Going into Week 4, things couldn't be much worse for the Jacksonville Jaguars. They sit at 0-3 with all three losses being blow outs. They have been outscored by their opponents 119-44, including a 44-17 loss at home to the Indianapolis Colts, and both sides of the ball have been playing poorly.
Even with Bortles starting, this is going to be a tough game as the Chargers are 2-1 and coming off big wins against the Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills. The Jaguars need to play at their best if they are going to pull the upset on the West Coast. So let's take a look at the game plan for beating the Chargers.
Just as it was last week, the key will be good offensive line play. Last week was supposed to be the turnaround point for them in pass protection against the Colts' less-than-stellar pass rush. However, they let up four sacks and didn't give either quarterback much time to throw. This poses a significant problem against a pass rush led by Dwight Freeney, Corey Liuget and Melvin Ingram. If they can't give Bortles some protection, his first career start could be ugly.
One good thing that came from the loss against the Colts was that they finally started to find something in the run game. In the first two games of the season, the Jaguars running backs had 31 carries for 64 yards (2.1 yards per carry). Against the Colts, they significantly improved with 18 carries for 75 yards (4.2 YPC). Instead of relying solely on Toby Gerhart, they gave Denard Robinson his fair share of carries, and he did well in limited action, having eight carries for 33 yards (4.1 YPC).
Robinson gave the Jaguars a more dynamic presence on the edge as well as showing that he can be a legitimate change-of-pace back. He needs to keep getting snaps, something that will come easier if the Jaguars start playing with the lead instead of coming from behind. The run game will also be heavily relied upon this week so as to take the pressure off Bortles.
The biggest news in the passing game, other than Bortles, is the return of Cecil Shorts III. Shorts' return couldn't have come at a better time with the losses of both Marcedes Lewis and Marqise Lee. In his return, he managed only 35 yards on five catches but did notch a touchdown in the waning minutes of the game.
However, he is still playing the second-fiddle role in the offense. The player making a case for himself as the true No. 1 receiver is Allen Robinson.
For the second straight week, he has topped 75 yards. He and Bortles showed a surprisingly good rapport together on Sunday, despite the fact that they barely worked together over the summer.According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he has been their most reliable target over the past two games, having 11 receptions on 15 targets for 154 yards. They need to keep feeding him the ball as it seems he is on the verge of breaking out.
Keys to Success
- Protect Blake Bortles, allowing him time to get the ball to Allen Robinson.
- Keep giving Denard Robinson reps and take the pressure off Toby Gerhart.
The Jaguars defense has played abysmally this season, ranking dead last in the league in scoring and yards per game. The only positive for this defense is the fact that coming into this week they were ranked first in the league with 10 sacks. This is a stark improvement from last year when they had just 31. At this rate, they are on pace for 53 sacks on the season.
The pass rush should be able to continue its success this week in San Diego. The Chargers offensive line ranks as the second-worst unit in the league in total quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. They will need to bring their all this week to keep Philip Rivers from settling in a groove and picking apart their very suspect coverage.
The most glaring issue the Jaguars have is their coverage of tight ends. So far this year, they have given up 22 receptions for 283 yards and four touchdowns to opposing tight ends. Things don't look any better this week as they face the combination of Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green.
The biggest culprit in this has been Paul Posluszny. Known more for his tackling ability than his coverage ability, Pos has been picked on consistently in coverage, carrying a minus-2.6 grade, according to Pro Football Focus.
He isn't the only offender, as there are seven significant contributors on defense who have a negative pass coverage rating. This prompted head coach Gus Bradley to make some changes, benching free safety Winston Guy and Otto linebackers LaRoy Reynolds and Dekoda Watson in favor of Josh Evans and J.T. Thomas, respectively. These two hope to give a spark to the defense and plug up the holes in both the run game and passing game. If they can't, the Jaguars' hope of winning is all but gone.
The player who the Jaguars may need to rely on to shore up this issue against tight ends is rookie linebacker Telvin Smith. Smith has logged snaps at both the outside and middle linebacker positions and has spent most of his time in coverage (50 out of 82 snaps, according to PFF). He has played best in coverage when at the middle linebacker spot, allowing only four catches for 13 yards. His speed is his best asset and can counter the speed and athleticism this pair of tight ends bring. He is young and inexperienced but could be the saving grace for this defense if he gets more snaps.
Keys to Success
- Put pressure on Philip Rivers and throw off his rhythm.
- Shore up the coverage, especially on tight ends.
All in all, this is not looking like the week the Jaguars will snap their losing streak. The offensive line and secondary have been playing too inconsistently, allowing games to get out of hand. The Chargers are a good team with a lot of momentum behind them. The most important thing in this game is making sure Bortles stays healthy. If he gets injured in his first start, it could send this team in a downward spiral they may never recover from this season.