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No name no more

Jags' defense should finally get credit it deserves

Posted: Wednesday September 27, 2006 4:22PM; Updated: Wednesday September 27, 2006 5:46PM
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Defensive tackle Marcus Stroud anchors a talented Jaguars defensive line.
Defensive tackle Marcus Stroud anchors a talented Jaguars defensive line.
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Watching the Colts runner fruitlessly trying to wriggle past Jacksonville's humongous defensive tackles Marcus Stroud and John Henderson last Sunday, I kept thinking to myself: Fat chance.

Sure, Indianapolis's running game isn't quite the same without Pro Bowler runner Edgerrin James. But the tepid production (63 rushing yards) by Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes matches what has happened to other tailbacks against Jacksonville.

Over the past few seasons, the stingy defense has been largely obscure, playing in a small market and lacking a superstar. (The 6-foot-6, 306-pound Stroud and the 6-7, 325-pound Henderson -- relatively nimble despite their gargantuan sizes -- are its most recognizable players.) But I have an inkling that this season people will get better acquainted with a defense that 's on the verge of being downright scary.

"The anonymity is about to change," Stroud told me, rattling off the names of several of his talented teammates.

Last season, Jack Del Rio's defense was ranked sixth, a notch below elite units like Tampa Bay, Chicago and Carolina. And the Jaguars have been bolstered by the return of strong safety Donovin Darius -- he missed 14 games last season with a torn ACL -- and the signing of free-agent cornerback Brian Williams from Minnesota. A significant upgrade, Williams pairs with cornerback Rashean Mathis, whose name you should remember because he's a budding star.

Besides its Pro Bowl defensive tackles, Jacksonville has quality defensive ends, an unsung star in middle 'backer Mike Peterson and one of the NFL's most-suffocating secondaries. And few defenses can match Jacksonville's mix of size, speed and skill.

NFL fans are more familiar with Jacksonville's offensive stars, such as Byron Leftwich, one of the league's best young quarterbacks. But I think a return trip to the playoffs hinges on Jacksonville's defense being dominant enough to withstand the inconsistencies of the club's mostly young offense.

Last Sunday's 21-14 loss kept Jacksonville as the second-best team in the AFC South. Nonetheless, Jacksonville hamstrung an Indianapolis offense, which had been averaging 33.5 points and 331 passing yards: Peyton Manning was held below 50 percent accuracy (14 of 31), which seems to occur about every leap year.