Chargers vs. Jaguars: Breaking Down Jacksonville's Game Plan

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Chargers vs. Jaguars: Breaking Down Jacksonville's Game Plan
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Week 7's Chargers vs. Jaguars matchup seems like a homecoming game for Jacksonville. The Jaguars haven't played at EverBank Field since their Week 4 loss to Indianapolis, and their next game in Jacksonville after Week 7 doesn't take place until Week 11 against Arizona, almost a full month from Sunday.

The Jaguars' jerseys will be a color other than white for the first time in 2013, as we will get our first look at their teal alternates this week. Hopefully they will bring better luck for Jacksonville than their white tops, which are winless through six contests.

San Diego is a fairly surprising 3-3 and enters Week 7 coming off an impressive home win against the Indianapolis Colts. Quarterback Philip Rivers appears to have returned to near-elite status; he is third in the NFL in passing yardage with 1,847, fourth in yards per attempt with an average of 8.28, second in completion percentage at 72.6 percent and tied for second in touchdown passes with 14.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

With Rivers carrying the offense, the Chargers are averaging 24 points per game and look like a playoff contender. Going into the season, many thought the Chargers would struggle to move the ball on offense and have trouble reaching the .500 mark, but they have exceeded expectations so far under new head coach Mike McCoy.

Jacksonville enters Week 7 coming off what Bleacher Report NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller describes as a "moral victory." The Jaguars were the largest underdog in sports betting history, clocking in at a whopping -28 on some betting sites. The Broncos, meanwhile, entered the game averaging 46 points per game and had scored 37 or more points against every opponent they had faced. It was supposed to be a blowout of massive proportions.

Head coach Gus Bradley clearly had the Jaguars hyped up to play the Broncos, and in the first half they looked like they belonged on the same field as the supposedly unstoppable Denver offense. Jacksonville held Denver to 14 first-half points, and seven of those came after a stupid penalty by Andre Branch, who gave the Broncos an automatic first down after they had failed to convert on third down. The Jaguars entered the half trailing by only two points (14-12), to the shock of many.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Though the Broncos took off in the second half and outscored Jacksonville 21-7, the Jaguars showed a lot of mettle. Justin Blackmon was nearly unstoppable, catching 14 passes for 190 yards on 20 targets. The Jacksonville defense was in Peyton Manning's face early and often, forcing him to get rid of the ball before he was ready. It was an impressive performance by a team that wasn't even expected to be competitive, and it was, as Matt said, a "moral victory" for Jacksonville.

There aren't many games on the Jaguars' schedule most would consider "winnable." However, this Week 7 contest against the Chargers is definitely one of them.

San Diego is playing on short rest after their Week 6 appearance on Monday Night Football. In addition to the quick turnaround, the Chargers will also be flying cross-country, which, as a West Coast team traveling east for a 1:00 p.m. game, puts them at a significant disadvantage. If the Jaguars are going to win any games in 2013, their matchup against the Chargers seems like a contender for one of those victories.

To learn more about San Diego's strengths and weaknesses, I consulted Bleacher Report's AFC West Lead Writer Chris Hansen, who was extremely helpful last week in my attempt to break down the Jaguars' game plan against Denver. I asked Chris the most effective way to score points against the Chargers and the best way to stop their offense. Let's examine those questions in detail.

 

When the Jaguars have the ball

According to Chris, scoring against the Chargers isn't very difficult, and the numbers back that up. San Diego is in the middle of the pack in terms of scoring defense, allowing 23 points per game.

The traditional stats are more generous than the advanced statistics, however: The Chargers rank dead last in Football Outsiders' DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), a stat that compares every play "to a league-average baseline based on situation." You can learn more about DVOA here, and I highly encourage you to do so.

2013 San Diego Chargers Defensive DVOA Rankings
Pts Allowed/Gm Rush Def. DVOA Pass Def. DVOA Overall Def. DVOA
Total 23.0 5.5% 30.2% 20.0%
Rank 17th 29th 29th 32nd

Football Outsiders

As you can see from the chart, not only do the Chargers check in last in overall defensive DVOA; they also rank 29th in both rush-defense DVOA and pass-defense DVOA. Their defense is definitely beatable.

Per Chris, the Chargers' defense is best attacked by spreading them out and attacking their secondary via the pass. They are especially weak when their nickel or dime packages are on the field and their linebackers are forced into coverage.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Former Jaguar Derek Cox mans one starting corner slot, with Shareece Wright on the other side. With Cecil Shorts a big question mark health-wise after landing hard on his shoulder last week, Justin Blackmon will be the weapon on which the Chargers' defense keys.

Cox is better in press-man coverage than zone, and I expect the Chargers to try to match Cox up with Blackmon often to jam him off the line of scrimmage and disrupt his routes. Jacksonville should counter this by moving Blackmon around before the snap, whether it's lining him up on the opposite side of the field as Cox, putting him in motion or having him line up off the line of scrimmage in the slot, where he was extremely dangerous against Denver.

With Shorts a question mark and Ace Sanders nursing a concussion, the Jaguars' multiple-receiver package will likely include Blackmon, Mike Brown and Stephen Williams. In order to prevent the Chargers from doubling Blackmon on every play, the other Jacksonville pass-catchers will have to make plays.

