Jaguars 'hAve To Do Better' With A Pass Rush That Looks Pedestrian For A Second Straight Year

Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) is hit by Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Josh Allen, right, as he throws during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) is hit by Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Josh Allen, right, as he throws during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Jaguars coach Doug Pederson paused for roughly 15 seconds — it seemed like an eternity in a silent meeting room — before trying to explain Jacksonville’s lackluster pass rush against Houston.

There wasn’t much to say since the Texans were without four starting offensive linemen and going with a rookie quarterback who had been sacked an NFL-leading 11 times in the first two weeks.

“You can maybe point to several things, but we have to do better,” Pederson said. “It starts up front.”

Two weeks after Josh Allen and Travon Walker combined for four sacks at Indianapolis — two of them because Allen ran Anthony Richardson out of bounds — Jacksonville’s pass rush returned to its pedestrian 2022 form in a 37-17 debacle at home to AFC South rival and previously winless Houston on Sunday.

Neither Allen nor Walker nor anyone else got to rookie C.J. Stroud, who had extra time to throw for the first time this season. Stroud completed 20 of 30 passes for 280 yards, with two touchdowns, no interceptions and no sacks.

“We have things that we can improve on. We know that moving forward,” Allen said. “But you can’t do that. Like we say, we want to be who we know we can be. We can’t be making those errors.”

Allen did manage three QB hits, but none of them came in time to get Stroud on the ground. Walker, the No. 1 overall pick in 2022, has been stout defending the run but remains a work in progress as a pass rusher; he has 4 1/2 sacks in 18 games.

The Jags (1-2) are on pace for 28 sacks, which would be seven fewer than last season. Adding a veteran pass rusher was a huge offseason topic, especially since general manager Trent Baalke met with Calais Campell, Yannick Ngakoue and Jadeveon Clowney at different points between March and August. But Baalke ended up sticking with the guys already in the building.

Dawuane Smoot’s expected return from the physically unable to perform list next month could help, but he hasn’t played a snap since rupturing an Achilles tendon in December.

Jacksonville had other issues against Houston: Trevor Lawrence was under steady pressure; Calvin Ridley dropped three passes, including two in the end zone; Jamal Agnew fumbled; Brandon McManus missed one field goal and had another blocked; Jacksonville’s defense allowed completions of 46 and 68 yards to rookie Tank Dell; and the Jaguars allowed a 255-pound fullback to score on an 85-yard kickoff return.

The Jaguars, who have dropped three of four dating to last season, will look to regroup in London over the next two weeks.

Jacksonville will become the first NFL team to play multiple games across the pond in the same season when it hosts Atlanta (2-1) in a “home game” at Wembley Stadium on Sunday and then will change hotels before playing as the visiting team against Buffalo (2-1) at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

WHAT’S WORKING

Jacksonville has been solid against the run through three weeks, allowing 84 yards a game and 3.41 yards a carry on the ground. Those numbers rank eighth and seventh, respectively, in the league.

The defense could get tested in London against Atlanta and Buffalo. The Falcons are averaging 128.3 yards rushing a game, with the Bills roughly 12 yards better.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

The Jaguars were 5 of 13 on third down, raising their conversion rate to 29.7% for the season. They now rank 29th, still a significant issue for an offense that finished ninth in the NFL in that category a year ago and returned nine of 11 starters on that side of the ball.

STOCK UP

Running back Travis Etienne was one of the few bright spots. He accounted for 138 total yards, including a season-high 88 yards rushing.

STOCK DOWN

Cornerback Darious Williams and safety Rayshawn Jenkins gave up two long pass plays from Stroud to Dell. Jenkins got beat on a 46-yard gain that set up a touchdown in the first and Williams jumped an underneath route and allowed Dell to race by uncovered for a 68-yard score in the fourth.

INJURIES

Rookie right tackle Anton Harrison is dealing with an ankle injury. Cole Van Lanen would replace him in the lineup if he’s unable to play in London.

KEY NUMBER

9 — The number of games Jacksonville has played in London. The team is 4-5 in its adopted home.

NEXT STEPS

Offense is still the main concern for Pederson. The Jaguars, who began the season talking about averaging 30 points a game, have scored a combined 26 in consecutive losses.

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