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Jacksonville Jaguars

Historically fast starts have fueled Jaguars rise to the top

Roy Cummings



Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire

The Jaguars went into their bye week this week with a 4-3 record and tied for first place in the AFC South after seven weeks for the first time since 2007.

They owe their place atop the standings largely to a defense that leads the NFL in sacks (33) and takeaways and (16) and ranks second overall in the league in pass defense (161.7 yards per game).

You can’t discount the play of the offense, though. After all, the Jaguars lead the league in rushing (169.0 yards per game) and are tied for fifth in the league in red-zone touchdown efficiency (60.0).

They’re also starting fast. As fast as any Jaguars team ever has, in fact.

The Jaguars have scored on their opening drive in six of their seven games so far, producing three touchdowns (including two by rookie running back Leonard Fournette) and three field goals.

Their 85.7-percent success rate is impressive all on its own, but even more impressive is the fact they need just two more opening-drive scores to match the franchise record set in 2007 and again in 2009.

Now, that may say something about the Jaguars struggles across the better part of their existence, but again, the value of those opening-drive scores simply cannot be discounted.

All teams script plays for their couple of drives but falling behind sometimes forces teams to make changes and the Jaguars have done an excellent job of pushing teams back on their heels early.

For example, ESPN Stats and Information revealed this week that the Jaguars lead the league in first quarter points (51), first-quarter total offense (115.6 yards per game) and first quarter rushing offense (49.1).

Put quite simply, the Jaguars have done a great job this year of throwing the first punch in the game and their defense has done a good a job of either setting that punch up or following up with a second.

The Jaguars defense has forced a three-and-out on its first series of the game in five of its seven games so far and it forced a punt after allowing just one first down in another, last week against the Colts.

The only game so far in which the defense has failed to get off the field almost immediately was in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers settled for a field goal. The Jaguars, of course, responded with a touchdown.

Jaguars players credit offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett’s work in preparing that opening script of plays for their early success, but there’s more to it than that.

The Jaguars have been near perfect in their execution of those scripts. Through seven games they have yet to turn the ball over in those situations and they have only been called for two penalties.

 “Yeah, I think a lot of it attention to detail,’’ quarterback Blake Bortles said. “I think guys are pretty locked in and have a really good idea of what we’re running, when it’s going to be called and what we’re going to get.

 “And that’s something we’ve talked about for a long time – the last couple years for sure. We haven’t always been able to do that but to (have taken) that next step and be able to do that this year, it’s been big.’’

Roy Cummings is a native of Chicago, Illinois who grew up in the suburb of Lombard. He and his family later moved to Lakeland, Florida, where Roy attended high school at Kathleen High. He graduated from the University of South Florida with a Bachelor's Degree in Mass Communications in 1983 and immediately went to work for the Tampa Tribune. After five years working in a Polk County bureau covering everything from high school sports to college football to the Orlando Magic of the NBA, Roy moved back to Tampa and became the Tribune's first beat writer for the Tampa Bay Lightning, covering the team from its inception through the first eight years on the ice. He was then moved to the Buccaneers beat, where he stayed until the paper was folded in May, 2016. A two-time Florida Sports Writer of the Year, Roy has extensive experience covering all Tampa professional sports teams, including the Tampa Bay Rays.

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