The Jacksonville Jaguars spent a lot of time and money improving their defense in the offseason, and they’ll get a chance immediately to see if their investments paid off.
Jacksonville gave the largest offseason contract spent on any player to defensive end Malik Jackson. They also signed free safety Tashaun Gipson to a $36 million contract, addressing two of their biggest needs on defense with two huge signings. Then there was their first and second-round picks in the 2016 NFL Draft on Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack, two defenders. Throw in third-round pick Yannick Ngakoue at defensive end and a one-year signing of Prince Amukamara at corner, and the Jags have a completely restructured defense.
And that defense will get its first test in Jacksonville’s first game.
The Green Bay Packers are Jacksonville’s first opponent to start the 2016 season. Green Bay may have had a drop off in offensive production last season, but that can be explained by injuries, most notably to No. 1 receiver Jordy Nelson. Now that Nelson is back and joins a loaded pass catching unit, the Packers figure to be just as dangerous as ever through the air.
Aaron Rodgers can always ensure that.
But the Packers aren’t just a pass-heavy team. They have legitimate weapons in their rushing attack as well.
Green Bay averaged 115.6 rushing yards a game last season, the 12th-best total in the NFL. Eddie Lacy and James Stark combined to rush for 1,359 yards, and both figure to get plenty of carries again to start the season.
Last season, this game would’ve likely turned into a shootout. The Jaguars’ defense was leaky at best in 2015, and teams that could pass the ball effectively found even more success against Jacksonville’s defense. The Jags allowed the 29th-most passing yards a game last season. Teams tossed 29 touchdowns against Jacksonville’s defense last year with the Jags only picking off nine passes, which tied them for the second-lowest total in the league.
Jacksonville had to out-duel those teams last year. This year, however, they should be able to stop those teams more often.
The Jags didn’t have a consistent pass rush last season, and their secondary couldn’t cover well. That’s a terrible combination, but both of those areas figure to be upgraded significantly this season.
Malik Jackson was the most talked about defensive signing this offseason, but he may not even be the best pass rusher on Jacksonville’s roster. As long as second-year player Dante Fowler Jr. can stay healthy, he has the potential to be the type of edge rusher the Jaguars need to be much more disruptive on defense.
Throw in a solid linebacking corps and more depth in the secondary, and Jacksonville has the pieces to at least be competitive on defense, finally. All they need now is for those players to go out and execute the defensive scheme.
Jacksonville’s new defense better be ready in Week 1 because they’ll be tested on every front by the Packers. Green Bay brings a potent pass attack and a more than capable run game. If the Jags struggle on defense in Week 1, it’s not necessarily and indicator of things to come. But a poor performance won’t do much for a fan base that’s craving improvement and wins now.