Opening loss to Texans shows pass rush still a problem for Jaguars

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Getting pressure on the quarterback was one of the biggest questions facing the Jacksonville Jaguars heading into the 2021 season.

They didn’t even begin to come up with an answer in their season-opening 21-37 loss to the Houston Texans, sacking quarterback Tyrod Taylor just once, missing on several other chances, and not being effective when they blitzed.

There better be a sense of urgency to figure things out, especially considering the quarterbacks they face before their bye week.

“Three times we had him in our grasp, at least three, and he extended the play,” coach Urban Meyer said of Taylor, who completed 21 of 33 passes for 291 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 40 yards. “And, shoot, a couple of times, he just launched it down the field and those guys made plays. I mean, I've always thought he was a heck of a player, but he had a good day.”

With defensive ends Josh Allen (13) and Dawuane Smoot (11.5) the only players with double-digit career sacks heading into the season, first-time defensive coordinator Joe Cullen said he would be blitzing a lot to create pressure. The Jaguars brought five or more rushers 17 times against Houston – and got just one sack, a 2-yard loss by Allen.

Taylor completed nine passes on those 17 dropbacks for 170 yards. When the Jaguars didn’t blitz, Taylor was 12-of-16 for 121 yards and two touchdowns.

“We've got to make the play,” Allen said. “It's just that simple. We all got a job to do, like I preached before, and once those situations come, we've just got to make those plays. We got our name called. And if that situation comes up, we've got to make the play.

“We missed a lot of those opportunities, but we're going to come back next week, and we're going to double up.”

The Jaguars were next-to-last in the NFL with 18 sacks last season. They also were 30th in run defense, and fixing that was the priority in the offseason. The Jaguars signed defensive tackle Roy Robertson-Harris and end/linebacker Jihad Ward, but those two players have a combined 15.5 career sacks. The team drafted UAB’s Jordan Smith, a rangy and raw defensive end, in the fourth round, but he’s going to need at least a year to develop.

The hope was that a return to outside linebacker would make K’Lavon Chaisson – one of two first-round picks last season – more productive as a pass-rusher. He had two tackles against the Texans but also missed sacking Taylor twice on the same play.

After scrambling free of Chaisson, Taylor heaved the ball downfield and connected with Brandin Cooks for a 52-yard gain to the Jacksonville 8-yard line with 12 seconds remaining in the first half. Taylor hit Danny Amendola on the next play for a touchdown that put the Texans ahead 27-7 and essentially put the game out of reach.

The Jaguars have to convert more of those sack opportunities, not give up big plays like Taylor’s scramble, and start forcing turnovers or rookie QB Trevor Lawrence could end up spending much of the season chasing points.

The list of QBs the Jaguars face over the next six weeks:

Teddy Bridgewater, who completed 77.8 percent of his passes for 264 yards and two TDs (two sacks) against the New York Giants.

Kyler Murray, who threw for 289 yards and four touchdowns (two sacks) and ran for another against Tennessee.

Joe Burrow, who completed 20 of 27 passes for 261 yards and two TDs (five sacks) against Minnesota.

Ryan Tannehill, who threw for 212 yards and one TD (six sacks) against Arizona.

Tua Tagovailoa, who threw for 202 yards and one TD (two sacks) against New England.

After their Week 7 bye, the Jaguars will face Russell Wilson, Josh Allen, Jimmy Garoppolo, Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford.

“This is a long season,” Allen said. “… We’re going to come back next week. We’re going to work on the things we need to work on, and we’re going to come back swinging. And that’s all we can do.”