JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Josh Allen was the last player off Jacksonville’s practice field Wednesday. The fourth-year pro spent extra time working through pass-rush drills and then a few more minutes chatting with a coach — an offensive coach.
Allen has started getting technique tips from Jaguars assistant offensive line coach Todd Washington. The recent tweak may have aided in Allen’s late-season surge.
The Jacksonville linebacker has 23 quarterback pressures in his last five games. He also returned a fumble 37 yards for a touchdown in the closing minutes to beat Tennessee 20-16 last Saturday and secure the franchise's second AFC South championship.
It was just the latest game-altering play for Allen, who has half his six sacks during Jacksonville’s five-game winning streak and was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week on Wednesday. He’s essentially been the dominant force the Jaguars (9-8) thought they had when they drafted him with the seventh overall pick four years ago and watched him make the Pro Bowl as a rookie.
Allen had been admittedly disappointing since, even going eight consecutive games this season without a sack. But he’s taken his play to another level since mid-December, and the Jaguars are counting on him to continue his hot streak when they host the Los Angeles Chargers (10-7) in a wild-card game Saturday night.
“We’re ready to take over,” Allen said. “We’re not in (the playoffs) for no reason. We worked our butts off to get to this point.”
Allen maybe as much as anyone.
He was seemingly slow to adjust to the team’s new 3-4 defensive scheme, one that sometimes requires him to drop into coverage. It was a somewhat uncomfortable spot even though it was role he handled well in college at Kentucky.
But Allen looked right at home off the ball against the Titans, especially when he scooped up Joshua Dobbs’ fumble in full stride and went untouched the other way for the go-ahead score. He added a strip-sack on the ensuing possession that helped Jacksonville close it out.
“I think it’s just being patient,” Allen said. “I’ve always worked hard. It’s just letting those opportunities come. I’ve been dialed in with myself a little bit more. …
“Me working hard before and after practice and doing what I need to do and being where I need to be. I knew when the moment comes, when the opportunity comes, if I keep at it, good things are going to come.”
Although Allen’s sack totals are down, his 64 quarterback pressures this season rank fourth in the NFL, according to the league's Next Gen stats. More than a third of those have come in the last five weeks.
“I think it’s Josh. He’s made his mind up that it’s the time of the season for him to turn it on, and he’s turned it on,” defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell said. “He’s picked his game up, and he’s doing a good job for us.”
The O-line assistant might deserve an assist. Allen approached Washington last month and started asking a series of questions about how to approach trying to beat certain offensive tackles.
“Really just getting an extra set of ears, extra set of eyes, extra input,” Allen said. “Just to hear something different. ... He kind of helped me find myself, just talking to me, sitting down, writing down, just casual conversation that I have with him, and we get things going.”
Allen and his fellow defenders have things going right now. The Jaguars have allowed a combined 22 points in their last three games and essentially won two games with takeaways: Rayshawn Jenkins’ interception return for a TD to beat Dallas in overtime and then Jenkins’ strip-sack that led to Allen’s scoop-and-score against the Titans.
“You have to find a way to win, and right now we’re finding multiple ways to win,” Allen said.
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