If Jacksonville wants to get a win before November, Sunday’s contest against the Bolts might be the team’s best opportunity (the Jaguars host San Francisco next week before a Week 9 bye). The Chargers must travel to the East Coast on a short week after playing in San Diego Monday night to face a team that has not played a home game in two weeks. Furthermore, the Jaguars are coming off their best performance of the year, so it is easy to see why some think Jacksonville can finally pick up a win.
The Jaguars held the high-flying Broncos to 14 first-half points and were the first team this season to hold Manning to under 300 yards passing. Quarterback Chad Henne finished with 303 passing yards, and Justin Blackmon caught 14 of 19 targets for 190 receiving yards—the second straight game he topped 100 yards receiving.
But Jacksonville allowed 21 second-half points, and Denver’s defense dominated the line of scrimmage.
San Diego played keep away from Andrew Luck and the Colts, holding on to the ball for 17 more minutes than Indianapolis. The Chargers run game, which was a sore spot for the team coming into the contest, was the deciding factor in the win as Ryan Mathews gained 102 yards of the team’s 147 rushing yards.
But enough about last week.
What will be the deciding matchups Sunday when Jacksonville hosts the Chargers?
Blackmon vs. Cox
Wide receiver Justin Blackmon has topped 100 yards receiving in two straight games. Those have been his only games of the 2013 season because he was suspended the first four weeks.
He is a big target at 6'1" and is effective at running short and deep routes, as well as routes over the middle in traffic, and beating single defenders. Blackmon makes a big difference for his team. In the four games without the wide receiver, Jacksonville averaged 7.75 points and 224 total yards per game. The past two, Jacksonville has averaged 19.5 points per game and 279 passing yards per game.
San Diego cornerback Derek Cox has struggled since joining the team in the offseason. The former Jaguar has allowed 24 receptions for 351 yards and three scores, according to Pro Football Focus Premium Stats.
Cox did end the Colts’ game with an interception, but it came off a high throw that still hit the receiver in the hands. Indianapolis receivers dropped four passes Monday night according to PFF, but they came at crucial times. It is not a good sign for the entire secondary when the best play against the pass entailed the receivers dropping passes.
The Chargers secondary cannot rely on Blackmon dropping passes, and Cox needs to raise his game to a higher level against his former team.
Pasztor/Bradfield vs. Reyes/Liuget
The entire Jacksonville offensive line is a mess, but the edge-blockers are particularly shaky.
Eugene Monroe was in the final year of his contract, so the team traded him to the Baltimore Ravens in order to get something now rather than gain nothing when he tests the free-agent market in the offseason. Rookie Luke Joeckel moved from right tackle to his natural position of left tackle to replace Monroe, but he broke his ankle in the first half of the first game he played on Jacksonville’s blindside.
Enter Austin Pasztor and Cameron Bradfield.
They are the starting right and left tackles, respectively. In two weeks the pair has allowed four quarterback hits and seven hurries.
San Diego's Kendall Reyes and Corey Liuget started the season slowly. In the first four games, the two defensive ends combined for a paltry one sack, one quarterback hit and eight quarterback hurries. In the past two games, the two have totaled one sack, four hits and eight hurries.
The best way to slow Blackmon is to have the defensive line, and specifically Reyes and Liuget, make the quarterback uneasy.
Marks vs. Clary
Jeromey Clary moved from tackle to guard for San Diego, so rookie D.J. Fluker could man the right side. Clary’s move has been OK—nothing fantastic but also not a glaringly horrible move. The Chargers would be wise to look for an upgrade in the offseason, but he is not the worst starting right guard in the league (according to PFF Premium Stats, that would be Cleveland’s Oniel Cousins).
Which matchup will have the biggest impact on the game?
Clary has allowed a sack, a hit and five quarterback hurries in five games (he missed the Dallas win due to an injured clavicle). Pass protection is the key to a Chargers victory because quarterback Philip Rivers is the motor that drives the offense. While Monday night’s running game was impressive, how Rivers goes, so goes San Diego.
Jacksonville defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks had a solid game last week. He was in Peyton Manning’s face, hurrying throws and generally making the quarterback uncomfortable in the pocket. While he only has one sack on the year, the former Auburn player leads all defensive tackles with eight quarterback hits according to PFF.
Clary clearly needs to make Marks a marked man in order for the Chargers offense to operate effectively.
Posluszny vs. Woodhead
Paul Posluszny had his first NFL touchdown last week when he intercepted Peyton Manning in the second quarter. He is eighth among linebackers with 54 total tackles. He is solid in pass coverage, allowing only 16 receptions on the 204 times he has dropped into coverage.
Danny Woodhead leads all NFL running backs with 36 receptions. He only averages 7.4 yards per reception, but the dump-offs and checkdowns to Woodhead loosen up the defense. Cornerbacks and safeties start to pay attention to No. 39 out of the backfield or in the slot instead of the wide receiver or tight end he is supposed to cover.
Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley likes to play man-to-man coverage on defense, so do not be surprised if Posluszny is assigned Woodhead throughout the game.
If the Jaguars are forced to change to zone (they played Cover 2 against the Broncos), that means Antonio Gates could be open in the middle of the field. Gates is a master at finding the open spot in linebacker coverage. Indianapolis’ game plan was to jam the tight end at the line of scrimmage and cause Gates issues in getting an easy release.
The two-headed attack of Woodhead and Gates is tough enough to defend, but add rookie Keenan Allen into the mix, and it gets downright impossible. Allen has 20 receptions for 302 yards and two touchdowns over the past three games.
But the matchup that will open up the entire passing attack for San Diego is the running back against the linebacker: Woodhead against Posluszny.