Jacksonville ended its preseason slate last Thursday with yet another less-than-rousing performance, falling to Atlanta, 13-9. The team’s rushing woes continued, even if most of the first stringers sat, and the rest of the offense wasn’t much better. Jacksonville, then, was no doubt happy to see its preseason end, as were we all.
We can’t forgot how bad the team looked in four exhibition games – as much as we may want to – but the slate is now wiped clean with regular season football upon us. So, with the mediocre Broncos heading to JVille in the Jaguars’ season and home opener this Sunday, we immediately turn our attention to Week 1 Keys to the Game, and what the Jags must accomplish to get the W. Below, I consider that and more.
KEYS TO WEEK 1:
While I’m far from high on Jacksonville at this point, I actually believe the team has a pretty good chance to pick up a win this Sunday and start the season off in a positive manner. The game of football is about matchups, and Jacksonville happens to have some noticeable advantages when Denver’s its opponent. And, this Sunday, it is.
Ball in Hand:
On offense, it seems obvious that the Jags will tray to attack Denver’s weakness, and there’s no question that’s its run defense. With Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins roaming the secondary, the Broncos are incredibly stingy through the air, ranking third in the league last year in that respect. The loss of injured linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who led the NFL in sacks a year ago with 17, certainly had something to do with that production, but Jacksonville would still be wise to attack the 26th-ranked rush defense from 2009.
We all know about Jacksonville’s pre-season struggles running the football, and I alluded to as much above, but that was without a healthy Maurice Jones-Drew and past success should lead us to believe the Jaguars will be productive on the ground once again in 2010.
Jacksonville’s wideouts matchup poorly with Denver’s secondary, and Jones-Drew is by far the team’s most dynamic weapon. Getting him the ball and the rushing game going, then, will be key should the Jaguars get a win this Sunday.
On the Defense:
Offensively, Denver is best when it’s rushing the football, getting Knowshon Moreno and Correll Buckhalter the ball early and often. Fortunately, if Jacksonville has a strength on defense – and I’m not sure that it does – it’s stopping the run with first-round draft pick Tyson Alualu and the big Terrance Knighton clogging up the middle.
It’s well publicized how bad the Jaguars have been in the secondary of late, so it’s good that Denver ranked 20th in the league last year in passing offense and is now without the help of elite wideout Brandon Marshall, who the team traded to Miami in the offseason. As such, the Jacksonville defense will put the team in a good position to win on Sunday if it can limit the Broncos’ ground attack.
When it’s all Said and Done:
This Sunday’s game should perfectly illustrate the importance of matchups in football, as the middle-of-the-pack Jaguars find themselves with advantages on both sides of the ball. In fact, Jacksonville’s defensive weakness, its pass defense, happens to coincide with Denver’s offensive weakness, its passing attack. On the other side of the ball, Jacksonville has been traditionally strong rushing the football while Denver has been a sieve defending backs up the middle.
In other words, the Jaguars would be hard pressed to find an NFL team they match up better against than Denver and, with home field advantage, I truly like Jacksonville’s chances of getting a win this Sunday. Though the Broncos will at times no doubt try to exploit a porous Jaguar secondary, both teams will focus on controlling the game on the ground. To win, then, Jacksonville must be the victor in the all-important rushing battle, on both offense and defense. I’m betting it will, to a degree.
Prediction: 20-17, Jacksonville
NEWS AND NOTES:
If you haven’t already heard, the Jags made some interesting cuts and a relatively significant trade over the weekend. Starting with the trade, the team moved 2007 first round draft pick Reggie Nelson, sending the former Florida safety to Cincinnati in return for fourth-year corner David Jones.
On the surface, it was good of the team to get something for nothing, which is basically what Nelson’s value had become in Jacksonville over the last three years. But that sentiment shouldn’t obscure the fact that the trade means the team officially missed on yet another first-round draft pick, something you absolutely can’t do if you have hopes of building a quality NFL football team.
Marvin Lewis has publicly stated he still likes Reggie’s potential, and Jack Del-Rio better hope, for his job’s sake, the former can’t do what he failed to accomplish: make Nelson into a productive NFL starter.
As for Jones, whom Jacksonville got in return, the Wingate product missed four games and lost playing time in Cincinnati in 2009 after making seven starts in 2008. He is a big corner at 6-0, 196 pounds and has a nice combination of size and speed.
In the end, though, the departed Nelson was a safety as was the recently released Gerald Alexander, so I’m not so sure how trading for another cornerback made the most sense. The team is painfully thin at safety, with only three on roster – Sean Considine, Courtney Greene, and Anthony Smith – and is largely devoid of talent there as well. I’m actually a big fan of Smith, but unfortunately have zero confidence in either of the other two guys. Look for the team to do at least something here in the coming weeks.
Finally, Alexander was not the only big name among the 21 waived last Sunday. Ernest Wilford’s time at tight end in Jacksonville is up, as is forever underachiever Troy Williamson’s. Can’t say I’m surprised in Williamson’s case. In fact, I all but predicted his failure three weeks ago: “Some are still intrigued by the speed and big-play threat Troy Williamson provides,” I wrote, “but call me a cynic for having absolutely no confidence in a guy that has done next to nothing in five NFL seasons.”
There ya have it (Guts!).
In off-the-field Jags news, for those going to the game, it’s worth reporting that the team has designated this Sunday “Teal Sunday”, and fans are encouraged to wear the color to the game. In conjunction, the Jaguars are selling limited edition “We Are Jaguars” teal t-shirts for $5.
The shirts are available at Jacksonville area Football Fanatics and Sports Mania stores and will also be on sale at the West Touchdown Club merchandise store at EverBank Field on Friday, September 10 between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Finally, fans are also being invited to check out Teal Town, the team’s newest pre-game entertainment “space”, prior to this Sunday’s game.
Teal Town, presented by PRI productions, is a fully interactive pre-game tailgate area, which provides free entry to all fans and opens three hours prior to each home game kickoff. Teal Town is located off Gator Bowl Boulevard, on the south side of EverBank Field, just south of the Pepsi Plaza.
BEATING THE SPREAD:
Just for kicks, each week I will pick against the spread in my three favorite games, using the opening lines from the USA Today Newspaper as my reference. Feel free to do the same; we can even compete, if you don’t mind losing (Zing!).
Without further ado, my locks:
CLEVELAND at Tampa, + 1.5: The Browns reeled off four straight wins to end last season, and I love the Mike Holmgren influence in 2010. None of that, however, matters as much as one simple fact: the Yucs are awful.
BALTIMORE at New York, Jets, + 3: I think the Jets have a chance to be a really good football team this year; they are loaded with talent, and will only improve when Santonio Holmes returns from suspension. But I also have a good feeling quarterback Mark Sanchez won’t be ready for a tough Raven defense when next Monday rolls around, and the Baltimore offense is deadlier than ever with the addition of Anquan Boldin. In fact, I’m not sure Baltimore isn’t the best team in the AFC. As such, I like the Ravens to win outright, and love getting three points.
DETROIT at Chicago, + 7: For many reasons, I have no faith the Jay Cutler experiment will ever be a success, and, save Urlacher and Peppers, I don’t think Chicago is great anywhere else on the field, either. Meanwhile, Detroit added A LOT of talent in the offseason, and big plays from rookie running back Jahvid Best will get the Lions their first Week-1 win IN YEARS.
That’s all for now. Until Sunday, be good and keep reading.
Janovitz can be reached at Scott.Janovitz@gamil.com
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Written by Scott Janovitz