Opposition Research: This Jaguars Team Is Not The Doormat of Years Past

The Chargers return from their bye week to head southeast to take on the ascendant Jacksonville Jaguars. They're getting healthier, with a couple key pieces set to return. Sunday will mark the return of linebacker Denzel Perryman, a two-down thumper inside who will help with the run defense. That help will be much needed as the Jaguars like to run just about as much as any team in the league. Starting right tackle Joe Barksdale also seems likely to return.

 As for the Jaguars, here's what the Chargers can expect on both sides of the ball:


The story of this Jaguars team is their defense. It's the reason they've gone from the bottom of the AFC south last year to a 5-3 team that's the favorite to win a division title this year. The defense as a whole is very strong and the pass defense is elite.

They've given up by far the fewest passing yards in the league, nearly 200 fewer than the next closest team. They're allowing just 5.8 yards per pass attempt, also best in the league. They also lead the league in sacks with 35 and are fourth in interceptions with 10. To put it simply, they've been making opposing quarterback's lives miserable all season long.

They have two shutdown corners in Jalen Ramsey, their top pick from last year's draft, and A.J. Bouye, who they signed in free agency from the Texans. They also signed defensive end Calais Campbell away from the Cardinals this past March an he's been wreaking havoc as a pass-rusher.

Even though Philip Rivers has plenty of experience going up against elite pass defenses, playing the Broncos twice a year, it's still a very tough matchup for him. The Jaguars have made many of the league's top quarterbacks look abysmal, including picking off Ben Roethlisberger five times earlier this year. And they're coming off  a 23-7 beatdown of the Bengals in which they held Andy Dalton to just 136 passing yards.

The Chargers aren't going to beat this defense vertically, but the one area they struggle is sometimes defending the run. They're giving up 4.9 yards per carry, the second worst in the league. However, their run defense was recently bolstered by the acquisition of Marcell Dareus who they acquired in a trade with the Bills. Dareus had effort issues in Buffalo but has a strong connection with Jaguars coach Doug Marrone and plays harder for him. In just twelve snaps last week in his Jacksonville debut, he had three run stuffs. He's certain to see more snaps after having more time in the system and is a huge obstacle in the running game.

The Chargers will likely come out with a heavy dose of Melvin Gordon to try and exploit their run defense. He should be fully healthy coming out of the bye and if he can get things going the Chargers should have a very good shot at victory. It's not good when you get behind on Jacksonville and have to play catchup throwing the ball a lot, so a fast start is essential, which is unfortunately something the Chargers have struggled with all year.


The Jaguars want to run the ball as much as possible and they don't try keeping it a secret. They've attempted the second most running plays in the league and still have the second most yards per carry with a healthy 4.8.

They used the sixth overall pick this year on Leonard Fournette and are heavily committed to the run game. All this has been done in an effort to hide their quarterback, Blake Bortles. Bortles has been a bit better this year than the absolute train wreck he was last year, mostly because of the improved running game masking his ineffectiveness. He's also gotten pretty lucky, just last week in Cincinnati he had multiple dropped interceptions.

Even with the strong ground game, he's still not very good, and the more Bortles is forced to throw the ball the worse the Jaguars offense looks. In the Jaguars five wins, Bortles has averaged just 26 pass attempts per game. In their three losses, he's averaged 35 pass attempts. The key to beating the Jaguars is to shutdown Fournette and make Bortles beat you.

Unfortunately for the Chargers, run defense is an area in which they've struggled. Perryman should help, and how effective he is in his first game back is certainly one of the keys to the game. Bortles has been OK, but hasn't exactly faced a murderer's row of defenses and the only team he's thrown for more than 260 yards against is the Colts. The only other really stellar secondary he's faced was Pittsburgh's, and he threw for just 95 yards in that game. The Chargers are certainly the toughest pass-rush he's faced. If Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram can get in his face, he's almost certain to commit a turnover or two. The Jaguars offensive line is a bit banged up, making the matchup for Bosa and Ingram even more appealing.

Another interesting storyline to watch is that Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley knows Bortles well. He spent the past four seasons as the Jaguars' head coach, so he certainly knows what they want to do. He knows Bortles' tendencies and weaknesses better than anyone, so what he schemes up will be interesting to watch.

In addition to Bradley, starting linebacker Hayes Pullard will also be making his return to Jacksonville. He was with the Jaguars for the past two seasons before he was waived at final cuts this year and signed by the Chargers. He should be able to provide the Chargers coaching staff with some valuable information.

If they can avoid getting shredded by Fournette, and force Bortles to throw as much as possible, the Chargers defense will most likely have a very good day.

THE BOTTOM LINE: It's a tough matchup. This year's Jaguars team is not the doormat that the Chargers have faced several times over the past few years. Rivers will need to take what the defense gives him and avoid making costly mistakes by trying to force the ball downfield. If he can manufacture just a few scoring drives, the defense should play well enough to get a win.


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