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Mark Gaughan's X's and O's: Bills can't get behind Jags' killer D

The matchup of the Jacksonville Jaguars' defense vs. the Buffalo Bills' offense is a mismatch on the order of 51-3.

Raise the white flag. The Bills have the No. 31 passing offense in the NFL. The Jaguars are No. 1 in passing yards allowed, No. 1 in sacks, No. 1 in opposing quarterback rating and No. 2 in interceptions.

How do you put an optimistic spin on it? Maybe there's a point where an overwhelming edge in one aspect of the game loses some of its relevance.

The Jaguars' defense matches up well with elite passing offenses like New England and Pittsburgh. The Bills? They don't kill teams with the pass anyway. The pass is more or less a change-of-pace mode of attack that Rick Dennison uses to keep teams honest against the run.

The Jaguars are not a gambling defense. They don't need to blitz because their front four gets such good pressure.

"In this league if you can affect the quarterback with just rushing four, then that really, really helps you out," said Jags coach Doug Marrone. "You can play multiple coverages in the back end. You feel you have everything covered from a standpoint of either the zones or man or extra guys back there."

The Bills are going to have to scheme their way down the field, bit by bit, and rely on Tyrod Taylor's mobility.

This is one game in which the Bills cannot get off schedule. They must stay close. If the Bills get more than 10 points behind the Jaguars, forget it. It's hard to imagine them playing catch-up against a defense this good.

Speed to burn: On the back end, the Jaguars have one of the top three cornerback tandems in the NFL in Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye – both Pro Bowlers this season.

At linebacker they have speed to burn in Myles Jack and Telvin Smith, who may be the fastest player at his position in the NFL.

"It’s like a highlight show with our DBs," Marrone said of his practices. "Their hands are unbelievable. When I see a ball in the air, tipped or a ball is going around or they’re breaking on a football, I really believe they’re always going to get it."

On the defensive line they have five elite physical talents in defensive ends Yannick Ngakoue, Calais Campbell and Dante Fowler and defensive tackles Malik Jackson and Marcell Dareus.

It's a Super Bowl-caliber unit that draws comparisons with Seattle's championship D of four years ago. Just like the Seahawks, the Jaguars have a four-man rush that collapses the pocket, long-armed cornerbacks playing in a Cover 3 shell and speedy linebackers that smother check-downs sideline-to-sideline.

Draft and spend: How did the Jaguars build such an elite defense?

Good drafting by General Manager Dave Caldwell, the St. Francis High School product, and astute free-agent spending.

The Jags hit each of their first three picks in the 2016 draft. Ramsey went No. 5 overall, Jack was the second-rounder and Ngakoue was a steal in the third. Over the past two years, Ngakoue ranks ninth in the NFL in sacks (20) and first in forced fumbles (10).

In 2015, they took Fowler No. 3 overall. He missed his entire rookie season to injury but has eight sacks this year. In 2014, the Jags drafted one of the best slot cornerbacks in the NFL (Aaron Colvin) in the fourth round and then hit a home run with Smith in the fifth.

Jacksonville's free-agent buys have been home runs, too. In 2016 they paid $14 million a year to get Jackson from Denver (the No. 7 salary among DTs). They paid $7.2 million a year for Tashaun Gipson (the No. 10 salary among safeties).

This year they made Campbell the No. 5-paid defensive end at $15 million a year. They made Bouye the No. 7-paid corner at $13.5 million a year. In all, Jacksonville owner Shad Khan paid out $68 million in free-agent guarantees this year (counting safety Barry Church, too).

NFL free agency is loaded with overpaid busts. The Jags haven't whiffed on any in building their defense.

Stopping the run? Running wide is not going to be easy on the Jags. Maybe the Bills can try to exploit Jacksonville's speed with misdirections and counters. Maybe running backs can hit cutback lanes against overflowing linebackers. Ramsey is not a physical tackler. Look for the Bills to try to test his suspect edge-run defending.

If the Bills go to heavy personnel, the Jags might try to hide Ramsey by putting him at safety and moving Gipson down to corner. The Jaguars also gave up some read-option runs against mobile QBs Russell Wilson and Marcus Mariotta.

Tyrod Taylor has  runonly 13 read-option keepers this season (for 6 yards a carry), by The News' count. Last year he had 22 read-option runs. Overall, Taylor has run about the same this year (84 carries) as in 2016 (77). It might be good if he tested the Jags a bit more.

Jacksonville ranks 21st in run defense, allowing 116 yards a game. Since acquiring Dareus from the Bills, they're allowing 99 a game. But the Jaguars have faced only two teams all season that ranked among the top 12 in rushing.

The 30,000-foot view: The Jaguars have managed the salary cap well. How were they able to spend on the defense and still take on the Dareus salary? They have only $10.4 million in dead cap money. Buffalo is No. 3 at $28.5 million in dead money (players no longer on the roster). That's one reason Jacksonville clearly has more talent than the Bills. The Jags have seven players making $10 million a year or more. The Bills have three.

Game-breaker: Ramsey.

Weak links: The Jags' wide receiving corps is inexperienced and inconsistent. Left tackle could be a problem. Talented Cam Robinson has had typical rookie struggles and his backup, Josh Webb, is bad.

Air Bortles? Jacksonville is the most run-oriented team in the NFL, running 48.9 percent. Buffalo is No. 2 at 48.2 percent. But don't be surprised if the Jags put the ball in the hands of QB Blake Bortles early and try to pass their way to a quick knockout of the Bills. Just how banged up is Fournette's ankle? He has said it won't be right until the offseason. Bortles still doesn't have a quick release and his pocket presence remains suspect. But the Jags have let him wing it on occasion.

Bills' best chance could be if Bad Bortles shows up

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