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Jets vs. Jaguars: A Look at Jacksonville's Defensive Philosophy

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Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports

Last week we discussed a bit the importance of the center in deciphering exotic fronts. While Mangold's presence is certainly important this week, this is one area where the Jets might not have to be overly concerned no matter Mangold's status (probable as of Friday). From what I have studied of the Jaguars, they do not mix things up a lot.

Under head coach Gus Bradley, Jacksonville has never beenblitz heavy team. They also are not a team that features a lot of defensive looks.

This is a four man line the Jaguars show. The way I might describe it is a four man line that operates a lot like a three man line.

What do I mean by that? You probably are familiar with the difference between a 4-3 base defense and a 3-4 base defense. The 4-3 has four linemen and tree linebackers. The 3-4 has three linemen and four linebackers.

At its heart, the 3-4 defense requires bigger defensive linemen. Keep in mind, you have 3 men on the line in this type of defense opposed to 4 with a 4-3. So if you go 3-4, you have one less defensive lineman. So to compensate for this you get bigger guys who eat up extra space. In general, these big guys are not going to explode up the field. It is also tougher for the defense to push back a bigger guy. In the end, what the bigger linemen are asked to do is simply occupy blockers and not get pushed back.

Since these guys are bigger, you can ask them to try and take on double teams. The defenders are not assigned to two specific offensive linemen. Instead, they are assigned gaps. Gaps are the space between the center and the guards, the guards and the tackles, and on the outside of the tackles. When you can use three defensive linemen instead of four to occupy all five offensive linemen, there is an extra player running free on defense each play.

This is an extreme oversimplification, but it is part of the big picture vision of the 3-4 defense.

What the Jaguars do frequently is have four defensive linemen but have multiple linemen take up two gaps. That is the picture above. They gave Jared Odrick $42.5 million in free agency to play defensive end for them. Odrick is a big 300 pounder. Usually a guy this big would not play defensive end in a 4 man front. Since the Jaguars ask their linemen to two gap a lot, this made Odrick a fit.

On a given play, when linemen are two gapping, they are playing the run first. Their job is to occupy linemen and not get pushed back. In the Jacksonville defense, the exception is one smaller defensive end. He is the guy circled above. They call this defensive end the LEO. He frequently lines up wide to give him a clearer path when rushing the passer. When you think about it, this is a very important player. If there are a bunch of big defensive linemen looking to clog running lanes, the LEO is frequently the only guy who goes up field to try and get the quarterback. Opposing offenses can dictate their blocking schemes to trying to stop that guy.

One of the elements of the 3-4 is that while there might be three linemen clogging gaps and one linebacker rushing the passer, there is an element of surprise since the offense does not know which of the linebackers will get after the quarterback. That is not the case with Jacksonville. The offense usually know which pass rushers are coming. If you are going to play that way, the LEO had better be one heck of a pass rusher.

Jacksonville does not have that great pass rusher. It seems possible they were grooming number three overall pick Dante Fowler, Jr. for that role, but his season-ending injury in minicamp left them exposed. With this type of philosophy and personnel issues at LEO, it is easy to see how the Jaguars have the best average against the run in the league at 3.5 yards per rush but are eighth from the bottom allowing 263.9 passing yards per game.

It would be overly simplistic to say the Jaguars do the same thing on every single defensive play. They do not. One of the aspects of their LEO position is they do ask him at times to drop into coverage, which is not usually the forte of a defensive end.

On this play, they matched the LEO up with a tight end and blitzed an outside linebacker. They call this outside linebacker the OTTO. To the extent there is variety in this defense, the OTTO provides much of it. He lines up in various spots and has many different roles, coverage, blitzing, etc.

In the back of the defense, Jacksonville likes to play Cover 3. The deep part of the field is split into third. One safety is responsible for the middle, and the corners are responsible deep for their respective sides of the field. Four defenders are in zone underneath while also frequently playing tight at the line against receivers.

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Bradley incorporated a lot of these principles from the Seattle Seahawks. He was the defensive coordinator in Seattle before he was hired by the Jaguars. He oversaw the emergence of the Seattle defense into a top unit in 2012.

Please do keep in mind that this was a Cliffsnotes version of some of the concepts of the Jacksonville defense. It is not quite this simplistic. With that said, I have been critical of the Jacksonville coaching staff for a number of things. I do question their defensive philosophy.

It's one thing to run a basic defense when you have Seattle's talent. If you have the more talented roster, you want to just line the guys up and let them play. There is even a way where simple is more desirable. Why would you want Earl Thomas to come on safety blitzes consistently even if it would catch the other team off guard? Who cares if the other team knows he is going to play the deep middle zone? He is so good at it, they cannot do anything against him anyway.

It is different when you are trying to coach an undermanned roster. If you don't have the roster, you have to make up some of the difference with scheme. You have to surprise the other offense. To some extent, this explains why the Jaguars have struggled so much under Bradley. There hasn't been talent, and there hasn't been anything else present to make up the difference.

Will this more or less be the look of the defense the Jets face tomorrow? It seems that way, but it is not totally clear.A few weeks back, Bradley conceded the need to get more aggressive on defense.

"The way we’re built we count on the leo on first and second down to bring that pressure," Bradley said. "If we’re not getting everything that we need then we’ve got to look at bringing pressure and taking a guy out of coverage.

In their game against the Bills in London two weeks ago, the Jaguars blitzed 38.8% of the time, a high rate.

However, as Bradley predicted, the blitz was a mixed bag against the Bills.

The Jaguars did score off of Colvin’s strip-sack of Manuel, but the subpar quarterback also completed 13-of-16 passes against extra pressure. The Jaguars blitzed 38.8 percent of the time, a season high. Bradley said the Bills had seven explosive plays, and three or four came when the Jaguars blitzed.

"Kind of what we envisioned," Bradley said. "You’re going to give up some, and hopefully we make some. Of the four turnovers, two were off of pressure."

It is not clear whether this will become a trend, though.

Bradley said how much the Jaguars use the blitz going forward would be determined, but it’s unlikely the Jaguars will be able to affect the quarterback without it.

"It depends on the game," Bradley said. "It depends on who you’re playing. We just felt like there was an opportunity there for us to do some different things."

Against a young quarterback with zero pocket presence in E.J. Manuel, it is one thing to blitz. It is another against a veteran like Ryan Fitzpatrick who gets the ball out quickly. We will have to wait and see how much the Jaguars revert to their tendencies as a result.