If the Jacksonville Jaguars are going to jump out of the gate and immediately establish themselves as the team to beat in the AFC South this year, they’re first going to have to do something they haven’t done since quarterback Blake Bortles was in college at UCF:
Beat the Houston Texans.
The Jaguars have lost their last six meetings with the Texans, who have been beating up on everybody in their division, not just the Jaguars, ever since former Penn State coach Bill O’Brien took charge of the team before the start of the 2014 season.
That, of course, was also Bortles first season in Jacksonville and the way Bortles sees it, there is one common denominator that can be found in each of those six losses that the Jaguars have suffered at the hands of the reigning division champions:
The play of the Texans defensive front seven.
“First and foremost, we’ve got to be able to handle their front,’’ Bortles said. “But it’s not just the offensive line that has to do that, it’s me, it’s the backs helping, the tight ends helping, the receivers winning and getting open.
“It’s a group effort because they are extremely good. I mean, the rest of the league struggles with that a little as well, so we’ve got to find ways to handle that and do different things there, but I’m excited for the challenge, and I know our guys are too.’’
Oh, it’s going to be challenge all right. After all, the Texans will have J.J. Watt back for this game. Watt hasn’t faced the Jaguars since 2015 but that hasn’t kept the Texans front seven from dominating the Jaguars, who have done their worst job of protecting Bortles against Houston.
Of the 140 sacks Bortles has been taken down for during his three-years in the league, 24 have come at the hands of Texans. That’s four more than Titans, who have sacked Bortles the second most and like the Texans have allowed Bortles to throw just one touchdown pass against them.
Now you know why the Jaguars have decided to change their offensive approach and go to more of a power running attack. Their hope is that they can wear opposing defensive front sevens down a little bit and create a few more scoring opportunities for themselves.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that’s going to happen either. Not with a rookie (Cam Robinson) at left tackle and a lot of uncertainty regarding who will start at left guard or running back, where Leonard Fournette should get the nod as long as he’s healthy.
In fact, it’s possible Fournette will actually get a lot more work in this game than the Jaguars originally planned, especially with third-down back T.J. Yeldon, who just happens to be the best pass protector among the team’s backs, nursing a sore hamstring.
If Yeldon can’t go the Jaguars may have to lean on Fournette to do something he seldom did in college which is protect the passer. That’s never an easy task for a back and it’s especially hard for a rookie taking on a front seven as dominant as Houston’s is.
Jaguars DE Yannick Ngakoue hinting he’s gone again?
One of the key free-agent questions for the Jaguars continues to be whether or not they’re going to allow their best pass rusher, Yannick Ngakoue, to test the free-agent market coming up? And, once again, the player may be giving a clue that he’s going to do just that.
Ngakoue tweeted Wednesday morning the following phrase, which seems to indicate, yet again, that he will be playing somewhere else in 2020:
— Yannick Ngakoue (@YannickNgakoue) February 26, 2020
This goes along with something that we wrote earlier in January. That’s when just a couple of days after the season Ngakoue posted essentially a goodbye message to Jaguar fans. This came on the heels of him having held out for a new contract for the first few days of training camp last August, but not receiving a new deal during the season, etc.
Ngakoue, whose 37.5 career sacks are the most by a Jaguars player after 63 career games, is sure to be a sought-after player from many different teams. GM Dave Caldwell said at the end of the season when asked about re-sgning his star pass rusher, “He is a tremendous player and even a better person. How he handled his business this year was tremendous. But, I would say that’s priority No. 1, to make sure he comes back to Jacksonville. Hopefully, we can get that done. ″
It’s also worth noting that at Tuesday’s NFL Scouting Combine at media availability in Indianapolis, coach Doug Marrone repeated that he wants Ngakoue to remain in Jaguars teal and white:
Doug Marrone: ‘’No doubt where I stand or the coaches.”
—They want Yannick Ngakoue back. pic.twitter.com/vOorH4hH95
— John Reid (@JohnReid64) February 26, 2020
However, it remains to be seen if Marrone and Caldwell are willing to “pony up” huge money for him or even potentially, put the franchise tag on him before free agency begins next month?
Ngakoue figures to want a contract close to what the top ends are getting paid right now. Demarcus Lawrence and Frank Clark both signed five-year, over $100 million deals in 2019 and received guaranteed money that exceeded $62 million. That is massive for Jacksonville.
If the Jags opt for the “franchise tag,” then the talented end will be making around $19 million dollars, which is the current average of the top five players at his position. The Jaguars could also put the tag on him and then work on a longer term, salary cap friendly, deal that would replace the tag later in the off season.
Jaguars confirm they are declining option on DT Dareus
At Tuesday’s media session at the NFL Scouting Combine, Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell made official what had been rumored for the last couple of days regarding defensive tackle Marcell Dareus: he will not be brought back for a fourth season in Jacksonville.
Caldwell confirmed the Jaguars are not picking up DT Marcell Dareus' option.
— John Reid (@JohnReid64) February 25, 2020
Dareus only played briefly in 2019, as he suffered a core muscle injury that sidelined him after only six games and he was placed on injured reserve. The former number one pick of the Buffalo Bills had played for coach Doug Marrone for a couple of seasons in Western New York.
Marrone and Caldwell traded for Dareus during the 2017 season and he helped them with their rise to the AFC South title and two playoff wins. This included Darius registering two sacks and four other tackles-for-loss in the Jaguars three playoff games that year.
Dareus made the Pro Bowl twice in Buffalo in 2013-14.
However, he has not lived up to his hefty contract that was reworked Jacksonville last February. Last season, Dareus made over $8 million dollars and the team would have been on the hook for $20 million this year had they picked up the option. That obviously wasn’t going to happen.
Dareus also has had legal troubles off the field, including a civil suit against him in Tampa for alleged sexual misconduct. As we wrote previously, a woman alleged that Dareus had sexually assaulted her in January of 2018 at a North Tampa Florida home, while Dareus was in town for the Alabama-Clemson College Football Playoff Championship Game.
However, that suit filed in Hillsborough County court was “dismissed with prejudice” last April, which means it cannot be re-filed.
Dareus, if healthy after the core muscle injury rehab, may have some value as a defensive tackle on the free agent market.
As for the Jaguars, they have former #1 pick defensive tackle Taven Bryan to play more in the middle and are trying to decide if free agent-to-be, DE Yannick Ngakoue, can be afforded for their 2020 salary cap?