First-half defensive problems giving Jaguars little chance to win

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars’ defense has gotten off to slow starts in the first three weeks of the season, but it’s not until you look at the cumulative numbers that it becomes evident just how badly the unit has played in the first half.

It goes beyond just giving up 62 first-half points in three games, though that is pretty bad. The Jaguars aren’t stopping teams on third down and can’t keep them out of the end zone when they get into the red zone. They’re giving up first down after first down and yard after yard.

“Obviously we’re not executing well,” coach Doug Marrone said. “I think that’s the first thing you’ve got to look at. I think we have to see what we can do to help. ... It’s something that we’re going to be working on and obviously, that puts you in a bind. Like you said, you never feel like you’re in a rhythm of the game and I think we all understand that. It’s not something that we’re looking at and trying to defend. We’ve just got to figure out a way to get better at it.”

There isn’t any way to defend how badly the Jaguars defense has played in the first half this season, but it is easy to see why:

A lack of pressure on the quarterback: Defensive end Josh Allen is the only proven pass-rusher on the roster and he’s getting no help. Teams are concentrating on stopping Allen and he has only been able to manage one sack. His pass-rush win rate, per ESPN Stats & Information, is 21.6%.

Dawuane Smoot and Adam Gotsis aren’t doing anything at the other end spot. Rookie defensive end K'Lavon Chaisson has been on the field with Allen at times, but he’s raw and not ready for that kind of role.

There’s no push from the interior, either. Tackle Taven Bryan is the only other Jaguars defender who even has a pass-rush win rate and it’s only 5%. Overall, the Jaguars are getting pressure on only 15.8% of dropbacks in the first half -- 29th in the NFL.

“It is something that we all have to get better at in every single position,” linebacker Joe Schobert said. “If we are asked to get after the quarterback, we need to be able to make plays and put pressure on them. Going forward, it is something we need to work on.”

Inability to get off the field: The Jaguars’ first three opponents -- Indianapolis, Tennessee and Miami -- have combined to convert 72% of their third downs and rack up a total of 46 first downs in the first half. The Jaguars have also forced only two punts in six first-half quarters.

The inability to get pressure is a big part of this failure, but Marrone said that the players in coverage haven’t done a good job of contesting routes and throws, either. Rookie cornerback C.J. Henderson had a great debut against the Colts -- an interception, five tackles and a fourth-down pass breakup to seal the victory -- but has struggled since.

The Jaguars broke up five passes in the season opener but since then have had only two -- and none on Thursday night against Miami’s Ryan Fitzpatrick. That’s in the whole game, not just the first half.

"Third down, as they say, is the money down,” Schobert said. “You have to be able to execute on third down, and for the last two weeks, we haven't been executing as well as the team that's lined up across from us. It's something that, we've been in position to make plays a few times and we just haven't made them. There's been some penalties called on us that have extended drives, and we can't put ourselves in those situations.

“We've got to, overall, have a more heightened sense of awareness once we get to third down, because, like I said, when you're able to stop them, you give the ball back to the offense and good things can happen. When they convert like they were doing, it creates long drives and it's not good for your defense.”

Can’t make stops in the red zone: The Jaguars have given up eight touchdowns on nine red zone trips in the first half of games. The only reason it’s not 9-for-9 is nose tackle Abry Jones stuffing Indy’s Nyheim Hines on fourth-and-1 from the Jaguars’ 3-yard line in the first quarter of the opener.

The result of all those issues are a ton of plays (99) and yards (718) allowed in the first half. Plus big early deficits. The Colts scored points on 3 of 5 first-half drives (two touchdowns and one ended on downs), the Titans on 4 of 5 (three touchdowns) and the Dolphins on 3 of 4 (touchdowns on their first three drives). The Jaguars are the first team since the 2012 Panthers to allow an opening-drive TD in each of their first three games of the season, per ESPN Stats & Information.

It’s putting the offense in a terrible spot because they’re down a touchdown before their first possession and down by double digits before they can get any points on the board. Asking second-year QB Gardner Minshew to overcome that occasionally isn’t ideal, but it’s something every quarterback has to do a few times each season.

Asking him to do it each week? That’s bad. Really bad. And if things don’t get any better, the Jaguars might end up in position to draft Trevor Lawrence.

It has gotten so bad that Marrone admitted he might dump his philosophy of deferring if the Jaguars win the coin toss. They’ve won it in each game and have given up a touchdown on every opening drive.

“When you look at any team and people don’t start off well, it’s probably going to be a lack of execution,” Marrone said. “I don’t think that you can really say anything more than that. So, we’ve got to do a better job of executing early on. I think, right now, the teams that we’ve played have done a better job than we have really, at the end of the day.

“We’ve just got to keep challenging ourselves to step up and get off the field and offensively be able to move the football.”