The season gets off to a very quick start. Let’s pretend the Jaguars are victorious at home against the Denver Broncos. No time to celebrate, get on the plane and fly out to San Diego to face the Chargers in Qualcomm Stadium. Yes, the Jaguars once again face humiliation on another cursed West coast. That alone sounds pretty scary and as I look into this team, there is more reason to fear from this game. Let me explain why I think so.
I’m not going to lie. Just as last year against New England, I think this game must be considered a predictable loss for the Jaguars. I have a couple of reason to back that thought; but on a bright note I also found some weak points in the Chargers that maybe the Jaguars can use. As usual, I have a couple X-factors for this game as well. Also I think if we compare the two team’s offense against the defenses; the edge is clearly moving toward the QB’s and their offensive units. Now let’s see why I think this game will be a high scoring offense heavy match.
Let me start with the bad news. In this case the Chargers offense against the Jaguars defense. The main reason the Chargers have the edge here is simple: Philip Rivers. Although I’m not exactly a fan about how he act on the field when he is not throwing the ball, I’m must say- he is a franchise QB. The winner of FOUR AFC West titles in a row is not coincidence. This guy is a Top 5 QB and we know how elite QBs throw the ball against the Jaguars. He is durable and it is a very tough task to bring him to the ground. And he can make his receivers look better then they really are. Of course he has some elite targets like Antonio Gates, one of the top TEs of the game. He is even more dangerous for the Jaguars pass defense; which has a history of not performing well against top tight ends. And since the top WR of the Chargers Vincent Jackson is suspended for that game; he will most likely be Rivers Number One target. Sadly the absence of Jackson does not mean San Diego is not left without any good receivers. The talented; tall; and thick Malcom Floyd is one, the crisp route running possession receiver Josh Reed is another, and former 1stround pick Buster Davis is a third. All represent credible threats to the Jaguars secondary. Did I mention Darren Sproles; who can also catch the ball (especially in short yardage situations). Even their fullbacks(!) Jacob Hester and Mike Tolbert are very good pass catchers. So sadly without Jackson, Philip Rivers still has enough targets. And since I mentioned Sporles; let’s see the Chargers running backs. Now after all the years of San Diego meant LaDainian Tomlinson, the departure of LT has occurred and a new age started this year. Although there were signs that the Chargers would part ways with Sproles too; they brought back the talented multiple threat for one more year. And they traded up in a big way to get LT’s replacement- Ryan Matthews from Fresno State. Some say he is this draft class most complete RB; (yeah; even better then CJ Spiller). The Jaguars might benefit from the fact that he is a rookie; but don’t underestimate him. The Jaguars will face an offensive gun loaded with bullets.
The only place where the Jaguars defense might be able to do something is against the Chargers offensive line. Although in Kris Dielman they got a premium left guard; and last year 3rdround pick Luis Vasquez was very decent all year long in his rookie campaign; they have issues as well. Just as Vincent Jackson; left tackle Marcus McNeill is unhappy with his contract; and he is planning to hold out. That can be good news. Although if he plays, he plays really good. At center Nick Hardwick played just 3 games last year, and he is coming back from injury. The DTs can benefit from that. And I think against right guard Jeromey Clary, the Jaguars can do nice things; considering that he is just a guy. Only at the lines can I see some advantage for the Jaguars. Other then that, this match up is a big advantage for the Chargers. To win this game, the Jaguars might need more sacks in one game than they got all last year. But it is possible.
But I have good news too. I think if a good Jaguars offense shows up in San Diego; Jacksonville might have a shot at an upset. Why? Because quite frankly; the Chargers defense looks a like a mess! Let’s start with the fact that they most likely will start a 5th round rookie at nose tackle.Jamal Williams (as we wrote at the Denver article) left California for Colorado; so Cam Thomas can start against the Jaguars. That is what the doctor ordered for Brad Meester (if he wins the job for C). At the defensive end position the situation is not better either. Luis Castillo was a fast rising star couple of seasons ago, but ankle injuries ravaged his career so far. And the other ends (Jacques Cesaire and Travis Johnson) do not represent a big challenge either. This is a test for the Jaguars offensive line. They must dominate in this game; in that area. If they can’t do that; the Jaguars are in trouble and not just in this game. A brutally strong Eugene Monroe and the animal Eben Britton must come out and scare the hell out of these guys. Vince Manuwai can join in as well. We need a really strong and brutal offensive line.
And there is the outside linebacker situation. Just like Castillo; Shawn Merriman was a defender that caused nightmares to QBs and RBs. Looks like not anymore. Just like Castillo with his ankle; Merriman has been dealing with his knee lately. Chargers tried to address that problem drafting Larry English last year in the 1stround but so far he is way behind their expectations. Even Antwan Applewhite and Jyles Tucker performed better last year. The Jaguars must look to Shaun Phillips. He is a decent pas rusher; and very good against the run. At the inside linebacker position Stephen Cooper was beaten often especially in the second half of the season. His partner Brandon Siler is a young fast rising player though. But if we take the big picture this front 7 is nothing, not a very strong group at all. If the Jaguars can establish the running game, which they will, this is a winnable battle.