A week ago, defensive coordinator Todd Wash stood in front of a room filled with Jaguars fans during a luncheon and spoke with confidence about the talent assembled for his group.
And he didn’t mind sharing a few secrets, either, like disclosing that All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey is going to shadow Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill in Week 1.
''He’s going to draw Tyreek, and he’s got to cover him,’’ Wash said. ''We’re very blessed. Our linebackers can run, and all of our guys can run.’’
Perhaps Wash wants his players to believe anything is possible after coming off a dismal 5-11 season.
But the Jaguars have a daunting challenge ahead this Sunday against the Chiefs in the season opener at TIAA Bank Field.
Kansas City went 12-4 last season and reached the AFC championship game after leading the league in total offense (425.6 yards per game) and scoring (35.3).
The Jaguars have one of the top defensive fronts in the league, and Ramsey is one of the league’s top cover corners. But no quarterback threw for more touchdowns last season than Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes, who became the third player in NFL history to throw for 50 or more touchdowns in a season, joining Peyton Manning (55 in 2013) and Tom Brady (50 in 2007). Mahomes, who ranked second with 5,097 passing yards, was the league's MVP last season.
''He works hard and wants to be good,'' Chiefs coach Andy Reid said during a conference call Wednesday. ''He worked his tail off this offseason on parts of his game that needed to be improved. So that's how he rolls. He's a perfectionist that way. It has been fun to watch him.''
Mahomes didn't make it fun for the Jaguars during their Week 5 game last season. He helped the Chiefs torment the Jaguars in Kansas City as they piled up 424 total yards in a 30-14 rout.
Going in with a 3-1 record, the Jaguars never recovered and went on to lose nine of the final 11 games, including a seven-game losing streak.
They expect better in Sunday’s rematch, especially defensively.
''Three years together, we all kind of know what we’re capable of and everybody knows what to do,’’ said middle linebacker Myles Jack, who was rewarded with a four-year, $57 million contract extension on Monday. ''It’s like clockwork now, and that’s what we want to put out in the regular season. I feel confident.’’
Wash said it’s paramount to have their best players on the field at all times. To make it happen, he is willing to alternate his 4-3 alignment to a 3-4 set. Wash wants top draft pick Josh Allen and Yannick Ngakoue on the field together, though they both play defensive end. When they are on the field together, defensive end Calais Campbell shifts inside.
In their only preseason game on the field together, Allen was sensational against Miami on Aug. 22. He forcefully came off the edge to make plays. In 14 plays, the Jaguars' first-team defense held the Dolphins to one first down.
The Chiefs, though, are not anything like the rebuilding Dolphins.
Kansas City is trying to win the Super Bowl and appears to have the necessary weapons.
The Chiefs have scored 25 or more points in 21 consecutive games, dating to 2017 — the longest such streak in NFL history. They also led the NFL with 565 points.
The Chiefs have playmakers galore. Tight end Travis Kelce caught a career-high 103 passes for 1,336 yards in 2018. Hill, who avoided suspension by the league in July over child-abuse allegations, caught 87 passes for 1,479 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Earlier this week, the Chiefs signed six-time Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy after he was released by the Buffalo Bills.
To have any chance of slowing down the Chiefs high-scoring offense, the Jaguars will have to avoid coverage busts, get better play from free safety Jarrod Wilson than he showed in the preseason and get significant pass rush pressure on Mahomes. Their linebackers, especially if rookie Quincy Williams makes his debut after not taking a preseason snap because of a torn meniscus, must avoid overpursuit and make the right reads.
Wilson, who will be paired with starting strong safety Ronnie Harrison, will be starting just his third career game Sunday.
''There’s no test period. There’s no, ‘Hey, here we go.’ You’re getting the best vertical passing team in the league right now,'' coach Doug Marrone said. ''It’s going to be a great challenge. I have a ton of respect for what Kansas City does vertically and in the passing game. It’s going to be a good point. Those guys, if they play really well, let’s not get crazy. If they play poorly, hey, we’re going to figure out what we need to work on, and I think I look at that from all different positions."