After what may have been the most turbulent week in the franchise history, the Jacksonville Jaguars can now shift their focus back to football and the the next opponent, the San Diego Chargers. Norv Turner’s perennially disappointing team has lost six games in a row and appear as if they will again miss the playoffs, despite having one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. The Jaguars have plenty of issues as well, but this could be a winnable game for them and a good opportunity for interim head coach Mel Tucker to make a statement in his quest to win the job for the long term. The Chargers are still a star-studded team and will have the advantage of several mismatches against the Jaguars. Let’s see where the home team can make up ground and what matchups we should really be worrying about.
Here are some good news. Something is off with the Chargers this season. It’s a tradition, that they start slow, but They lose all of their games in November which very uncharacteristic. Philip Rivers despite still being one of the better QBs in the NFL, is leading the lead with 17 interceptions, and over or under throwing his (otherwise pretty dangerous) targets. Add to that, the Chargers offensive lineman are falling down like the Jaguars cornerbacks. LT Marcus McNeill and LG Kris Dielman are on IR. RG Louis Vasquez missed the last 2 games. Their backups also not immune to injury. G Scott Mruczkowski is on IR, Tyronn Greene also missed the last games. They started Brandyn Dombrowski at LT last week, but now he is listed as doubtful too, so Jeremy Mincey will face newly signed OT Jared Gaither, who played 10 games as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs this season. At guard they played Tony Moll (who the Jaguars signed in training camp, then cut him), and 6th round pick rookie Stephen Schilling. Although the Jaguars will most likely play without Aaron Kampman and Matt Roth, they should take advantage from this offensive life shuffle, and put pressure on Rivers and limit the Chargers running game. Ryan Matthews has a great game last week versus Denver(137 yard rushing) but other then the Broncos he is struggling. Most likely Terrance Knighton will return to the starting lineup, which last week just kept under 100 rushing yards Arian Foster and Ben Tate without him. If the Jaguars can pressure (and sack) Rivers, that could create 1 or 2 interceptions by the injury ravaged Jaguars secondary.
On offense the Jaguars best chance will be (surprise!) running the football. The Chargers run defense ranks 25th. The Denver Broncos ran over 200 rushing yards against them last week. In Week 10 Michael Bush had 157 rushing yards alone. This could be great news to the leading rusher of the AFC, Maurice Jones-Drew. And this time he can count for real backups too. Deji Karim is not a 2nd Rb, we all know that. Now with the coaching/roster changes this week, it seems, the Jaguars think too as well. They activated the other star (besides Cecil Shorts) of the pre season, RB DuJuan Harris, and based on infos from the practice field, FB Brock Bolen might get some carries. Harris is very similar to Karim, so he can be used as a pass catcher as well. Other could be, that the Chargers, just like the Jaguars are struggling covering TEs. That would be great, if the ’10 version of Marcedes Lewis could show up. But his ’11 version is struggling very, very badly. I still hope, he will have 1 or 2 great games in the remaining season. Even Chris Johnson is starting to look like the player we know in the recent weeks. I hope Marcedes can turn the page as well. Anyway, safe to say the Jaguars must address the tight end position in the off season, since they got close to 0 production from the position. That can be said to the Wr group, which felt the most the big changes throughout the wek. Their position coach, Johnny Cox was fired, Mike Sheppard (who had some success in the position in Cincinnati) took over there. Also GM Gene Smith sent a message to the WRs by cutting Jason Hill, that nobody is safe (except Mike Thomas) and then put Brian Robiskie on IR (and waived Mike Sims-Walker from it). Most likely Jarrett Dillard will be the other starting WR besides Thomas and Cecil Shorts will get much more playtime in the last 5 games. I wonder if Kassim Osgood will get some shot in these games at the position. Clearly this is an audition for the young receivers, and only 1 or 2 expected to stay next season from them (besides Thomas). It is clear, that the Jaguars draft most likely 2 wideouts in the upcoming draft and don’t rule out a high profile veteran FA (Reggie Wayne?) as well.
Now let’s see what worries me about this game. There are some match ups which are clearly favors the Chargers. The biggest is I think their WRs against the Jaguars CBs. In the last 3 weeks the Jaguars lose 3 starting corners. First Rashean Mathis, then Derek Cox, and finally 2 days ago William Middleton. Most likely the Jaguars starting Cbs will be Ashton Youboty who is just with the team in the last 3 weeks (and who finally ended the long streak of “no defensive TD scored” last week with the fumble-return touchdown). The other corner will be UDFA rookie Kevin Rutland who is on roster opening day. They must stop Vincent Jackson who has a really great season (825 receiving yards and 7 TDs), and Malcom Floyd who will most likely return on Monday after missing the last 4 games. Both of them (especially Jackson) representing huge challenge. Other then them there is the 3rd pick of this year, Vincent Brown, who is playing the best among teh Chargers rookies so far(before the draft I thought he should be drafted by the Jaguars. And so far the Chargers got a lot more production from him, then the Jaguars get from Rackely -drafted in the same round- and Cecil Shorts….). And if that’s not enough, there is TE Antonio Gates as well. Although it is not looking a big problem this season, TE coverage is still a huge weakness of the team, and Gates is still one of the best TE in the league . Not to mention that both RB can catch the ball, especially Mike Tolbert. Also keep your eye on FB Jacob Hester as well, he is one of the best, yet quite underrated players of the Chargers offense. Last week the Jaguars defense limited quite well the Texans receivers, but Matt Leinart and T. J Yates are not in the same category with Rivers (even if he has a bad year). The Chargers QB is always capable to make big plays and with these receivers against this Jaguars secondary that match up is pretty scary to me.
