Jacksonville Jaguars: failed copycats

Photo by Art Foxall/UPI

Charles Caleb Colton once said that, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” From 2012-2014, the Seattle Seahawks were the talk of the NFL. They won at least 12 games each season, had a playoff record of 6-2 and were anchored by a defense that was loud, young and tenacious. They were known as the Legion of Boom and helped lead the Seattle Seahawks to two Super Bowl appearances and one championship. After this three-year stretch, the Seahawks slowly lost their edge, but with Russell Wilson quarterbacking the team, the Seahawks have made the playoffs four of the last five years with three playoff victories to show for it.

The Seahawks have built a culture of winning, which is something the Jacksonville Jaguars have tried to build since the days of Mark Brunell in the late 1990’s, and they have failed at doing this. One way the Jaguars have tried this is to copy the formula of the Legion of Boom.

The Jaguars won one playoff game from 2000-2012 (a 2007 Wild Card win at Pittsburgh) and brought in Seahawks’ defensive coordinator Gus Bradley to rebuild the team after a dismal 2-14 record in 2012. The next four seasons under Bradley, the Jaguars never won more than five games and had a combined record of 15-49. The Jaguars, during this time, built up their defense during the draft as they acquired middle linebacker Telvin Smith, cornerbacks Aaron Colvin and Jalen Ramsey, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and linebacker Myles Jack. Before the 2017 season, they acquired defensive end Calais Campbell, cornerback AJ Bouye and safety Barry Church.

The Jaguars built a defense with a strong secondary and personnel that was loud, young and tenacious. Sound familiar? It should as the Jaguars tried their best to replicate the Seahawks’ defense from the mid 2010’s. The formula got off to a great start in 2017. The Jaguars had one of the league’s best defenses and with Bortles putting in solid performances, the Jaguars went to the playoffs. In the playoffs, the Jaguars would go on a run as they beat the Buffalo Bills 10-3 in the Wild Card round. Then, went into Pittsburgh and shocked the Steelers 45-42 in a thriller. They went to New England a week later for the AFC Championship Game and controlled most of the game with great defense. However, the Jaguars’ defense started playing soft zone defense and Tom Brady picked it apart to lead a Patriots comeback to win 24-20. The Jaguars were so close, but appeared to be in position to redeem themselves. Bortles showed that postseason that he could lead the Jaguars to success in the future.

In 2018, the Jaguars started the season strong. They were 3-1 which included an impressive 31-20 win over the Patriots in Week 2. After that, Bortles struggled mightily and the Jaguars went on a free fall, losing their next seven games and Bortles was benched. The defense couldn’t bail out the offense and they were getting very frustrated at the organization. The formula to copy the Legion of Boom backfired completely once the offense stalled out. The loud and tenacious defense lost their edge and over the next year, nearly all the members of the 2017 defense had been shipped to other teams.

Jalen Ramsey was traded to the Los Angeles Rams for two first-round picks, AJ Bouye was traded to the Denver Broncos for a fourth-round pick and most recently, star Calais Campbell was traded to the Baltimore Ravens for a fifth-round pick. The Jaguars are in selling mode and are setting up for another rebuild.

Here is the problem. The Jaguars’ idea to copy the Seahawks was not a bad one. They just lacked two missing pieces of what has made Seattle so great: a great quarterback and good leadership. Doug Marrone is a solid coach, but not one that can control a team like the Jaguars had. Pete Carroll is a coach that achieved a great deal of success and has dealt with many personalities before. He has the leadership skills to be both strict as well as a loose and fun coach. Even when the Legion of Boom broke up, Carroll was still winning playoff games. Marrone does not have the leadership skills to make up for that and one reason for that is the Jaguars failed to give their defense the same caliber of quarterback as Seattle gave their defense.

Russell Wilson is one of the top quarterbacks of this era. He is a Super Bowl champion. He has led Seattle to a winning record every single season he has been their quarterback and he is a great leader. Even in his second and third year, Wilson was the leader on the offense and led them through adversity. Down 19-7 late in the NFC Championship Game in 2014 against the Green Bay Packers, Wilson led three straight scoring drives to win 28-22 in overtime. The leadership and skill it took to come back from that was great and that was something the Jaguars lacked. Bortles has his moments, but he was never that player that could elevate his team when they needed him the most.

If you want to copy someone, you cannot just copy parts of them. You must understand every aspect of what made them great, not just the headliner. If Jacksonville had an elite quarterback and great leadership with that defense, who knows what they could have accomplished.

The Jaguars now have Gardner Minshew, a rookie quarterback that went 6-6 as a starter and received the highest grade from Pro Football Focus among rookie quarterbacks. He and wide receiver DJ Chark look like a solid duo that could have some success for years. The Jaguars should continue to dismantle their 2017 core and build around this duo. Just don’t try to copy anyone else because that did not work out the first time.

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