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Balanced attack

Posted Nov 15, 2011

Jaguars’ improved pass rush very much a team effort

This was hardly unexpected. Actually, Jeremy Mincey said the opposite is true.

From the time Joe Cullen arrived as Jaguars defensive line coach in the 2010 offseason  and labeled the group “Rushmen,” sacks were not only a constant area of focus, they were very much part of the job description.

And not from one or two players, either.

Still, while anyone around the Jaguars’ defensive line will tell you they expected the pass rush to improve this season, expecting something doesn’t mean it’s not appreciated and satisfying when it arrives. And so far this season?

Sacks have arrived for the Jaguars, and from a whole lot of different places.

“That’s what’s great about it,” Mincey said this week as the Jaguars (3-6) prepared to play the Cleveland Browns (3-6) at Cleveland Browns Stadium Sunday at 1 p.m.

“We’re starting to click and gel together. Coach emphasizes it a lot, that it takes all four defensive linemen to rush as one for us to have success. That’s what we’ve been doing.”

How much has the Jaguars’ pass rush been a group effort this season?

Consider:

The Jaguars through nine games have 21 sacks. That’s tied for 17th in the NFL, but it’s 15th in the NFL among teams that have played just nine games. While the Jaguars have no one in the Top 30 in the NFL in total sacks, 13 different players have at least half a sack.

Thirteen-and-a-half of those sacks have come from the defensive line, with Mincey – a starting defensive end –leading the team with 4.5 sacks after registering 2.5 in a victory over Indianapolis Sunday. Free-agent defensive end Matt Roth has three sacks, waiver-wire end John Chick has two and a half and defensive tackle Tyson Alualu, defensive tackle C.J. Mosley and defensive end Austen Lane each has one. Defensive tackle Nate Collins has a half sack.

Chick has 13 pressures and Alualu has 11, while Roth and defensive tackle Terrance Knighton have 10 each.

 “It takes everyone doing their job and not trying to be the hero and make all the plays,” Alualu said. “That way everybody can enjoy and have fun on game days.”

The 21 sacks also mark another level of improvement from a pass rush that was the league’s worst just two seasons ago.

In 2009, the Jaguars registered a league-low 14 sacks. That led to Cullen’s hiring, and a refocus on the area. The Jaguars increased the sacks total to 26 last season.

They are on pace for 37 sacks this season.

And while the front four has been overlooked at times because of the absence of a so-called big-name, front-line pass rusher, Mincey said, “Our defensive line coach don’t play that.”

“He squeezes every ounce of ability out of us, from the most-talented guy to the least-talented guy,” Mincey said of Cullen. “He squeezes it all out of us. He’s a great coach. He pushes us to do what we do. He pushes us to be the best and that’s what we strive to do.”

With veteran end Aaron Kampman not yet having a sack after missing the first five games with a knee injury and last week with a hamstring injury, Mincey in a very real sense has emerged this season as the Jaguars’ most consistent, reliable pass rusher.

He has not only started every game and leads the team in sacks, he also leads the Jaguars with 24 pressures.

“I’m an opportunist,” Mincey said. “I was given a good opportunity to come here and make a statement. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m going to build off of it. I’ve got a long way to go and I’m going to keep coming. I’m going to take a few pats on the back, brush them off and keep moving.”

This season, the Jaguars have at least two sacks in each of the last five games, and had a season-high five as a team against the Colts.

The sacks total also has been helped by effective blitzing. Free agent linebacker Clint Session has been effective as a blitzer with one sack and two pressures, and longtime defensive leader Daryl Smith leads all non-linemen with two and a half sacks and four pressures.

Middle linebacker Paul Posluszny has a sack and a half and nickel back Drew Coleman and safety Dwight Lowery have one each.

And while the sacks numbers aren’t yet earth-shaking, combine it with consistent pressure from the defensive front and you have a pass rush that as a group has helped the Jaguars rank No. 4 in the NFL in total defense, No. 5 against the pass.

“The back end helps the front four and the front four helps the back end,” Alualu said. “Everybody’s kind of keying in on their position and locking in and playing their role. They’re doing it at a high level, so I’m proud of all of the guys.”

Alualu said the end result is what matters, and the end result for the most part this season is Jaguars opponents haven’t consistently had time to pass effectively.

And while that is now the expectation around the Jaguars, that doesn’t mean it’s not satisfying.

“We take a lot of pride in that,” Alualu said. “That’s what we were brought in to do. The coaches, that’s what they expect of us. They have high expectations and that’s what we have of ourselves.  We’re happy with the direction we’re headed and getting better. We’re looking forward to getting better in the weeks to come.”

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