JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jacksonville’s vaunted defense suddenly seems vulnerable to big plays.
The Jaguars (10-6) have allowed nine scoring plays of 25 or more yards — and several more that led to points — in the last six games. It’s a negligible but noticeable nuance for a unit that is among the NFL leaders in nearly every defensive category.
“We’re really good in the red zone, so we try to give up the long ones,” defensive coordinator Todd Wash joked Thursday. “We’re excelling at that.”
Wash actually sounded more concerned than his players, pointing the finger at himself for trying to get the defense in the “perfect call” and giving his players too much to think about before and after the snap.
“There are some things we’ve got to get cleaned up,” Wash said. “We’ve got to just let them play. I think the other team gets paid, too. I know we’re not the only team in the league that gets paid. You’ve got to give credit to them also, but we need to eliminate the long plays and just get them down.
“If there’s a blade of grass, we have to do a good job of defending it.”
Jacksonville’s recent defensive trend has been problematic. The Jags limp into Sunday’s wild-card game against Buffalo (9-7) having dropped consecutive games for the first time all season and three of their last six.
In all three losses, explosive plays against Jacksonville’s defense proved costly:
— Tennessee’s lone touchdown in a 15-10 victory last week came on a 66-yard screen pass from Marcus Mariota to Derrick Henry in the second quarter.
— San Francisco scored on a 30-yard run in a 44-33 victory the previous week.
— Arizona connected on TD passes of 29 and 52 yards in a 27-24 victory in late November.
“When we do it right, when we have everybody doing the right thing, nobody gets big plays,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “When we make mistakes, a big play happens here of there. We just know we have to be more disciplined and everybody has to be accountable for their assignment. If we do that, we’ll be successful.”
Even in Jacksonville’s last three victories, the defense has been lax at times:
— Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins had catches of 45 and 25 yards in a span of four plays against Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey in mid-December, the second one going for a touchdown .
— Seattle’s Russell Wilson torched the Jaguars with TD passes to Doug Baldwin (26 yards), Paul Richardson (61) and Tyler Lockett (74) in the second half the previous week.
— And Indianapolis’ lone touchdown in two games against Jacksonville this season came on a fourth-and-2 play in the third quarter in early December when T.Y. Hilton got behind the defense for a 40-yard score.
“Luckily we not letting them bite us in the (butt) too hard,” defensive tackle Malik Jackson said. “But from a defensive standpoint, if that’s the only thing that’s keeping us from being in that No. 1 spot, then it matters. Then again, if we’re not losing, then we can live with that. But it’s not a good thing.”
It’s definitely a concern for a team built to play stout defense and take some pressure off an inconsistent offense.
It might even be nitpicking considering the Jaguars rank second in the NFL in points allowed (16.8 a game), yards allowed (286.1 a game), sacks (55), takeaways (33) and interceptions (21).
Regardless, it’s a tendency the Jaguars hope to end to open the postseason.
“We want to somehow get to the perfect game,” Wash said. “I don’t think it’s ever happened in the 24 years I’ve been coaching. But that’s what our expectations are, so when we do give up some chunk plays and we don’t play well, not only is the staff upset, the players are upset. We want to play the perfect game, and that’s the expectations that we have each time that we go out.”