JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Opposing offenses know they need to limit turnovers, protect the quarterback and try to run the ball when they play the Jacksonville Jaguars defense.
Popping in some ear plugs is pretty important, too.
It can be a long day trying to move the ball and score points against one of the NFL’s best defenses, but trying to do that and at the same time ignore the constant barrage of comments and trash talk from Jaguars defenders can make the afternoon seem endless.
The players’ nonstop chatter -- or mouthiness, depending on your point of view -- is as much a part of their identity on defense as scheme and personnel.
“That’s who we are,” defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. said. “We’re just a nasty, mean defense that wants to out-physical our opponent and take their will.”
And tell them that they’re doing it. Constantly.
They’re pretty good at it, too. Just look at what happened between cornerback Jalen Ramsey and Cincinnati Bengals receiver A.J. Green earlier this season. Ramsey was incessantly in Green’s ear throughout the first half of the Nov. 5 game between the teams at EverBank Field.
He said he called Green soft and weak. Told him his time was over. Kept repeating Green’s stats: one catch for 8 yards. Finally, Green snapped, grabbed Ramsey around the neck from behind, threw him to the turf and started punching.
It was so out of character for Green that Jaguars safety Tashaun Gipson, who played against Green twice a year during his four seasons with the Cleveland Browns, was stunned. It also shows just how good Ramsey is as a trash-talker -- and how powerful a weapon trash talk can be for the Jaguars.
“I’ve never seen him react like that, and I’ve seen him frustrated before,” Gipson said. “Joe Haden was a top-tier cornerback in this league, and he frustrated him [Green] time and time again. I’ve never seen him act like that, but you compile that with a lot of trash talking and then, boom, you have guys acting uncharacteristic, guys worried about winning the trash-talk battle instead of the actual game.”
Ramsey isn’t the only Jaguars defensive player who dishes it out. Gipson’s mouth doesn’t stop, either. Fowler, defensive tackle Malik Jackson and defensive end Yannick Ngakoue can get under opponents’ skin. Linebacker Telvin Smith fancies himself the best trash-talker in the league.
It’s not necessarily what they say or how they say it, it’s the fact that it’s almost nonstop. Someone seems to always be yapping after a play. It’s not always quiet during plays, either.
“Y’all know how I play,” Ramsey said. “I lock receivers down physically, and then mentally I get into their mind, get under their skin. I talk my talk.”
The players believe it gives them an advantage, because it’s a victory anytime they’re getting opponents to focus on anything other than their job on each play. Even better, if the opponents spent any time on it during the week, because that’s time away from the game plan.
“It’s a psychological advantage,” Gipson said. “Teams come in expecting to be in a battle of word warfare compared to just thinking that it’s just about the game of football. Like, ‘Hey man, if this guy makes a play, I’m going to have to hear him all day.’ That right there should not be anybody’s concern, but yet it is because people deem that the Jacksonville Jaguars defense goes out there and talks a heap load of crap.
“At the end of the day, you’re winning the mind battle right there, and I think that it’s definitely beneficial.”
The Jaguars defense finished the regular season ranked second in yards allowed per game, scoring, takeaways and sacks but is apparently tops in trash talk. An anonymous San Francisco 49ers player told a writer for the team’s official website that “the Jaguars talked more s--- than any team I’ve ever played.” That was after the 49ers won 44-33.
So even in losses, the Jaguars’ mouthiness doesn’t stop. It can sometimes be a problem, though, when the trash talk leads to heated moments. That happened against the 49ers, when the Jaguars committed three personal foul/unnecessary roughness penalties.
“It’s just the swagger that we play with, the style, the nastiness, that comes with it,” Fowler said. “It’s really passionate, so when we do it, it’s not something we’re trying to put on an opponent like we are this tough, big, bad team. That’s who we are. It just comes with it. Sometimes it gets the best of us.
“We’re grown defensive players playing in the NFL in probably the most emotional sport in all of sports. The hardest part is controlling it and keeping it in and knowing when you can do it and when you cannot do it.”
It’s a fine line to walk, and one that Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash is constantly battling because “I don’t want to take their stinger away.”
There are numerous players on defense who don’t say much on the field, such as safety Barry Church, cornerback A.J. Bouye, and linebacker Myles Jack. Head coach Doug Marrone said he likes the mix of silent and mouthy, and he’s not going to try and curb the more vocal players’ enthusiasm.
That’s a good way to take away the defense’s edge, he said.
“People are going to be individuals,” Marrone said. “You try to conform everyone to be one thing and you might not get the best out of somebody. So at the same point, though, I always tell them, as long as it doesn’t hurt the team -- and that’s a pretty broad statement. It’s not just on the field. It’s also in the locker room and everywhere you go, so you’ve got to keep track of it and know where the lines are.”