When we thought the season couldn’t get any worse, the overtime loss in Oakland showed us there is still a way to go south. The Jaguars lost several key players (including their most important player, Maurice Jones-Drew) and the game in a heartbreaking fashion. The team now has a 1-5 record, and must travel to Lambeau Field to face the red hot Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. To say the least the odds are against Jacksonville (in fact, the Jaguars are 15.5 point underdogs in Vegas. Another sad franchise record). So is there any chance that for a
surprise miracle victory? Let’s dig deeper.
Maybe the only good news for the Jaguars is Blaine Gabbert will start at QB. After he tore his labrum in his non throwing shoulder against Oakland, it looked like the 2nd year signal caller would also miss some time. This was bad news, especially as we all saw how much of a non factor Chad Henne was in the 2nd half against the Raiders. Gabbert practiced fully all 3 days, but there was no contact in those practices. He will be hit on Sunday though since the Packers have 24 sacks this season. OLB Clay Matthews alone has 9 sacks (second in the league after JJ Watt), 4 more than the entire Jaguars sack total… Matthews will face Eugene Monroe most of the time. The former 1st round pick can earn a couple hundred thousand dollars for his upcoming contract if continues playing at the highest level. But the rest of the offensive line must step up as well. According to Pro Football Focus the Jaguars are next to last in offensive line rankings. Besides Matthews the Packers have a few good players in the front seven staring with returning NT B. J. Raji and rookie DE Jerel Worthy. Protecting Gabbert because of his shoulder injury is a bigger priority. Sadly neither Maurice Jones-Drew nor Montell Owens will be able to help pass block because they are both out.
If the Jaguars can give time to their QB, he might have a good day passing. The injury bug is hurting the Packers too on both sides of the ball. The Packers 1st round pick, OLB Nick Perry is ruled out and DC Dom Capers can count out 2 key players in the secondary: FS Charles Woodson and CB Sam Shields. the Jaguars passing game might take advantage of it. Still only 2 interceptions will be missed with the those great players. Rookie CB Casey Hawvard already has 4 picks, and he will start with Shields out. Tramon Williams also has 2. Still the two safeties M.D. Jennings and Morgan Burnett could be a mismatch for Marcedes Lewis or Rashad Jennings (he will be a rushing and pass catching threat). At the receiver position Laurent Robinson could return to the field in a limited role, so Bob Bratkowski can count on all his receivers. Still I expect Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon to be the starters again. Shorts is the go-to guy for Gabbert, and that’s a nice development. However it is high time for Justin Blackmon to have a breakout game. I’m also looking forward to see if the success of the preseason offense with Jennings as the feature back can be repeated. His backups will be Jalen Parmele and Keith Toston. Since Toston was a very effective back in the preseason I hope he gets 4-5 carries too. The main thing is the Jaguars must be productive on offense because they cannot expect, especially with the many injuries on defense to have any slight chance to win with scoring only 10-15 points. Oh and did I mention that a guy called Aaron Rodgers will be the other team’s QB?
Besides the injuries you know why the Jaguars are a 15.5 point underdog team? Here are a few hints. Green Bay has won 21 of their last 23 home games. They are averaging 31.2 points per game since 2009 (the Jaguars haven’t scored more than 23 this year). They have produced 30 or more points 13 times in their past 27 home games and 40 or more eight times. Aaron Rodgers has a passer rating of 140.9 in the last 2 games (has completed 73 percent of his passes in his past two games, for 680 yards and 9 TDs – Blaine Gabbert has 6 TDs and 906 passing yards in 6 games). Also Rodgers has the best passer rating in the entire league at a phenomenal 109.6. These numbers are even more amazing because he has been sacked 26 times!
Now the Packers will be without WR Greg Jennings, FB John Kuhn and probably WR Jordy Nelson as well. Still Rodgers will have plenty of targets left. Second year WR Randall Cobb is on the verge of becoming an elite receiver who is also a threat in the run and and return game. Another wideout, James Jones already has 7 TDs so far. The entire Jaguars passing offense has produced 6. Jermichael Finley and Tom Crabtree will test Chris Prosinski and the Jaguars safeties. You can never count out Donald Driver either! Meanwhile the Jaguars are missing their starting FS, Dwight Lowery, and both starting corners, Rashean Mathis (groin) and Derek Cox (back) were limited all week. Mathis is the bigger problem, if he or Cox can’t play the Jaguars must defend these great pass catchers with the struggling Aaron Ross, William Middleton, Mike Harris (who along with Prosinski had a nice game in Oakland), and the re-signed Kevin Rutland. Another problem could be the no-huddle offense Mike McCarthy likes to use. The Jaguars have had problems defending the no huddle this season. It may be impossible for the Jaguars to defend against Rodgers – but they can limit his success.
The defensive line could do a favor for the secondary if they can make Rodgers a bit miserable. Still the right side of the Packers offensive line is pretty solid with RT Bryan Bulaga and RG Josh Sitton. Jeff Saturday is a very familiar face to the Jaguars and they can benefit from that. The weak point is the left side. Marshall Newhouse is playing up and down (he had a down game against the Rams last week) and T.J. Lang is considered average as well. The Jaguars defensive line had its best game in Oakland with almost everybody contributing with hits, sacks and even forced fumbles. Since Austen Lane and George Selvie have returned the pass rush has come to life. Every active DT (Mosley, Knighton, Alualu, and D’Anthony Smith) were major contributors. As I said, Bulaga and Sitton are playing well, so the left side of the defensive line may have a not-so-productive day. But the other side (with Autsten Lane and Alualu) should create some pressure. Last week the Jaguars blitzed a lot with their LBs (mostly with Posluszny), This time I’d avoid that because Rodgers is quite effective when he is blitzed and he’ll have plenty of targets to hurt a vulnerable secondary with. One of them (and this will be a very interesting factor) is UDFA rookie Jarrett Boykin. The former Virginia Tech wideout was invited to the rookie camp by the Jaguars and even thought he could be a great pickup. Yet he was released right after rookie camp and was signed by the Packers. He is now part of the 53 man roster, and he can be a contributor on Sunday…
Special teams could be a factor as well. As I mentioned Cobb is a dangerous returner. More importantly, the Packers aren’t afraid of surprising their opponent. Just think of that fake punt turned TD off a pass from P Tim Masthay to TE Tom Crabtree against the Bears. The Jaguars special teams unit will miss Montell Owens, but Antwon Blake, Kevin Elliott and Julian Stanford plus the promising Michael Spurlock should level their effort. A surprise like another successful onside kick could be useful.
I must admit I’m scared and calm at the same time about this game. Calm because, well, nobody, not even the die hard Jaguars fans, is expecting a win. In fact everybody expects another loss, probably a blowout. I’m scared because even now I feel the Jaguars are not at the lowest point of the hole they are in this season. Another blowout loss will raise a question in coaches, players, and fans. I know there will be no blackouts statistically, but this team is hardly making a case for themselves next year. Vic Ketchman (another weird feature of the week reading his columns and “Ask Vic” where the Jaguars are being mentioned as opponents) wrote this week that the wins will come for the Jaguars and they must be patient (so nothing has changed since he left). With more and more people calling to blow things up in Jacksonville I just can’t share my football mentor’s optimism. I fear another “Save the Whale” movement can come soon. This team can avoid that. Starting with digging themselves out of the hole they are in. Lambeau Field is a very tough place to start it, but stranger things have happened.
Packers 38 – Jaguars 17
– Zoltan Paksa