Jaguars deliver another defensive gem, set another record

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The Jacksonville Jaguars are setting defensive records almost weekly.

Ten sacks at Houston. Fifteen yards allowed in the first half against Baltimore. Five interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns , at Pittsburgh.

Five weeks into the season and the Jaguars (3-2) have turned in three of the best defensive performances in franchise history. The most encouraging part for Jacksonville: Players and coaches anticipate even better results ahead, beginning with Sunday’s home game against the Los Angeles Rams (3-2).

“We know when we play like we are capable of playing, that we will be hard to beat,” cornerback Jalen Ramsey said. “I think the league has started to be on notice, a little bit anyway. … We want to be a team that’s a force to be reckoned with.”

The Jaguars already matched last season’s win total, surpassed last season’s takeaway total (15 to 13) and tied a single-season team record (set in 1999) by scoring four defensive touchdowns.

Surprising? Sure. Stunning? Probably not. After all, Jacksonville is spending more than $81 million on its defense in 2017, the fourth most in the NFL.

Maybe the most startling part is that the Jaguars have been able to bring in three high-priced free agents — defensive end Calais Campbell, cornerback A.J. Bouye and safety Barry Church — and get them to jell quickly with a few veterans and several youngsters on that side of the ball.

All three have been even better than expected. Campbell has six sacks, giving him at least five for the ninth consecutive year. Bouye has teamed with second-year pro Jalen Ramsey and given the Jaguars one of the league’s top cornerback tandems. And Church has brought a stabilizing presence to the secondary, freeing up Tashaun Gipson to make more plays all over the field.

Another aspect of Jacksonville’s defensive success: The continued development of Ramsey, linebacker Myles Jack and defensive ends Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler.

“There is a confidence in this locker room, which is nice, but we have to continue to build off it,” Ramsey said.

There has been plenty to build off of, beginning with the defense’s 10-sack, four-turnover performance in the season opener against the Texans. The Jags were even better two weeks later against the Ravens in London, allowing 186 yards and notching a shutout until the final minutes.

They took it to another level against the Steelers, who were widely picked to be legitimate AFC championship contenders.

The Jaguars picked off Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger five times, returning two for scores on consecutive possessions in the third quarter to transform a two-point deficit into an 11-point lead.

“Is there something that some people may say, ‘Oh gosh, is it going to be tough to continue this trend or not?’ That goes back to the consistency,” coach Doug Marrone said. “That’s what we’re going to have to do week-in and week-out. … We want to be a consistent football team. We want to be a winning football team. A lot of that is going to depend on what we’re doing during the week. A lot of that is going to depend upon our performance when we get out there on Sunday.”

The defense has been so dependable that it’s allowed Jacksonville to get away with a run-first, hide-Blake Bortles offensive scheme, a philosophy that was in plain view when the Jaguars closed out Sunday’s 30-9 victory with 18 consecutive runs.

Still, defensive coordinator Todd Wash and players have been quick to point out their issues: Two less-than-stellar quarters in a home loss to Tennessee and three running plays totaling 177 yards and contributing to an overtime loss at the New York Jets.

More pressing now: Winning consecutive games for the first time all season.

“It’s very difficult to win in this league,” Marrone said. “People on the outside are looking and they say, ‘Oh, this team should beat this team or this team should do this.’ It’s very, very difficult, no matter what. That’s how I feel.”

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