The San Francisco 49ers face their toughest challenge of the season on Sunday when they host the Jacksonville Jaguars. I don’t think many of us would have anticipated that at the beginning of the season, but the Jaguars defense is playing some ridiculous football. Blake Bortles has stepped up in recent weeks, but if the Jaguars win the Super Bowl, it will be because of that defense.
The Jaguars defense leads the NFL in points allowed, giving up 14.9 points per game. They lead the NFL in giving up a mere 4.6 yards per play, and Football Outsiders ranks them No. 1 in overall defense.
One area where they have not ranked well is in run defense. Football Outsiders ranks them No. 27, and they are No. 29 in the NFL giving up 4.5 yards per carry. However, it has been a tail of two halves when it comes to the Jaguars run defense. The Jaguars were atrocious against the run to start the season, but their trade for Marcell Dareus during their bye week has been the difference. In seven games since their bye week, the Jaguars are giving up 3.85 yards per carry, and 3.6 yards per carry by running backs.
I recently say down with Ryan Day, site manager at Big Cat Country to get his thoughts on the Jaguars run defense. Here’s what he had to say.
The Jaguars were awful at stopping the run in the first half of the season. Big runs were a big reason we lost to the New York Jets and Los Angeles Rams. I applaud this team and front office for being humble enough to admit where they sucked and proactive enough to do something about it -- and how we landed Marcell Dareus for a Day 3 pick is beyond me. But we did and it's just one in a long line of lucky breaks and fortunate bounces this team has had go their way in 2017.
In the first half of the season, we just didn't have a run-stuffing defensive tackle. It was as easy as that. Abry Jones is a good player, but he's no replacement for Roy Miller who we let go in free agency this year. Roy wasn't a very versatile player, but when you wanted to stop the run he would stop the damn run. We tried to make it work and we couldn't. Teams just ran all over us and it was forcing us to cheat our secondary up a bit -- not a recipe for success with cornerbacks and safeties whose big strengths are defending the pass. It was obvious that we could sneak into the playoffs without a good run-stopper, but we weren't going to go very deep if we didn't have that. I think Dareus is going to be a huge factor in the Jaguars' playoff run this year.
The 49ers have had some success in their run game, but it has been inconsistent. And in turn, we’ve seen them relying more and more on the passing game. If the 49ers can beat the Jaguars top-ranked passing attack, so be it, but if they are going to spring an upset, Carlos Hyde and Matt Breida will need a heck of a game. The Jaguars run defense has not been great this season, but it is moving in the right direction for the Super Bowl contender.