ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- At times this year, the Jaguars' defense has been the only thing separating the struggling team from complete annihilation.
It's hard for a defense to cope when an offense languishes to the extreme degree that Jacksonville's has this year, particularly when Blaine Gabbert was at the helm. During his playing time in the first five weeks, the offense averaged 4.93 points per 60 minutes -- a figure that Henne has exceeded by 309.5 percent during his time on the field, leading the Jaguars to 15.26 points per 60 minutes.
So unless the defense was the league's best, the output during Gabbert's work was a prescription for certain failure.
Unfortunately for Jacksonville, its defense has not been the league's best, but it has lingered some distance from the worst, ranking 22nd in yardage allowed per game (379.8) and 10th in passing yardage permitted per game (219.2 yards).
However, the Jaguars have allowed more rushing yardage per game (160.6) than anyone in the league, which means that their relatively high standing in pass defense is because of the infrequency at which teams have passed against the Jaguars. Teams build a lead on them and pass less often as the game progresses, and with the ineffectiveness of the run defense (fourth-worst in yardage per carry), there's no reason to keep the football in the air.
Thus, the yardage allowed per pass play (6.49, 18th-best in the league) and touchdown-to-interception differential (minus-10, the worst in the league) are better reflections of the Jaguars' struggles against the pass than the raw average yardage per game.
Jacksonville has spent 171 minutes and 18 seconds behind by at least two scores -- a staggering 57.1 percent of the season. That's why the Jaguars are one of just three teams that have had run plays called against them on at 49 percent of the snaps (Pittsburgh and Houston are the others).
Tackling issues have contributed to the Jaguars' struggles, particularly against the run. They've averaged one missed tackle per 7.06 defensive snaps, according to ProFootballFocus.com; this is the sixth-worst figure in the league. (The Broncos, by comparison, are docked with one missed tackle per 11 defensive snaps, which is tied with Buffalo for seventh-best.)
The other problem for the Jaguars is that when they do face the pass, they haven't done well at disrupting it.
They don't get much pressure; according to ProFootballFocus.com, the Jaguars have recorded just 41 quarterback hurries this year. That translates to tangible pressure on just 24.26 percent of all pass plays, which is 29th in the league, ahead of only the Rams, Packers and Bears. (By comparison, the Broncos are credited with hurries 38.4 percent of the time, sixth-best in the league).
When the Jaguars do get pressure, it's often because of defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks, whose sack total has yet to reflect his impact on the front four. A free-agent pickup fron Tennessee, Marks has shown the same kind of quick burst and ability to penetrate as one of his predecessors, ex-Jaguar Terrance Knighton.
Marks has been caught up in the Jaguars' struggles against the run, but he is credited with five quarterback hits, and has notched at least one hit on a quarterback in four of the last five games. Jason Babin (2.0) and Tyson Alualu (1.5) each have more sacks, but Marks has been the pleasant surprise, the most consistent element of the defensive line and is improving from week to week.
Other notes regarding the Jaguars defense:
-- They're slightly above average at getting teams off the field when they get them to third down. Teams that face third down fail to sustain their drives 62.0 percent of the time against Jacksonville, which ranks 13th in the league.
-- But on the flip side of that, they rank 24th in percentage of plays that they allow a first down, permitting teams to move the sticks on 32.8 percent of their snaps. (The Broncos rank 28th, allowing first downs on 33.3 percent of the plays run against them this year.)
-- Pay attention to rookie safety John Cyprien, the Jaguars' top defensive pick this year. He forced a fumble from Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson in Week 3, and the Jaguars could try to gamble on blitzes -- and the running backs' ability to pick them up -- with the quick, athletic Cyprien. Like any rookie, he can make mental mistakes, but as he curbs them, his natural athleticism will make him a versatile weapon for Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley. Jacksonville's defense won't help create an upset without rolling the dice, and being aggressive with Cyprien might be their best play.