The Jacksonville Jaguars have fired defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell and seven other defensive assistants, following a late season collapse that saw them lose their last six games after starting the year with so much promise.
Caldwell Let Go After Two Seasons as Defensive Coordinator
As first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Jaguars relieved Caldwell of his duties on January 8th, after just two seasons leading the defense. Caldwell was hired by previous head coach Urban Meyer in 2021, and was retained when Doug Pederson took over in 2022.
However, it seems Pederson decided fresh ideas were needed on defense after the unit struggled mightily down the stretch. Jacksonville had a 4-8 record in one score games, indicating many winnable contests slipped away. Issues on defense, especially late game collapses, surely played a role.
Caldwell’s firing is the first domino to fall in what is likely to be a major defensive overhaul this offseason for the Jaguars. Pederson expressed frustration after Jacksonville finished the year with an epic collapse against the Titans, essentially costing them a playoff berth.
“I’m still kind of processing everything right now,” Pederson said. “We’ll take some time now that the season is over and start evaluating everything.”
It seems the evaluation has led Pederson to move on from Caldwell and most of the defensive staff just one day after the season ended.
Entire Defensive Staff Let Go With Caldwell
In their official announcement, the Jaguars stated that defensive line coach Brentson Buckner, linebackers coach Tony Gilbert, defensive backs coach Joe Danna, senior defensive assistant Bob Sutton, defensive quality control coach Patrick Reilly, and defensive coaching assistant Will Smith were also relieved of their duties.
Essentially, the entire defensive staff save a few assistants were shown the door alongside the defensive coordinator. The Jaguars clearly felt wholesale changes were necessary after rating 31st in yards allowed and 32nd in points allowed.
Jacksonville’s defense collapsed when it mattered most down the stretch. They allowed a league-worst 32.1 points per game over the final six contests, often falling apart late to blow leads. This included epic collapses Week 16 against the Jets and Week 18 against the Titans with a playoff berth on the line.
What Went Wrong for Jacksonville’s Defense This Season
The Jaguars defense showed promise early in the year, but cratered badly starting in November. Here is a breakdown of the key issues Caldwell and company struggled to overcome:
|Defense excels early, key goal line stands vs Colts, Chargers
|Respectable numbers, carried by offense
|Injuries mount, issues defending run and pass emerge
|Epic collapses, worn down, blow coverages, miss tackles
As the table shows, everything fell apart in November and December. Injuries to key players like linebacker Devin Lloyd, corner Shaquill Griffin, and safety Andre Cisco left the unit exposed.
Scheme issues emerged, as Caldwell’s zone heavy approach backfired. Blown assignments became common, leading to many big pass plays surrendered over the top. Players consistently missed tackles, exacerbating problems.
The run defense proved the Achilles heel, with mobile opposing quarterbacks gashing them on the ground regularly late in the year. It added up to a disastrous close to the season after raising hopes early on.
What Changes Can We Expect on Defense?
With so much turnover on the defensive staff, significant schematic changes could accompany the new hires. Pederson indicated the 4-3 base scheme will likely remain, but openings exist at coordinator and the other positions.
Most expect well-regarded coordinators like Wink Martindale, Sean Desai, or Don “Wink” Martindale to top the list of candidates. The team needs an experienced coach to restore confidence and maximize the talent on hand.
Whoever comes in will need to tighten things up in all areas. Better tackling and coverage techniques are a must. An upgrade at safety could help, while retaining key free agents like linebacker Devin Lloyd will be critical.
There is certainly enough talent for the defense to take a big step in 2024. The clean slate with the coaching staff removes an excuse, putting pressure on the new hires to develop the holdovers and lift this unit out of the cellar.
The late season failures exposed flaws needing attention on defense. But a rebound is possible if Pederson makes the right calls filling out the vacated spots on the staff in his make-or-break third season leading the Jaguars.
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