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterback Chad Henne threw for over 300 yards against the Broncos, and the Chargers' pass defense grades out worse than Denver's, according to Football Outsiders. If the offensive line, including new starting tackles Cameron Bradfield and Austin Pasztor, can keep Henne upright, the Jaguars should be able to throw for 300-plus yards again and should be able to put up points against San Diego.

With Justin Blackmon in the lineup, the Jaguars have averaged 19.5 points per game as opposed to 7.75 points per game without him. If they attack the Chargers' defense via the air, they should be able to exceed both numbers, and scoring 20 or more points for the first time in 2013 will definitely give them a chance to win.

 

When the Chargers have the ball

Stopping the Chargers is a lot harder than scoring on them. San Diego is tied with New Orleans for the fifth-most yards per game with 397.7 and also average the fifth-most passing yards per game with 297.2.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

In terms of Offensive DVOA, the Chargers rank even higher. Football Outsiders ranks San Diego as the fourth-best offense in the NFL and the second-best passing game in terms of DVOA.

San Diego's running game isn't nearly as effective as their aerial attack, ranking 19th in the league with an average of 100.5 rushing yards per game. The passing game is the most dangerous part of the Chargers' offense.

According to Chris, the key to stopping the San Diego offense is to take away the short passing game, because quarterback Philip Rivers likes to get rid of the ball quickly. Rivers ranks second in the NFL in ESPN's Total QBR statistic, which was created to measure a quarterback's performance in terms of win probability, expected points, opposing defense and other factors (learn how Total QBR is calculated here).

One of the reasons Rivers is rated above notable names like Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers in Total QBR is his efficiency. His 72.6-percent completion percentage is second in the league, and he's only thrown five interceptions in 223 pass attempts. So far, he's having the best season of his career under McCoy.

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Chris indicated the Chargers are especially difficult to stop on third downs, due to Rivers' propensity to find tight end Antonio Gates in the middle of the field and running back Danny Woodhead out of the backfield. The numbers back that statement up: San Diego has converted 36 of 75 third downs, good for a conversion rate of 48 percent and the third-highest conversion rate in the league.

Woodhead leads all NFL running backs in receptions with 36, and Gates' 36 catches rank him third among NFL tight ends. San Diego's creative use of these two players gives them an advantage, especially their use of Woodhead, who is small enough to disappear in traffic and quick enough to make defenders miss.

San Diego's Creative Offensive Weapons
Total QBR NFL Rank Off. DVOA Pos. Rank
Philip Rivers 77.0 2nd 37.1% 3rd
Rec Pos. Rank Rec. 1st Downs Pos. Rank
Danny Woodhead 36 1st 13 3rd
Rec Pos. Rank Off. DVOA Pos. Rank
Antonio Gates 36 3rd 21.5% 4th

Football Outsiders/ESPN

The Jaguars' strategy against San Diego's rapid-fire passing game should be to attempt to shrink the field. By blitzing Rivers and keeping a defender on Woodhead, the Jaguars should be able to force Rivers to take more chances downfield, reducing his efficiency.

Chris suggestion was for opposing defenses to play Cover 2 against San Diego, because it gives cornerbacks the opportunity to drive on underneath passes and gives them safety help over the top. However, this doesn't really mesh with the Jaguars' defensive scheme.

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Gus Bradley prefers to play a similar style of defense to his units in Seattle, which played a lot of man coverage outside with a single high safety and the other safety closer to the line of scrimmage. With starting cornerback Dwayne Gratz expected back in the lineup this week and other starting corner Will Blackmon looking like a keeper, the Jaguars have the personnel to match up one-on-one with the Chargers' receivers.

Jacksonville should be able to play press-man coverage on the Chargers' wide receivers and assign one of their corners to Antonio Gates, who Chris states is best neutralized by man coverage. Alan Ball has experience at both cornerback and safety, and with Gratz back in the lineup he might be best utilized lining up against Gates.

2013 Jacksonville Jaguars Defensive Rankings
Points/Gm Total Yds/Gm Rush Yds/Gm Pass Yds/Gm
Average 33.0 384.3 152.5 231.8
Rank 31st 22nd 32nd 14th

ESPN.com

The Jaguars' run defense is dead last in the league, but their pass defense isn't bad at all, ranking 14th in the league with an average of 231.8 passing yards allowed per game. If Jacksonville can force Rivers to challenge them downfield and can account for Woodhead and Gates, it should be able to limit San Diego's offense to a point total closer to their season low of 17 than their season high of 33.

 

Final Thoughts

Will the Jaguars beat the San Diego Chargers this week?

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This game is absolutely winnable for Jacksonville. San Diego faces a tough travel schedule and a short week of rest, while the Jaguars return home to a crowd that should be energized after watching last week's valiant effort on the road.

Though my personal prediction is that the Jaguars will still fall to San Diego, this should be a close game. "Tank for Teddy" is only a potential end result, but the Jaguars showed last week they will lay down for no team. Expect 100-percent effort from Jacksonville in this Week 7 matchup; I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Jaguars picked up their first win of 2013 this Sunday.

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