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Jets, Sam Darnold to face ferocious Jaguars defense

Jacksonville, which went to the AFC Championship Game last season, is loaded at every position.

JACKSONVILLE — The Jets don’t want Sam Darnold to be part of a feeding frenzy in northeast Florida.

The Jaguars have one of the toughest defenses in the NFL, and certainly the best Darnold will see to this point in his young career.

Left tackle Kelvin Beachum called the Jaguars defensive front deep, productive and disruptive, and said the offensive line has to make sure that Darnold doesn’t get swallowed alive by that Calais Campbell-led unit Sunday inside TIAA Bank Stadium.

“They do a phenomenal job of getting after the quarterback,” Beachum said. “They do a phenomenal job of stopping the run and being disruptive, having tackles for losses and pining offenses back and keeping them to third-and-long and finding a way to eat.

“It’s like a feeding frenzy when they start getting after the quarterback. For us we got to find a way to win on first and second down.”

The Jaguars are looking to feast on Darnold, who is poised, but has been picked off twice in each of the last two games.

Safety Tashaun Gipson told reporters that facing a rookie quarterback has the defense “licking our chops.” Tackle Malik Jackson said, "I'm pretty sure fantasy [owners)]are going to be drafting our defense this week.”

No doubt, both teams will come into this game with a little edge after frustrating losses last week. The Jaguars always plays with one. Outspoken corner Jalen Ramsey talks a big game, but he backs it up with his play. The Jaguars’ defense usually does.

Jacksonville has allowed a league-low three touchdowns and are tied for second in scoring defense, yielding 14.7 points per game. But the Jaguars (2-1) have shown vulnerability against teams that can run the ball.

Beachum said it’s an “identity game.” The Jets (1-2) can’t afford to let the Jaguars control the line of scrimmage or rattle Darnold. But it’s also the kind of game that will show how much mettle and mental toughness the Jets have.

They have dropped two straight, including a demoralizing loss to Cleveland last Thursday, resulting in the Browns’ first victory since 2016. Many Jets talked about how difficult last weekend was after they squandered a 14-0 point lead and let Baker Mayfield, in his NFL debut, lead the Browns on four scoring drives in the last 30:23.

Jamal Adams said the Jets did not game plan for Mayfield and weren’t prepared for him. That caused a mini-firestorm that coach Todd Bowles had to extinguish by saying the second-year safety “misspoke.”

The Jets had to put all that disappointment and drama behind them and prepare for a hungry team that reached the AFC Championship Game last season and that loud and loaded defense.

Defensive ends Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue combined for 26.5 sacks last year. Campbell has 3.0 this year, which is one off the league lead. They rotate in Dante Fowler and their tackles, Jackson and Marcell Dareus, are solid. The Jaguars also have one of the best secondaries in the league with corners Ramsey and A.J. Bouye making it a no-fly zone for most teams.

“They’ve got talent at every level,” Bowles said. “They’ve got All-Pro corners, they’ve got ball-hawking linebackers, they’ve got run stoppers and pass rushers and they have two levels of them.

“It’s not like it’s just the first unit, the second unit plays pretty well, too. They’re pretty well stocked over there.”

The Jets are expecting an even more hungry Jacksonville team that was beaten at home. 9-6 by the Titans last weekend. The Jaguars defense kept Tennessee out of the end zone, but they allowed 150 yards on the ground.

If there is a weakness on that defense it’s against the run.

Jacksonville ranks fourth in overall defense and third in passing defense. But they’re 21st against the run, allowing 115.3 yards per game. Beachum put it on the offensive line to create holes for running backs Bilal Powell and Isaiah Crowell.

“This is one of those games that’s an identity game for us,” Beachum said. “We have to be able to run the ball. They know that. We know that. Coach Bowles has talked about it and we got to be able to go out and execute. At the end of the day we got to be able to run the ball.

“We’re going to [face] an eight- and nine-man box, very disruptive. They do a lot of slanting, a lot of run blitzing. We got to find a way to execute, be able to convert blocks on the run, find a way to get our backs into their secondary.”

The Jets had huge success running the ball in an overtime win over the Jaguars last season at MetLife Stadium. They totaled 256 yards on the ground. Powell rushed for a career-high 163 yards and scored on a 75-yard touchdown.

But the Jets said that game will have no bearing on this game. There are different faces on both sides of the ball, including a young confident quarterback who isn’t getting caught up in Jacksonville’s defensive dominance.

“As a quarterback you can't think about it,” Darnold said. “You've got to trust that your guys are going to block up front and do their job. At the same time, we know that they're great pass rushers and they're great at stopping the run.

“We've got to do our part in stopping them and controlling the line of scrimmage with the run game. Throwing the ball like we do, I feel like we have a chance for success.” 

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