The Jacksonville Jaguars get set to face the New York Giants in the first game of the regular season for both teams on Sunday.
Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone knows this is a big week for his team as the NFL regular season began on Thursday night. For Jacksonville, the road trip to face the New York Giants is the first step of 16 in reaching the playoffs and potentially making another run toward the playoffs.
Marrone spoke with the media on Wednesday. He said he does have some concerns about playing a team like New York – one that fell well below expectations last season. Now, as the team has prepared all offseason, the moment is finally here to put it all together and play football that matters.
The Jaguars come into the game in New Jersey having captured the AFC South Title last year and are now considered a team on the potential brink of a Super Bowl berth. Sunday also marks the first meeting between the two teams since 2014 when the Jaguars beat the Giants, 25-24, at TIAA Bank Field,
It was during quarterback Blake Bortles rookie season. Bortles threw for 194 yards and ran for 68 in the largest comeback in franchise history.
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With a few more years under his belt and his best all-around season as a Jaguar in 2017, this is the season Bortles must take another step forward in proving he can be a franchise quarterback. That’s the not the only thing the Jaguars must work on this season as the offensive line still has questions and the wide receivers still do not have a true No. 1 pass catcher.
Per the Jaguars weekly game release, a win against the Giants would mark the first time the Jaguars have been victorious on Kickoff Weekend in back-to-back years since 2010-11 and the first time since 1997-98 that the Jaguars won on the road in Week 1 in consecutive seasons.
Also, Jacksonville seeks its first win in four tries at MetLife Stadium and will face off against the Giants there for the first time since Nov. 28, 2010. They have played the New York Jets there three times.
I am not going to say this is a “must-win” game for Jacksonville, but if this team wants to prove last season was not a fluke, it must win important games early. It all starts here.
Here are three keys to victory on Sunday.
Continuity on the Offensive Line
The key to keeping the running game rolling is an offensive line that plays well. Both Jermey Parnell and Brandon Linder have been on the injury report this week. While the Giants don’t have a pass rush like Jacksonville, the offensive line must play injury free.
"“I think everything is kind of shaky until we start playing and then watching them play together,” Marrone told the media on Wednesday. “The way I look at it is, we do our best to go out there and put those guys together and basically a lot of those guys have been based on availability with a couple injuries and mix-matching them. We have had a lot of practice time together and now it is a matter of when we go out there, how do we perform?”"
Stop the Run
The good thing is the Jaguars face rookie running back Saquon Barkley in his first game of the season. The bad thing may be that he shows how good he is early in the season.
Jacksonville was 21st in the league in run defense last season. The front four must be cognizant of the Giants desire to run the football effectively in between the tackles. That also means Malik Jackson, Abry Jones, and Marcell Dareus will have a long day in the trenches.
"“There’s a lot of great players. He’s one of them,” Marrone said in his assessment of the rookie from Penn State. “He’s a guy that, obviously, has all the qualities to be an outstanding player in this league for a long time, so we’ll have a challenge to try to stop him as well as a lot of other players. They have a good football team.”"
Let the Defense Lead
Maybe this should read “Let Jalen be Jalen.”
Jalen Ramsey and Odell Beckham, Jr. has been the most talked about matchup in the NFL this week. It’s a good thing for the Jaguars, but as the All-Pro cornerback explained on Thursday, there are 11 players on defense. It’s a team effort.
The Jaguars defensive line should have a field day on the right side of the Giants offensive line. Jacksonville defensive ends vs. Ereck Flowers could be one of those matchups the television and radio media continue to talk about as the veteran pass rusher should be able to blow by the Giants right tackle.
Flowers’ footwork will make it tough him to fight off the speed off the edge. It could be a long day for New York’s offensive line.