Defense stays grounded


Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, September 30, 2002 at 10:39 p.m.
JACKSONVILLE - Find an office water-cooler conversation regarding the NFL's top running backs, and it probably won't be long before you hear the names Curtis Martin, Priest Holmes and Edgerrin James.
Debates about who ranks where can last for days, but there isn't much question that these three backs belong among the elite. All three have played in Pro Bowls, all three have won AFC rushing titles, two have won NFL rushing titles, and together, they ran for 3,730 yards in 2001.
They may eventually reach those heights again this season, but the Jaguars' defense certainly didn't help them along the way.
"We're on our A-game," said Jaguars cornerback Jason Craft. "When we're all jelling, I think it's hard to beat us. It's hard to beat a team when everyone is on the same page."
James, who amassed 3,924 yards in his first three seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, was held to 99 by the Jaguars Sept. 8. Holmes, who won the NFL rushing crown last season with the Kansas City Chiefs (1,555 yards), was held to 87 by Jacksonville Sept. 15.
And Martin, who has averaged 1,393 yards over the past three seasons, was held in check Sunday, when the Jaguars defeated the New York Jets 28-3 at Alltel Stadium. Martin had just 44 yards.
"We've been together for awhile and it's all about getting to know your assignments," Jaguars linebacker Akin Ayodele said. "Once you do that, you can fly around and take some chances. We want to have fun and that's what we're doing."
They're also winning. With consecutive victories, the Jaguars are 2-1 and tied with the Colts atop the AFC South. And the defense - a unit that has three new starters on the line, and three more at linebacker - has been a major reason why.
"We've made some progress," Jaguars head coach Tom Coughlin said. "We've done different things to win the last couple of games under different circumstances, which is good for the team.
"It's great for young players to be under that kind of pressure. We're not there yet, but we're making progress."
The Jaguars are allowing 15.6 points per game this season, and 9.5 over the last two games. Against the Jets, they posted two interceptions, forced four fumbles and stopped both of New York's red-zone opportunities.
"A lot of guys talk about our inexperience, but with the inexperience, comes energy, and enthusiasm and excitement," Jaguars strong safety Donovin Darius said. "And when you have that with a bunch of guys that just want to do the same thing - and that is have fun, go out and make a statement - it allows you to go out and do stuff like that."
The Jaguars host the Philadelphia Eagles (3-1) at 4:15 p.m. Sunday.
You can reach Tim Sullivan by calling 374-5050 or by e-mail at sullivt@gvillesun.com

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