearly the only five star on the field. This time, its in the NFL against one of the best receivers in the league. Solid day of work.

He also showed off the recovery speed on this play action pass. Just an overall very impressive performance.

One thing that’s come across my mind as I was watching Okudah, and recent draft picks like Evan Neal, who struggled on Monday night against the Cowboys, is this: progression and development in the NFL is never uniform.

I think fans and media of the NFL (myself included) have become spoiled by the instant superstars that come across the league. The jump from college to the NFL is still stark for most guys—they go from being the best player in their conference to being another guy in the league—and that development can often be stunted if the wrong pieces in place.

We’ve seen this with guys like QB Tua Tagovailoa, LT Andrew Thomas, and CB AJ Terrell. Terrell is now one of the best DBs in the league after having a rough rookie season. Sometimes patience is needed with younger guys, and when their development meets a coach who puts them in their best situations (like Okudah with DC Aaron Glenn), they’ll blossom.

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