Entering this season, most people in the know were well aware that the Jaguars wouldn't have a dominant defensive unit. With a mixture of youth and age in many places, and guys nursing injuries, not to mention a switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4, it would be pretty much impossible for the team to pick up where it left off a year ago.
"We're working at it," Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio said of his defense. "We're making situations competitive, we're playing a lot of people. We're moving guys around a little bit. We've got a standard that we set and unless you're dominant at your job, you're open for competition, not in a bad way, that's just how we're going to do it. Give our guys a chance to compete, give our guys a chance to show what they can do and look for the guy that keeps improving and give him time. That's a message is really clear, well-accepted and guys are working hard at it."
A problem that's plagued the Jaguars over the last few seasons has been pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Going as far back as the 2007 playoffs, the Jaguars need for a pass rushing defensive end was evident as Tom Brady went a cool 26 for 28 in the Patriots 31-20 victory that ended the Jags season. The team traded up to draft Derrick Harvey in the 2007 draft, as well as Quentin Groves in the second round of that draft, but the results up to this point have been pretty mediocre.
Sunday afternoon, the Jaguars found a way to scheme up some blitzes which caused enough disruption for the team to come away with a big win in Houston, something they haven't done since 2005.
"We're getting better," Del Rio said of his defense. "I don't know what we ended up being, sack-number wise. But I know we hit the quarterback, we did the things we're going to have to do. We have a long way to go in terms of the standard we're looking for, but the guys are working hard, we're all getting better. We're doing some things that give us a chance. We've just got to do them a little bit better and more consistently throughout the game."
Texans quarterback Matt Schaub had an ultra-efficient 26 for 35, 300 yard passing performance which included three touchdown tosses, but was hit quite often in the second half. The Jags defensive effort was far from a thing of beauty as they allowed nearly 400 yards of total offense, but they stood firm at the end as they held the Texans offense to just three points in the second half.
"I think we did a good job," Jaguars defensive tackle John Henderson said of his defense. "Starting off ‘Shean (CB Rashean Mathis) got a pick and just trying to stop that run also. You can't let 20 (Texans RB Steve Slaton) get going because he will hurt you. We had to get our mindset to try to stop him and a little pressure on him. I think we did a good job. They made a lot of plays but at the end it's whoever comes out on top."
The play that allowed the team to come out on top was the fumble forced at the goal line on Chris Brown which was recovered by linebacker Daryl Smith.
"Certainly, we made some big plays in the game," Del Rio said. "Rashean Mathis' interception was big, Daryl Smith's fumble recovery was huge, some key stops, Derrick Harvey batted down that third-down screen they were trying to get going there. There were some key plays in the game where we came up big."
With the youth and inexperience of the Jaguars offense, it's likely that they won't score 31 points like they did Sunday all that often. The Jaguars defense will have to play better for this team to win games most Sunday's, but they showed improvement in the second half and forced the game-winning turnover. It's unfair to expect greatness or dominance from a defense with this much youth, turnover and change of schemes, but if they continue to make big plays in big spots, the Jaguars will be a team that could sneak up on some people.