While the new ESPN.com NFL beat-writer behemoth may ignore the Jaguars, we won’t.
Even the struggling NFL teams deserve thorough coverage, because the ones who are struggling often aren’t very far away from not struggling.
For the Jaguars, the path toward not struggling includes an aggressive defense with a simple mantra: “It’s all about the ball.”
As explained by Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union, the message appears in frames and scribbled in Sharpie pen on the walls throughout the team’s facility.
“Punching, ripping — whatever they can do to get that ball out,” coach Gus Bradley explained.
“The forced fumble is just a mentality,” linebacker Paul Posluszny said. “They showed us the highlights of [Bears cornerback Charles] Tillman and it’s just him punching at the ball. That’s how we have to do it. You may try it 10 times in a game, but if you get one of them out and recover it, it’s huge.”
Tillman forced 10 fumbles last year. The Jaguars collectively forced 17.
In, the Jaguars had a minus-three turnover differential in 2012, with no touchdowns via turnover return. In contrast, Bradley’s defense in Seattle last season had 31 takeaways and a plus-13 turnover margin.
As O’Halloran points out, Jackonsville’s two highest turnover margins since 2003 came in 2005 (plus-11) and 2007 (plus-9). Coincidentally, 2005 and 2007 are the last two times the Jags made the playoffs.
And so the players are reminded constantly of the new mindset. Defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks told O’Halloran it comes up 20-to-30 times per meeting.
“It’s not annoying because it’s just like hearing from your position coach about your footwork and hand placement being on point,” Marks said. “We hear that every single day, too, even if you had great [fundamentals] in the last practice because when you break it down and think about it, it really is all about getting the ball.”
“It’s not all about the ball in the sense that you just go crazy, lose your mind and do [careless] stuff to get to the ball,” safety Dwight Lowery said. “You do your job with an emphasis of getting the ball.”
Lowery makes a good point. In the old “Smash for Cash” feature unearthed last year as part of the bounty scandal, former Jets and Jaguars defensive lineman Jeff Lageman explains that the pot of money for forcing a fumble once got so big in New York that guys forgot about fundamentals in an effort to get the ball out.
Coincidentally, that same feature focused on teams that employed the concept of “the Beaver,” a reference to the animal’s extreme diligence that Pete Carroll started with the Jets as head coach and took to the 49ers as defensive coordinator.
Carroll was Bradley’s boss in Seattle.
Whatever the title, gimmick, or reward, turnovers help teams close the talent gap. They can flip momentum and alter the outcome of games.
If the Jaguars can pull it off, they’ll win a lot more than two games in 2013.