LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Confidence may have been the key to the Jaguars' success on defense this season.
Opposing offensive players noticed the Jaguars' defensive swagger early on during the campaign. The smack talk and overall bravado of the group grew as the win column filled up.
The Jaguars' defense finished second in the league in sacks (55) and interceptions (21) during the regular season. The group had four All-Pro selections and sent six players to the Pro Bowl.
The defense earned its high opinion of itself.
"We played them twice and they were by far the toughest defense," Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton said Wednesday at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex. "They're very athletic, very fast and they play as a unit."
Jaguars players make their debuts at Pro Bowl in Orlando
The Jaguars' defense was the catalyst for a good chunk of the team's success this season. The group produced two 10-sack games and picked off Pro Bowl quarterback Ben Roethlisberger seven times in two meetings.
With stars at each level of the defense, the Jaguars had the fire power to back up their big talk during games.
Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy experienced the unit's talent and smack talk firsthand during the wild-card round of the playoffs. The Jaguars held McCoy's Bills to just three points.
"They're very confident," McCoy said. "They're a tough group. They know who they are. They may not have the most explosive offense but they have a solid defense. They really play up to that standard physically."
Along with their confidence, the Jaguars' speed showed up in a big way throughout the season. Quick tackles were made in the backfield and interceptions and forced fumbles were returned for touchdowns.
"Obviously, that front four is crazy," Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen said. "The way they get to the quarterback, it's ridiculous. Their speed at every position is ridiculous."
Following the first AFC Pro Bowl team practice, Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson said the defense still has confidence after the team's 24-20 loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.
Jackson knows the defense has come a long way in just one season. The future is bright for the unit.
“Yeah, it’s one of those things that we do have a confidence," Jackson said.
"I think every team we played, we let them know we were beating them and every time we did, we did it. Vice versa, did it the few times they did it. I think when we left the building Monday, for me, it was like I’m healthy, I was able to accomplish a lot of stuff and it is what it is. This is the NFL. Only one team can be happy and unfortunately it was [the Patriots], but I feel like we put up a great product, we were very productive and guys really gave it their all and we made a city proud of us, we made our coaching staff proud of us and you really couldn’t ask for more."
Follow Mike Kaye on Twitter at @Mike_E_Kaye.