The 2022 Jacksonville Jaguars season was unforgettable.
After just four wins in the previous two seasons combined, the Jaguars won the AFC South in thrilling fashion with a 9-8 record, won a home playoff game in the final seconds against Justin Herbert and went down to the wire with Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in a hostile playoff environment.
For a team to do that, a lot has to change. It began with head coach Doug Pederson instilling a new culture in and out of the locker room and a roster retooling into free-agency and general manager Trent Baalke’s front office draft along with Pederson’s coaching staff.
“We’re paid to do a job, and our job is to put the best possible product on the field. I’ve never heard the noise,” Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke said this week. “Noise doesn’t dictate the decisions we’ll make as an organization. I think the best thing you can do when it’s a lot of noise is put on earplugs and do your job, and that’s what we’ve tried. Again, don’t is never a person who makes these decisions.
“It’s a group decision, an organizational decision. Doug (Pederson) and I are very much involved in this process together and involving everyone below us to the nth degree. There’s a lot of collaboration that people don’t see behind the scenes.”
Now we have the chance to see what the Jaguars have shown us and what we have learned about each member of the team. Offense, defense, special teams, coaching, front office and everything in between.
After going through the offense, we now move on to the defense, led by first year coordinator Mike Caldwell.
Jacksonville’s defense had its ups and downs in 2022, but finally hit its stride late in the season, going a full month without allowing a second-half touchdown and making several game-winning plays that outright won games in decisive moments.
“Yeah, I really thought after we started getting into that Baltimore week and beyond, I thought we really started doing some really good stuff. We started making takeaways,” Pederson said this week.
“It’s just down here in the stretch, you get here next season, we didn’t get the ball, we didn’t get the ball away as much as we’d like, and it’s something that we have to look at and keep focusing on, but they’ve shown that improvement over that period.
So what have we learned about defense in 2022? A look below.
Pass success rate
Precipitous success rate
Adjusted bag rate
What we learned: Jaguars have a formula that works as long as players take the next steps. If the Jaguars bring back Arden Key and Dawuane Smoot, they will have four skilled passers between them, Josh Allen and Travon Walker. Walker needs to improve as a pass-rusher, but his late-season surge has suggested he is capable of it. Pound-for-pound, this year’s pass-rush group was the best the Jaguars have had in years, they just haven’t converted the pressure into sackings often enough.
What to look forward to: Will the Jaguars look to add to this rotation? There weren’t many snaps on defense for cutting edge defenders who were lower on the depth chart like K’Lavon Chaisson and De’Shaan Dixon. Injuries to Walker and Smoot at different points in 2022 showed just how thin the depth was, however, and the Jaguars may be looking to strengthen the room even further.
Inner defensive line
What we learned: Roy Robertson-Harris was a force for the Jaguars down the stretch. The Jaguars needed an inside pass-rusher to step Smoot out for the season and Robertson-Harris did just that, posting 20 pressures, eight QB hits, three sacks and seven QB hits in the past five weeks. He played the best football of his Jaguars’ tenure and proved he deserves to be a key player in 2023.
What to look forward to: The Jaguars will have to invest in the defensive line in some way. They entered the light season on corps and are set to lose Corey Peters and Adam Gotis to free agency, opening up valuable rotation snaps. They could bring back one or both veterans, but it would make sense to see the Jaguars add some new faces either way in 2023.
What we learned: Andre Cisco and Rayshawn Jenkins are directors. The duo combined for six interceptions, 20 pass deflections, two defensive touchdowns, three forced fumbles, two sacks and four tackles for loss during the regular season. While the Jaguars may still want to see an improvement in bottom-down consistency, the Jaguars have seen a high ceiling come out of the security room.
What to look forward to: The Jaguars will bring back safety No. 3 and core special teamer Andrew Wingard? Wingard recorded an interception and a forced fumble and walked up to the clutch during a period of the season when Cisco missed time with a shoulder injury. It’s an obvious cultural fit, and bringing it back would probably make sense for all parties.
What we learned: The Jaguars have their outfield cornerbacks for 2023. That was a real question going into the season, but Darious Williams’ improved play when he was moved from the outfield slot in Week 13 has changed the complexion of the defense. Williams and Tyson Campbell were targeted 69 times in that span, allowing just 38 completions (55%) for 333 yards, 12 pass breakups, and one interception. They played good football and helped the Jaguars find a winning formula at cornerback after a rotating cast of characters alongside Campbell.
What to look forward to: What do nickel jaguars do? Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson has already said Darious Williams will remain outfield. Tre Herndon was the team’s top nickel corner in 2022, providing solid defense and consistency after Williams was misplaced in the role. With Herndon free agent, however, the Jaguars need to find a fix for 2023. Best case scenario? Add a recruit and re-sign Herndon for a pitched battle.
What we learned: Foyesade Oluokun is a hammer. Oluokun was exactly the type of linebacker the Jaguars lacked against the run in previous years, providing more reliability as a downhill player while also having the ability to make tackles on the perimeter. Oluokun racked up tackles every game not because he was designed, but because he played the positional fundamentals as well as possible.
What to look forward to: The Jaguars may look to rotate both Devin Lloyd and Chad Muma in 2023 like they did last season, but it will still be interesting to see who takes the driver’s seat in the race to start opposite Oluokun. The Jaguars will each need to improve next year, making for a key positional battle to look forward to.