Jacksonville’s Yannick Ngakoue is one of the absolute best young pass rushers in the NFL, and at age 24 he can only get better as he enters his fourth season. He wants a new contract from the Jaguars and he clearly deserves it with his quality of play in his first three years in the league.
For his career, Ngakoue has put up 29.5 sacks, 70 QB hits, and 29 tackles for loss in 48 career games, an extremely impressive mark for a pass rusher that hasn’t even played a game in his age 24 season yet!
The jarring part, however, has been how the fellow AFC South rival Titans have played against him.
Since 2016 the Jaguars are 1-5 against the Titans. In those 6 games Ngakoue has put up 1 sack, 3 QB hits, and 2 tackles for loss. That’s 0.17 sacks per game, 0.5 QB hits per game, and 0.33 TFL per game.
In his other 42 games, Ngakoue has posted 28.5 sacks, 67 QB hits, and 27 tackles for loss. That’s 0.68 sacks per game, 1.60 QB hits per game, and 0.64 TFL per game.
The craziest part is Ngakoue has never sacked Marcus Mariota. Not once. His only sack against the Titans came against Matt Cassel in Week 16 of the 2016 season, and that was because Mariota was out for the rest of the season due to a fractured fibula.
In comparison, let’s check out what Ngakoue has done against the Colts and Texans so we can get a firm grasp of his career against the AFC South.
Colts: 6 games, 5.5 sacks, 13 QB hits, 6 TFL, 0.92 sacks per game, 2.17 QB hits per game, 1 TFL per game
Texans: 6 games, 3.5 sacks, 11 QB hits, 2 TFL, 0.58 sacks per game, 1.83 QB hits per game, 0.33 TFL per game
Titans: 6 games, 1.0 sacks, 3 QB hits, 2 TFL, 0.17 sacks per game, 0.50 QB hits per game, 0.33 TFL per game.
Yeah, that’s absolutely insane. Hell, Ngakoue had as many QB hits last season against the Colts—who have one of the best offensive lines in the league—in two games (3) as he’s had against the Titans in six!
The difference in splits is amazing, but it does make sense. Ngakoue has regularly faced off against Taylor Lewan, one of the best left tackles in the game, so it’s not completely bizarre to see why his per game production would fall. Even so, that it’s fallen as far as it has is both astounding and a testament to Lewan’s quality, or at least in these matchups.
Let me put it this way: Lewan has never allowed a sack while facing Ngakoue. He’s obviously allowed some pressures here and there, but no sacks.
But don’t just take my word for it, see for yourself as we look at a few matchups between Taylor Lewan and Yannick Ngakoue.
Obviously Lewan and Ngakoue are squaring off on the far left of the screen. This came in Ngakoue’s debut against the Titans (as in his first game against Tennessee, not his first game in general) on Thursday Night Football back in 2016.
Ngakoue attempts a club chop on Lewan, but the left tackle’s efforts prevent his pass rushing foe from getting a good angle on Mariota, as the quarterback fires a quick strike to Rishard Matthews for the 4-yard score.
The results of this play are the same, but this time Lewan gets extra help from Derrick Henry, also in his rookie season. Mariota’s pass falls incomplete, but he’s given a clean pocket from Lewan and Henry’s blocking.
This is a hell of a stand by Lewan. Ngakoue tries an inside stab as his three-step counter, but the left tackle prevents him from getting outside leverage. Lewan’s footwork also keeps him sturdy, as even when Ngakoue has a better shot at hitting Mariota he’s still overwhelmed. Just an excellent rep from the three-time Pro Bowl tackle.
Initially Lewan looks like he should be flagged with a false start, but upon closer inspection, he actually times the snap up perfectly. This slight edge allows him to contain Ngakoue just enough for Mariota to get this pass off. Pressure from Marcell Dareus still gets to the quarterback, but Lewan’s role at the very least prevents a big time hit.
This time Ngakoue gets some pressure on Mariota as he hurries him out of the pocket, but Lewan is at least able to contain him outside.
By the way, this play looks very familiar. Why is that?
Good times. Anyways, back to business.
On this rep, Lewan’s strong inside hands allows him to win this battle against Ngakoue. By this point it should be noted how strong #91 is as an edge rusher, so the level of balance and technique displayed by #77 should be commended.
Again Lewan gets some help on this play. This isn’t very informative but I figured Titans would like to see a Jaguar get shoved to the ground.
And in a table turning exchange, it is Ngakoue who beats Lewan on this snap, as he heavily pressures Mariota on this play fake off of zone blocking. Since Lewan isn’t designed to block in space, this is unintentional on his part, and we can see that since he’s trying to amend for his mistake and chases after Ngakoue in a last ditch effort to prevent him from pressuring the quarterback.
Now let’s return to Lewan slaying Ngakoue one on one one last time.
One more attempt at a counter chop is averted. Lewan’s quick first step gives him the edge over Ngakoue, and Mariota’s quick pass attempt sees a clean pocket and a completed pass as well.
So in conclusion, Yannick Ngakoue is a great young pass rusher, and as I previously stated he should only get better from here on out. The Titans appear to have his number, however. More specifically, Taylor Lewan has his number. Lewan’s work outside of facing Jacksonville has already been impressive, but his efforts in consistently shutting down one of the game’s bright young defensive linemen should be highlighted as some of the best if not the best work he’s ever done in his NFL career.
Granted, Ngakoue has managed to get a few pressures against Lewan, but for the most part Lewan has contained #91 and has had the edge whenever the two square off. Can that change in 2019 with Ngakoue’s progression? Possibly, but for now I think we can trust Lewan to stand his ground in this matchup more times than not.