Why aren’t we giving more credit to the Jaguars coaching staff for making the team this good?
Unless you bleed Black and Teal or live in Duval County, who on Planet Earth though that the Jacksonville Jaguars would be playing in the 2017 AFC Championship against the New England Patriots at the start of the year?
The Jaguars were the butt of many jokes about how bad the AFC has been for years. With those two-tone helmets of theirs, having a pool located inside of a three-quarters empty stadium and playing an annual home game in London, it wasn’t hard. This team routinely picked in the top-five and won a pitiful three games in 2016. Though the Jaguars had a proud history in the late 1990s, it was a disastrous decade down in Duval County for their professional football franchise.
Yet here we are and we’re so freaking thrilled to be here. 2017 was a great year in the NFL, but easily the best story was the dawn of #Sacksonville. It is a place that all of Doug Marrone’s wildest dreams come true, where quarterback sacks are as prevalent as the North Floridian sunshine basking on the banks of the north-flowing St. John’s River.
Drafting well and three huge free agency acquisitions on defense in defensive end Calais Campbell, cornerback A.J. Bouye and safety Barry Church have righted this long sunken ship in the AFC South. The Sacksonville defense will go down in the annals as one of the best defenses of the modern era. The Legion of Boom, the No Fly Zone, the Purple People Eaters, dare I say it ’85 Bears?
Whether you love All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey being the millennial version of PrimeTime Deion Sanders or Campbell being a champion at everything he does, there is so much to love about this team. Sometimes you wonder how Myles Jack’s hair does that or how do you pronounce Yannick Ngakoue? Then you stop yourself and don’t care because this team is awesome and gives us hope that New England may not win back-to-back Super Bowls.
But why is this team so good? It’s not the elite passing talent of the underrated, overrated, enigmatic quarterback Blake Bortles. Nor is it the brilliant, but the inconsistent running style of rookie tailback Leonard Fournette. You do realize what it is, right? This coaching staff is incredible, and sadly that has gotten lost in the Sacksonville narrative all year long. Du-val!
Promoting former assistant head coach Marrone from within might have been the best hire of the offseason. Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay stole the spotlight, but Marrone’s Jaguars are playing in the conference championship, but the San Francisco 49ers and the Los Angeles Rams combined to win zero playoff games this year.
For whatever reason, people looked at Marrone as a retread of a coaching candidate. Do you realize he and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett left the Buffalo Bills willingly on account of the change in ownership from the Wilsons to the Pegulas? Many questioned the move by Marrone, who had success both in Buffalo and collegiately with his alma mater Syracuse Orange. Well, guess who beat the Bills in their first playoff game since 1999: Doug Marrone!
With fellow Syracuse man Tom Coughlin in his corner, the no-nonsense Marrone has brought a level of accountability to a Jaguars team that has been lacking it since Coughlin last coached the team well over a decade ago. Marrone is an offensive line coach by trade and his front-five might be the most underrated in football. The Jaguars offensive line is tough, versatile and always give Bortles and Fournette opportunities to make plays.
Guess what? The mantra of ‘be on time, don’t make excuses and do your job’ works in any NFL locker room. Marrone’s even-keeled demeanor gives this exciting Jaguars team the balance it needs to be a viable threat in the AFC for the foreseeable future.
Now, let’s talk a little bit about Hackett. The son of the former USC Trojans head coach, Hackett is carving out quite the résumé as an NFL offensive mind. He has been with Marrone since 2010 up in Syracuse. Though guys like Ryan Nassib, E.J. Manuel and Bortles aren’t elite level NFL players, all three did get better under Hackett’s tutelage as either offensive coordinator or quarterbacks coach.
The play calling that Hackett has done this season Jacksonville has been simplistic, yet sensational. Keep in mind that he lost his best weapon on Pro Bowl wide receiver Allen Robinson Week 1 versus the AFC South rival Houston Texans. With a struggling franchise quarterback and a rookie running back, Hackett has devised not just a serviceable offense, but one that can occasionally hang tough in a shootout. We haven’t seen that type of offensive firepower since Mark Brunell was under center for Coughlin in 1999.
Finally, there was no way were we going to forget the man in charge of this all-time defense. Todd Wash, good job by you, sir! Wash followed former head coach Gus Bradley from the Seattle Seahawks to the Jaguars in 2013. Right away, you could kind of tell that schematically Wash’s work in the front-seven was going to work. The problem was that the offense was so putrid that we failed to see the promising defense Wash was building.
Wash would get his big break by replacing Bob Babich in 2016. Though Jacksonville won just three games in 2016, you could see the pieces in place defensively for a turnaround this year. With guys like Ramsey, Jack, Ngakoue, Paul Posluszny and Dante Fowler Jr., Jacksonville had the defensive playmakers to hover around .500 in 2017. That’s kind of where the Jaguars were projected to be, maybe 9-7 on the high-end or 7-9 BS on the low-end.
Instead, what we got was a historically relevant defense under Wash. His Cover 3 isn’t overly complex, but it mirrors what has worked in Seattle and with the Atlanta Falcons. The simplicity of the scheme allows his players to play as fast as possible and hunt the ball for turnover opportunities.
Jacksonville faces a huge challenge on Sunday up in Foxborough against New England. Win or lose, this has been the best year in Jaguars football since 1999. While we will remember the Ramsey picks, the Campbell sacks and the roller coaster ride of the Blake Bortles Experience at quarterback, it would be a shame if we don’t sit back and truly appreciate the fine coaching job Marrone, Hackett and Wash have done for this franchise.