Jacksonville Jaguars vs Green Bay Packers: Running game can determine outcome
The Jacksonville Jaguars’ rushing attack, led by Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon, will determine victory against the Green Bay Packers.
In the preseason, Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon looked every bit like the one-two punch the Jacksonville Jaguars need in order to win games in 2016. Ivory and Yeldon are both difficult backs to bring down and can punish defenders for their mistakes and for even trying to tackle them.
The resurgence of the running game (not yet tested in the 2016 season) is a big reason the Jaguars can be competitive in 2016. Without it the team is a one-dimensional passing attack behind mistake-prone quarterback Blake Bortles. With it, the Jaguars are balanced and a threat in both offensive attacks.
This will be particularly critical against the Packers to open the 2016 season. The as-yet untested Jags rushing attack will have to step up if the team hopes for victory.
As outlined at Pro Football Focus, the Packers are vulnerable up the middle:
"Green Bay’s Letroy Guion is moving back to nose tackle, while the third and fourth players on the Packers’ D-line depth chart are rookies. At inside linebacker, Green Bay is likely starting 2015 fourth-round pick Jake Ryan, as well as 2016 fourth-round pick Blake Martinez. The Packers’ inexperience in the middle against two good Jaguars backs could help Jacksonville control the tempo in the game."
The relative inexperience in that part of the Packers defense can be exposed and exploited by wily veteran Ivory and impressive young stud Yeldon. The Jags interior offensive line, headlined by center Brandon Linder and guard A.J. Cann, is poised to be the best the Jags have had in half a decade or more. In the preseason, the interior offensive line was particularly impressive, especially in opening holes for the running game.
If the running game can actually dictate play, the offense can eat up time and score. It will turn the entire game into a much closer contest rather than a potential shootout between Bortles and Aaron Rodgers.
The running game is equally critical for the Packers. Eddie Lacy is a dominant player when he’s in shape and he’s definitely in shape for 2016. This is a critical point for Jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser as well, and for good reason:
"In order to stop Rodgers, you need to get him in third-and-long situations. In order to get him there, you must stop the run first. That means stopping running back Eddie Lacy."
Packers offensive strategy is not defined or reliant on the running game, but it is certainly enhanced by it. Rodgers is capable of commanding and dominating a game on his own (and has made a career of it) but he is most threatening when he has a rushing attack to balance him out. Lacy is that balancing force that can throw the entire Jacksonville Jaguars defense off balance.
This is especially concerning in light of some preseason action in which the Jags defense looked vulnerable against the middle, especially up the middle. Defensive tackle Roy Miller‘s presence as a run stuffer is critical to the defensive integrity of the Jaguars and when he is on the field the run defense is decidedly better. When he isn’t, it’s decidedly worse.
The Jags need Miller to be dominant to stop Lacy. They need him to be the point of attack for the defensive line. Fortunately, Miller is going to be on the field and should see plenty of time as a primary guy in the D-Line rotation. There’s a real chance that the Jags can step up and stop Lacy behind Miller’s leadership.
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Can Lacy beat Miller and co? Can Ivory and Yeldon beat the Packers’ inexperience up the middle? Those are the questions that could define the Jags-Packers game to open the season. Look to see which team sets the tone with the running game. That team is likely to come out the winner.