On offense the Jaguars battling with plenty of issues. Pass protection is one of them and last week the Jaguars offensive line (at least some players of it) I think reached their season low. Houston had 7 sacks, Connor Barwin alone had 4 (franchise record). I think it is time to give Cameron Bradfield a shot at RT, because Guy Whimper is really struggling. Guy Whimper also might get fewer snaps, and let’s see what Jason Spitz can do there. I say this because this staring offensive line played the last 6 games with the same 5 players, and I saw no improvement at RT(in opposite…) and growing pains at LG. Blaine Gabbert has plenty of problems, at least he deserves some better protection. The Chargers have quite good pass rushers in Shaun Philips, Travis LaBoy and Antwan Barnes (who leading the Chargers with 6 sacks). by the way this once again not the best game to let the Jaguars passing offense loose. Other then the Chargers pass rushers, there are plenty of threats. The Chargers secondary is full of playmakers starting with Eric Weddle, who has 5 interceptions so far. Quentin Jammer also playing really well. The other CB, Antoine Cason is playing okay. The only weak spot could be SS Steve Gregory, but based on how bad season Marcedes Lewis has, that is not so big advantage for the Jaguars. Also let’s not forget about their dominant NT, Antonio Garay, who maybe not theat good he was last year, but still represent a huge challenge for Brad Meester and Uche Nwaneri. On the other hand, the Chargers 1st round pick, DE Corey Liuget injured this week at practice and most likely not play. Veteran Tommie Harris could take over his spot. He and the other starting DE Vaughn Martin could be the target for the Jaguars rushing game. The two ILBs Takeo Spikes and Doald Butler are solid players, but often struggling vs. the run. I think even if they try to load the box against Maurice Jones-Drew, the Jaguars’ best offensive player could have a big game against them especially if (somehow…) the home team can take the lead early.
One more thing could be a problem for the Jaguars, and that is that we are in the month of December. This is the time when San Diego turning into a red hot team, which had 2 losses in the last few season combined. I’m not sure about this season though. Although they have still a shot mathematically to reach the division, this week rumors already started that head coach Norv Turner is on teh way out, and GM A. J. Smith can follow him. Also I guess there is a lot of frustration about that 6 game losing streak. If the Jaguars can took the lead early, some of the players might quit, especially those who have really nothing to play for (for example they have contract for next year). Meanwhile the jaguars will be fired up. They have a new interim head coach, who could be there for a long time. Also many of the players must know, that now the newly extend GM Gene Smith is in charge, and he can easily do with almost everybody, what he did with Jason Hill this week. All this week there are good news came from the practice field. The tempo was significantly changed, they even had a crisp practice front of ESPN’s crew. I think far to say that the Jaguars will be the more motivated team on Monday, despite they have no chance for the post season and they have nothing to play for except pride.
I take that last part back. They have a lot of things to play for on Monday night. They can play for the Weavers. Since the new owner Shadid Khan will not be there in Everbank Field (but he’ll be watching the game from his room in New York), the spotlight will be on the Wayne Weaver, who bring this franchise to the city 18 years ago. Although during his ownership the Jaguars was not always a success story, his team archived pretty great things. He’s footprint will be always on this team. Winning to last home game before the front of the national media would be a nice farewell gift. Then with a win(and with a great supporting home crowd) the Jaguars can sent a message to every member of the national media, who mocked the Jaguars during the week, who alread see this team in Los Angeles or London, that Jacksonville IS still a good NFL market, and no matter how hate they hate the fact that is a franchise in the city, they must live it for a long time. Note to those people- Do us a favor and check your facts about the Jaguars (and other teams) ticket sales situation and stop pretending that is just Jacksonville’s problem. They play for the new owner(especially those who will become free agents after the season), who will decide if he want to give you a big contract or not. And for Mel Tucker, who deserves a legitim shot as head coach for this team.
Although the Jaguars are in the situation, now that they are eliminated from the post season, that with every loss they are 1 step closer to a player like Morris Claiborne or Justin Blackmon, I hope on this Monday, they will come out and play as they did against the Ravens on Week 7 (and I’m of course not talking about the fumbles of Maurice Jones-Drew here). Then, despite every expectations, they played a really good game and upset one of the best teams in the NFL right now. The Chargers are still a talented and dangerous team, but against them, the Jaguars can once again relive those good experiences after the game. I hope once again the team will show it’s prettier face in the prime time lights, and on Monday it will start a bright new era in Jaguars history, and not just a 5 game intermission period.
Prediction: Jaguars 20 -Chargers 17