When the Seahawks play the Jaguars Sunday, they'll be facing one of the NFL's biggest surprises, a team that has gone from 3-13 in 2016 to 8-4 and in serious playoff contention this season. Led by the league's No. 1 defense, the Jaguars are one victory away from securing their first winning season since 2007, but the Seahawks, who are also 8-4, are looking to delay that accomplishment by at least one week. To find out more about the Seahawks' Week 14 opponent, we reached out to Jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser with five questions about the Jaguars.
Q: Just how have the Jaguars turned things so dramatically this season?
Oehser: Primarily, the defense hit home runs in acquiring players the last two off-seasons. The first time around in 2016, they drafted Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack, they signed Malik Jackson as a free agent defensive tackle, and they also drafted Yannick Ngakoue that year. That's four starters, all who are high, high-impact guys. They also signed free safety Tashaun Gipson that year for five years. This offseason, they signed Calais Campbell, who Seattle obviously knows well. They also signed A.J. Bouye and also signed Barry Church. They added Marcell Dareus by trade in October, so you've added nine guys in the last two seasons on defense. You can't say that they'll all be in the Pro Bowl, because that's ridiculous, but any of them wouldn't be a joke to be in the Pro Bowl. Jalen is probably the best cornerback in the league right now with respect to Richard Sherman, who is out, Calais has had an impact, Ngakoue and Calais both have double-digit sacks, Myles Jack is playing like the top-five pick, and it's just rare to have that much impact come in. We've all seen free agency not work, and other guys that are disappointments, but all of these guys have hit; you had the free agency class come in this year when Jalen is a year-two guy ready to step up. It's sort of been a perfect storm. Seattle is obviously a great defense, but these guys think that they are the best. They've played like it a lot, I don't know if they're the best or not, but you can't have a conversation about the best defense in the league without talking about them. They were a good defense last year, but they were nowhere near this in terms of six touchdowns scored. The best way I can describe it to Seattle fans is; think of Seattle in 2012 and 2013 when they were coming into their own and starting to flex their muscles. That's what these guys feel like; it's that same sort of 'Hey, maybe other people don't know it, but we sure do.' The Seahawks played with that attitude for five years.
Q: You mention the early versions of the Seahawks defense, how similar is what the Jaguars do on defense to Seattle given that they previously had Gus Bradley as a head coach and their current defensive coordinator Todd Wash is another former Seahawks assistant?
Oehser: I think it's talked about less because Gus isn't here this year. If Gus had been here, I think people would be talking about it all the time. When you start looking at the parallels, you can't help but draw them—Todd Wash used to be in Seattle. There are a few differences; this is not "Pete Carroll's defense," but it's the same scheme, same concepts, and there's no doubt that it's in the same family. You can't help but draw the comparisons, and I can't speak for Richard Sherman because I've never covered him or known him, but from what you see on TV, the confidence, the swagger that he and that secondary play with, is certainly the way that this team is starting to play. Jalen Ramsey is the same guy in terms of he is not going to back down from anybody, and all of that is in the most positive way, they emulate what has always looked good about Seattle from the outsider's point of view.
Q: What has the addition of Calais Campbell done for a young, talented defense?
Oehser: A huge, huge issue for this team for three or four years when you could see them building and adding talent was that they've been so young and nobody really knew how to win. He got four sacks in the opener against the Texans, and it was sort of a storybook thing of how you sign this guy with the idea that he's going to be your leader on and off the field, and then all of a sudden he gets four sacks, and now any young kid on the team who thought he was full of crap, all of a sudden he has backed it up. Now, everybody is hearing his message every week. You don't go into free agency thinking that you are ever going to hit on a guy like this in terms of getting the leadership. It's a guy who has been in the league for 11 years, and he's sort of defined the organization after one year. He's sort of had that impact. It's like he has been here for 10 or 12 years. Usually, veterans come in and they sort of have to adapt to the culture, but he has been the culture, which you never see.
Q: What has rookie running back Leonard Fournette added to the offense?
Oehser: If you were to break down his numbers, it's kind of a funny running team. They're No. 1 in the NFL in rushing, but they really have not been very effective on a consistent basis; meaning that in the last three or four weeks, if you look at their numbers, they're bad. He's averaging 1.9, 2.1 or 2.9 yards per carry. Their numbers have been built on a lot of burst runs, and they stick to it, because their defense is so good, they don't mind if there is two or three series in the first half where they are going four or five-and-out because they are trying to get the running game established. They don't mind sticking with it; so they've been a patient running team, but this is not the Cowboys last year, where when you watched them, they're cracking off two, three, four or five or six big runs. It's been bursts, but when they've been good, it's because Fournette has brought a toughness. When he's healthy, and he hasn't been healthy because of an ankle injury the last few weeks, but when he's really right, he'll get four yards when most guys get three.
Q: Is the perception of quarterback Blake Bortles as a game manager an accurate one, or is that a little oversimplified?
Oehser: The best way to say it is this; he has gotten worlds better at managing a game than he ever has been. That's the majority of what they have asked him to do, because there certainly is an element with this team where the defense is good enough that they really need the offense to just not make mistakes. The biggest problem with the passing game this year has not been Bortles—Allen Robinson got hurt on the first play of the season, he was a Pro Bowler two years ago, and clearly their best receiver, he's out. They've been playing Dede Westbrook, who's a rookie, they've been playing Keelan Cole, who's a rookie, and their wide receivers have had drops. Blake is not elite, but he's better than he has been in the first two or three years in terms of management and poise, and he probably played the best game of his career last week against the Colts. Now, all that being said, he's never done it at a high level against the level of defense that he's facing Sunday. It's a huge question mark if they have to throw and if they have to have him complete passes and be poised the whole game. It's a huge game for him to show that he can handle a defense like Seattle because he has never done that.
Take a look at the Jacksonville Jaguars players you can expect to see when the Seattle Seahawks take the field in Week 14 at Everbank Field.