LONDON - Rushing the passer has been a struggle for the Jaguars over the last two seasons.
Pressure has come few and far between for the Jaguars' defensive front, as the lack of production has allowed opposing quarterbacks to pick the Jacksonville defense apart.
On Sunday, that wasn't the case.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was sacked six times in the Jaguars' 30-27 win in London. The pass rush not only got to Luck, but forced him to make bad throws and mental errors.
Featuring three first year players in major rotational roles, the Jacksonville front consistently bothered the Pro Bowl quarterback.
The play of the game came early on as defensive end Dante Fowler batted a pass by Luck and the ball was intercepted by fellow pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue. The play set up the offense for its first score of the game.
“I came through, [Sen’Derrick Marks] did a good job of setting it up,” Fowler said. “My job was to wrap him up and hit the ball because I knew he was about to throw it and luckily the ball tipped in the air and Yannick [Ngakoue] picked it off.”
Ngakoue wasn't done after the interception. The third round pick also produced a sack in his third-straight game. He is slowly but surely becoming an NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate.
“I feel comfortable but I also feel comfortable knowing I’ve got the other guys to the left and right of me that will hold it down for me,” Ngakoue said. “Just a lot of film preparation. I’m also a big believer in God and I feel like he’s putting me in the right position.”
Along with Ngakoue and Fowler, defensive tackle Malik Jackson is starting to come into his own in Gus Bradley's defense. The head coach complimented Jackson's growth after the game and the former Denver Broncos lineman said he has started to find his groove.
“I think I’m figuring it out and starting to under what they want,” Jackson said.
“It helps when I have guys like Sen’Derrick [Marks] and young guys like Sheldon [Day] here, playing in that defense and showing me what it looks like. I’m just trying to grow and get better and give everything back to [the front office] 10 fold that they allowed me to have.”
Jackson is quick to compliment Day, who was in on a sack during the game, despite not being credited for a quarterback takedown. The rookie grew up a Colts fan and it was his first game in London, which added to the meaningful performance.
“It’s very cool, now I have bragging rights on everybody that I’m trying to convert to Jaguars fans,” Day said.
"Being from Indianapolis, everyone’s always a Colts fan and are cheering for them every Sunday. So hopefully, now they’ll be cheering for us.”
Ngakoue knows there is still a lot of work to be done and the criticism won't stop until the Jaguars prove they can find consistency.
“I feel like there is more to prove each and every week,” Ngakoue said.
“We have to capitalize each and every week and build on stuff. I feel like it doesn’t matter what people think. At the end of the day, it’s about the defensive line growing closer together and executing.”
All four pass rushers are new to the Jaguars defense and are starting to make strides. Fowler believes their friendships on and off the field have helped them improve.
“I feel real comfortable with the defense,” Fowler said.
“Everybody is gelling together and getting to know each other with chemistry. I love how people come in and step up like Tyson [Alualu] and Chris [Smith]. They’ve been inactive the whole season. Chris got a sack and Tyson got one.”
It's a deep group, so the Jaguars can only hope the rotation continues to find success in getting to the quarterback. With Ngakoue, Day, Fowler and Jackson finding ways to be successful, the defensive line should have no problem ascending as the season moves along.
Follow Mike Kaye on Twitter at @Mike_E_Kaye.