2018 NFL Playoffs: Young, brash Jaguars defense up for challenge Steelers bring
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey, already a notorious trash talker and well on his way to earning himself the chance to supplant Richard Sherman as the league’s bad-boy corner with a game to back it up, isn’t fazed at all by words said before a game or even during it.
So when Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said last week that he wanted another shot at the Jaguars this Sunday in the AFC Divisional Playoff round after his horrible showing in a Week Five loss to them, Ramsey wasn’t bothered by it all.
“I wasn’t mad at him for what he said,” Ramsey said this week during a chat in front of his locker. “I would want another shot at us too. It’s not like it’s bulletin-board material that he wants to play us. I get it. His reputation is that he isn’t the player he was when we played him. Of course he wants to show that.”
That day, Roethlisberger was picked off five times as the Jaguars won 30-9 at Heinz Field, prompting the star quarterback to question himself in the moments after the game. Roethlisberger would back off those comments later that week, but he made it clear last week that he wanted a chance at redemption.
In classic Ramsey-speak, he did have this response to Roethlisberger wanting another shot:
“Be careful what you wish for,” Ramsey said.
Translation: The Jaguars want another shot at Roethlisberger, too.
As you make your way around the Jaguars’ fancy locker room inside Everbank Stadium, the thing that stands out from player to player is the confidence of this young team, especially the defense.
They think they’re already great, and they walk around that way.
Swagger fills the room.
“We’re going to let you know we’re kicking your ass the whole game,” linebacker Myles Jack said.
“We have an edge to us,” veteran defensive end Calais Campbell said. “We want to intimidate opponents. We do a lot of trash talking. I love the intensity, but I have to tell the young guys sometimes to do it smart, do it between the whistles. That trash talking is a big part of our game. I am big fan of greatness, and I study a lot of great athletes — Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant. They were the biggest trash talkers. Reggie White was a big trash talker. So it’s OK to do it, especially when you are beating people. I don’t want to get in the way of that swagger. I want to let them be who they are.”
Who they are is a young defense that is growing into one of the best in the NFL, a unit that could stay that way for a long time. The 11 starters are all under contract through next season and only nickel corner Aaron Colvin will become a free agent next year. Campbell is the only starter over 30, with Jack and defensive end Yannick Ngakoue both just 22, while Ramsey is 23.
It’s a group that finished ranked second in both total defense and scoring defense, and first in yards per play and first downs given up. They were second in sacks with 55 and second in interceptions with 21.
“And we haven’t even played our best ball yet,” Campbell said. “This defense is gifted.”
Their best game came in that Week Five beating of the Steelers. Roethlisberger was picked off five times, but two of those were returned for touchdowns. He was late and off-target with some of his throws and the Jaguars seemed to fool him with some of their coverage looks.
That’s why Roethlisberger talked of another shot last week before the Jaguars beat the Bills to earn it.
“We don’t care what he’s thinking,” Jaguars corner A.J. Bouye said. “There’s no need for more talking. They’re in our way and we’re in their way. That’s pretty much it.”
In that first meeting, the Jaguars used a variety of looks on Steelers star receiver Antonio Brown. He was targeted 19 times in that game and had 10 catches for 157 yards, but no touchdowns.
Watching the tape from that game showed the Jaguars played Ramsey some on him in press- and off-man coverage, while Bouye did the same. They also used Colvin on him when lined up in the slot and they played a lot of Cover-3 zone, a big part of their defense.
The first play of the game was what corners dream about: It was Ramsey playing up in press-man against Brown, those two on an island, a yard of green grass separating them.
“It was exactly what I wanted, but not the outcome I wanted,” Ramsey said. “The first play of the game against the best receiver in the league, me trying to cement myself in this game. I wanted that matchup. He won that one, but I won my fair share as well.”
On that play, Brown ran a go route and it turned into a 49-yard completion. But a close look at the tape revealed a subtle push by Brown to free himself from Ramsey as he ran the route.
“He pushed off bad,” Ramsey said. “At Heinz Field, you aren’t going to get that call.”
“He got away with that push,” Bouye said. “Veteran move. Jalen learned that the hard way, and then we adapted.”
There have been games where Ramsey has traveled with the team’s best receiver, like he did against Cincinnati’s A.J. Green before their fight ended with both players being ejected.
That wasn’t the case against Brown. That’s because the Steelers move him around a lot.
“We played left and right (corners) to save our energy from chasing him all around,” Ramsey said. “I would love to travel and I am always up for that challenge. But you have another All-Pro corner on the other side who wants a piece of that too. It works out well because then A.J. can get a piece of the pie as well.”
Brown suffered a calf injury in Week 15 and while he is expected to play, how healthy will he be? Can he play with the same explosiveness that he’s showed throughout his career?
The Jaguars held the Bills to three points last week in their 10-3 Wild-Card victory to get to this spot. With the offense struggling, they had to play that type of game. It’s hard to imagine they will limit the Steelers offense in that same fashion, even if they dominated them in Week Five.
The Jaguars have had trouble at times with a few things on defense. Among them are their run fits, which is why they are ranked 26th in rush yards per attempt. They have also had busts at times in the secondary that have led to big plays.
That could mean the Steelers will rely more on running back Le’Veon Bell this week, especially with Brown banged up.
Either way, this young, confident, brash, arrogant group in Jacksonville seems more than up for the challenge.
“They said they wanted us, well now they have their wish,” Jack said. “We’re excited to play them again.”
Ramsey smirked when asked if they were in Roethlisberger’s head since he badly wanted to see them again.
“Yeah, that’s a good thing,” he said. “And we can’t wait to see him.”