The Seahawks and Jaguars are unlikely versions of each other.
Seattle is 2,500 miles removed from Jacksonville. The Hawks belong to the NFC West, the Jags are in the AFC South. Since Jacksonville’s 1995 debut as an expansion franchise, the teams have met only six times.
But thanks to the influence of former Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley, who served as the Seahawks defensive coordinator in 2011 and 2012, there are stylistic parallels.
“They are the best in the NFL, by a pretty good margin,” Hawks coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday about the Jags’ defense. “They’ve got a big rotation of guys who come after you, linebackers who can fly, a secondary with a bunch of ball-hawks back there.”
Between the big rotation up front, the flying linebackers and the ball-hawking secondary, the Jaguars have allowed the fewest points in the league – 178 – which explains their positive point differential of 121, also the best in the league.
“They cause,” said Carroll, “a lot of problems.”
Carroll’s assessment sounded familiar. There was a time, not all that long ago, when coaches around the NFL talked of all the problems the Seahawks defense caused. The Jaguars have the look – and the numbers – of new kids on the block. They’ll get a chance to prove it Sunday afternoon, when they take on, well, the not-so-new kids on the block.
Jacksonville is buzzing about the opportunity.
“To have the Seahawks come to our place and if we beat them, that’s a sure sign that this team’s for real,” former Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell told the Jacksonville News this week. Brunell noted that since the Jags Oct. 8 upset of Pittsburgh, they haven’t faced an opponent they weren’t expected to beat.
“A defining moment,” Brunell said in anticipation of Sunday. “A true test of what our team is.”
The man who helped shape the Jaguars transition into a defensive powerhouse won’t be on hand to watch their “defining moment.” Bradley, after a four-year record of 14-48, was fired with two games remaining on the 2016 schedule. He now works as defensive coordinator of the Chargers.
“Any time a coach moves, you look back and see your team emerging and doing their stuff, you wonder what it would have been like to be there,” said Carroll. “It’s an unusual situation. I’m sure he looks back with some pride.”
Among Bradley’s most important moves was hiring defensive coordinator Todd Wash from Seattle, where he served as defensive line coach in 2011 and 2012.
“Guys like Wash came out of this system,” said Hawks offensive guard Luke Joekel, signed as a free agent after playing four years in Jacksonville.
“They play a very similar defense. They do some different things on third down than we do around here, but we’re used to the defense,” continued Joekel, pointing out that such previous Seahawks opponents as the 49ers and Falcons are schemed much the same way.
“This will be another fun match-up.”
Ben Roethlisberger had little fun during a 30-9 defeat against Jacksonville. Swarmed by a pass rush anchored by 6-foot-8, 300-pound defensive end Calais Campbell, the Steelers quarterback was intercepted a career-high five times.
Campbell, a former Cardinals star who hooked up with Jacksonville as a free agent over the offseason, epitomizes the fresh-blood transformation of the Jaguars defense.
“Obviously, as a player, it’s easy to see,” head coach Doug Marrone said on a conference call Wednesday. “Just look on tape and watch the way he plays. When he came into the locker room, he really embraced his teammates and his teammates embraced him. I think that’s a credit on both sides. He’s a great example for a lot of the younger players on our team, showing them how to work during the week and how to take care of your body.”
Carroll and general manager John Schneider also emphasize the benefits veteran players can bring to a locker room. Offensive tackle Duane Brown, for instance, was obtained both for his pass-protection ability on the left side and his sheer presence as a consummate pro.
The 8-4 Jaguars might not be precise clones of the 8-4 Seahawks, but they aren’t dismissive of the many comparisons drawn between the teams. Jacksonville aspires to achieve an elite status once (and, perhaps, still) enjoyed by Seattle.
Just don’t bring up the Jaguars-as-newfangled-Seahawks narrative to linebacker Bobby Wagner. Asked about their similarities Wednesday, Wagner offered a spot-on answer as emphatic as one of his open-field tackles.
“Nah,” he said. “There’s only one Seattle Seahawks.”