Last Wednesday we discussed how favorable a matchup Denver was for Jacksonville, and things pretty much worked out accordingly, as the Jags walked away from the showdown victorious, 24-17 (By the way, in that same conversation I predicted a 20-17 JVille victory. Not too far off, I’d say). And though Jacksonville won’t be so strategically fortunate this Sunday when it travels to San Diego, matchup advantages and reason for hope remain nonetheless.
Below, I consider what Jacksonville must do to defeat a quality Chargers squad looking for redemption, after falling to Kansas City on Monday night, I report on some off-the-field Jaguar news, and, of course, provide the masses with my weekly picks, against the spread. Without further ado:
KEYS TO WEEK 2:
On the surface, without the forthcoming detailed analysis, you have to like the Chargers in this Week 2 matchup. San Diego is the more talented team and playing at home, not to mention it’s coming off a crushing loss in Week 1 and no doubt looking for redemption. If you look a little deeper, you’ll probably consider the Chargers’ prolific starting quarterback, Philip Rivers, and then logically your thoughts will transition to Jacksonville’s less-than-mediocre secondary. And after that, deflated you might wonder, “Can the Jags really win this thing?” Well, let’s take a closer look.
Ball in Hand:
In discussing how to attack the Charger defense, we can start by pointing out the obvious: San Diego is strong when it comes to defending the pass. It’s secondary was solid last year and is off to a great start in 2010, holding Kansas City to just 62 yards through the air last Sunday.
But that’s all OK with Jacksonville, as the team has never made its desire to run the football a secret. That’s not to say Jacksonville can’t toss it around a little, or that it won’t at times attack the Chargers down the field. But there is no doubt that the Jaguars run to throw, which isn’t all that bad THIS Sunday when you consider San Diego’s biggest defensive weakness is containing the run. Simply put, the Chargers ranked 20th last year as a defensive unit against the run and currently sit at 27th in the league after giving up 135 rushing yards to the Chiefs in Week 1. Oh, and this week, San Diego is up against a noticeably stronger Jacksonville ground attack.
It’s not saying much, and probably will seldom change from week to week, but Jacksonville’s offensive game plan should and will be to control the ball via the run. As always, expect Maurice Jones-Drew to get the bulk of the carries, but Greg Jones and Rashad Jennings should play roles too. If the Jags can rush the football effectively and with some consistency, things should open up down the field for wideouts Mike Sims-Walker and Mike Thomas, and for tight end Marcedes Lewis. San Diego’s success in the secondary is as much about scheme as it as about talent, and if an effective Jacksonville running game can slow down a usually productive Charger pass rush, David Garrard should have the time he needs to find his main options with some space downfield. Just as last week, then, Jacksonville MUST run the ball, and run it well, to have any chance of winning this Sunday.
On the Defense:
As far as matchups are concerned, Jacksonville’s defense won’t be quite as well off this Sunday as will its offense. The offseason departure of future Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson sounds worse for San Diego then it actually is, and first round pick Ryan Mathews will prove to be the more reliable back this season, at this stage. Jacksonville, however, looked awfully strong against the run in Week 1 and should at least hold its own against the Charger ground attack.
Rivers struggled on the road last week and, at least in some way, is bothered by the absence of wideout Vincent Jackson. Still, though, the seventh-year pro is one of the toughest matchups around and will be all the more motivated after his team’s 0-1 start. Despite my hatred for sounding like a broken record, I must then acknowledge Jacksonville’s consistently poor pass defense, and, in my opinion, its matchup with the Charger passing attack will be the game’s most pivotal. There’s essentially a strength-weakness dynamic here, and, if not careful, there’s the potential for the Jaguars to get killed through the air.
Last weak, in victory, Jacksonville was stout against the run and played bend-but-don’t-break pass defense. This Sunday, the Jaguar defense faces a much stiffer challenge both on the ground and through the air, but staying afloat against a prolific and motivated Charger aerial assault must be its primary concern.
When it’s all Said and Done:
San Diego’s Monday night loss to Kansas City did Jacksonville no favors. That’s not to say a 1-0 Chargers team wouldn’t be motivated this Sunday, and San Diego is notorious for getting off to slow starts. But the loss on national television hurt nonetheless, and it ensures that Jacksonville will face a completely focused opponent this Sunday.
The Jaguar rushing attack matches up favorably against an average San Diego rush defense, and I expect the Jaguar defensive front seven to contain the Charger ground game. In the end, though, the Chargers will exploit Jacksonville through the air in a way the Jags won’t return the favor on the ground. San Diego’s special teams were vulnerable last week, but it’s hard to say they will make the same mistakes again, while Jacksonville’s inability to limit Rivers and company down the field will be the difference in the end.
Prediction: 27-20, San Diego
NEWS AND NOTES:
In the name of quick team updates, I should acknowledge that starting linebacker Daryl Smith was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week after contributing 11 tackles, a forced fumble, one interception, a pass breakup, and a quarterback rush in last Sunday’s win over Denver. It was the first time Smith received the award in his seven-year career.
In team roster news, the Jaguars recently signed first-year receiver John Matthews to the active roster and placed second-year wideout Jarrett Dillard on the injured reserve with a foot injury.
Matthews, 6-0, 200 pounds, spent training camp with the Jaguars before he was waived during final cuts. He finished the preseason with eight receptions – the most among the club’s wide receivers – for 83 yards and a team-leading two receiving touchdowns.
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!).
Last week, I went 2-1, but was highly unfortunate in losing my Cleveland pick, getting 1.5 pts against the Bucs. Tampa wideout Mike Williams had an amazing, but incredibly fluky third-quarter touchdown catch that more than made up the difference in my loss, as Tampa won late, 17-14.
But all must go on, so here are my three LOCKS in Week 2:
CLEVELAND vs. Kansas City, - 1.5: Cleveland lost in unfortunate fashion last week, and I still think it is playing relatively decent football. The Dogs are at home and get a Kansas City team I consider average on both sides of the ball, and fortunate to be 1-0. Oh, and it’s awfully hard for a team to win by one or less, so we’ve essentially got a pick’em on our hands, and boy do I love a good pick’em.
CAROLINA vs. Tampa Bay, - 2: Again, Tampa was lucky to get a home win against Cleveland last week and I expect the Panther offense to move the ball quite easily against a weak Buccaneer defense. And, once more, it’s hard for a team to win by 2 or less.
HOUSTON at Washington, - 2.5: Washington was awfully impressive in a Week 1 win over Dallas, but I also think it played a bit over its head. And perhaps no team was more impressive than Houston in the season’s opening week. The Texans are playing solid defense and feature a devastating ground attack in addition to possessing great potential to attack defenses through the air. In other words, I’m taking Houston and giving the 2.5 points for reasons more about my like for the Texans than for any negative opinions I have of the ‘Skins.
That’s all I’ve got for now, but be sure to check back here as soon as Sunday rolls around. Until then, be good and keep reading.
Janovitz can be reached at Scott.Janovitz@gmail.com
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Written by Scott Janovitz