PerspectivesCole Pepper Jacksonville Today Contributor
The Jaguars shutout the Indianapolis Colts 24-0 to earn their first win of the 2022 season. The shutout was the team's first in nearly four years. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

SPORTS | Will Jaguars’ pass rush be a difference-maker this season?

Published on August 6, 2023 at 8:59 pm
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Last week I wrote about the most important key in the Jaguars’ upcoming season, the continued development of quarterback Trevor Lawrence. But the biggest question mark for the Jaguars is on the other side of the ball: the pass rush.

Last season, Jacksonville ranked 28th out of 32 teams in sack percentage. A repeat of that performance could be the undoing of the Jaguars’ big ambitions. Here’s why.

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Last year, the Jaguars were playing a third-place schedule, which put them against a less-than-impressive group of quarterbacks. During the 2022 regular season, the Jaguars faced Justin Herbert of the Los Angeles Chargers, Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, and Dallas’ Dak Prescott. Those were the best quarterbacks the Jaguars saw last year.  When they faced Herbert in the regular season he was dealing with an injury. Ditto for Jackson. Against Hurts and Mahomes’ teams, the Jaguars lost. They beat Prescott on Rayshawn Jenkins’ memorable pick-six in overtime.

The list of opponents’ quarterbacks in 2023 is more impressive. Mahomes’ Chiefs and Jackson’s Ravens make a return and the Jaguars will also face Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills and Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals. While the rest of the AFC South teams could well be quarterbacked by rookies this season, the Jaguars will be faced with some of the best arms in the NFL outside of divisional play.

That means they must improve on the pass rush.

Last season, the only Jaguar with more than five sacks was Josh Allen with seven. These are not dominant numbers. The Jaguars will need more from Allen and from last year’s top pick, Travon Walker. But it can’t simply be a two-man pass-rushing department.

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Last week, Jaguars’ head coach Doug Pederson brought up defensive lineman Roy Robertson-Harris as a player who has stood out early in camp. That’s a big plus. Robertson-Harris had just three sacks in the regular season but added another sack in the playoffs against the Chargers in a game when he totaled four tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

Is this the season former first-round pick K’Lavon Chaisson finally delivers on his promise? If not, he’ll be gone sooner rather than later.

Then there is the rookie. Jacksonville selected Yasir Abdullah in the fifth round. He is undersized by NFL standards, at just 6-foot-1, 237 pounds. Typically, rookies do not pile up big sacks numbers, but if Abdullah can contribute five or six sacks in his first year, the Jaguars would be overjoyed.

This team is looking like a squad that will try to outscore the opposition, but with some of the opposing quarterbacks on the roster, the defense will need to pull its weight if the Jaguars are to accomplish more than they did last year.  

Lead photo: The crowd cheers as the Jaguars shut out the Indianapolis Colts 24-0 to earn their first win of the 2022 season. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

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Cole Pepper has covered sports in Jacksonville since 1996, most recently for News4Jax. He is currently broadcast director for Sporting Club Jacksonville and has called play-by-play for a number of teams, including the Suns, Tomcats, Jacksonville University, Sharks and The Bolles School football. He also served as the studio host for the Jaguars Radio Network.

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