The Jacksonville Jaguars travel to face the New York Giants in the first regular season game for both NFL teams.
The regular season for the Jacksonville Jaguars is finally here. No practicing against teammates. No preseason games. Just playing in games that mean something and the first step toward another run at the Super Bowl.
Welcome to the 2018 season of the Jacksonville Jaguars. The team that came up five minutes and five points short of beating the New England Patriots in the AFC Title Game. This year isn’t going to look like last season. Everyone knows about this Jaguars team. They are strong defensively, talented on offense and have one of the best placekickers in the game.
Anything less than a trip to the title game will seem like a huge disappointment. Fans know it, the national media know it. And yes, the players know it as they have said over and over this is a new year, new expectations.
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They aren’t the only ones with something to prove. They face a New York Giants team that won a total of three games in 2017, still have a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Eli Manning and a new running back in Saquon Barkley, who is hailed as the next big thing.
The Jaguars walk into New Jersey as a three-point favorite. On paper, the Jaguars appear to have the better team.
Playing on the road like they did last season means the Jaguars will have to come out and dominate with their defense and let the ground game control the tempo.
Here are four things to look for on Sunday.
Leonard Leads the Way
It sounds like a broken record. The Jaguars will rely on Leonard Fournette to be the workhorse once again this season, but it’s as true a statement as there is.
Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett met with the media on Thursday and said Fournette would get “as much as he could handle” during the game. That means a steady dose of running to set up the pass will leave the Giants defense on the field longer.
That’s not good since New York’s best pass rusher, Olivier Vernon will not play on Sunday.
It will be a group effort. As John Oehser of Jaguars.com wrote, “Fournette rushed for 93 yards in the preseason with 35 yards receiving while T.J. Yeldon rushed for 77 yards with 96 receiving yards and Corey Grant rushing for 42 yards with 93 receiving yards.”
The running game could go over 200 yards on the carpet on Sunday.
Rush, Rush, Rush
You get the point. This could be another opening game where the defense dominates the line of scrimmage. The Jaguars will more than likely rush the passer right at tackle Ereck Flowers, who is essentially an immobile offensive lineman.
The interior of the line will be busy trying to stop the running game, but they too should be able to apply pressure up the middle. If you have not noticed, Manning is not the most mobile passer in the league.
Keelan Cole’s Moment
Keelan Cole will open the 2018 season as a starter. He and Donte Moncrief will become key targets for quarterback Blake Bortles. Could this be the game that is the defining moment in undrafted free agent’s career?
The entire receiver corps will be tasked with replacing Marqise Lee. It marks the second season in a row this team lost its top pass catcher early in the season. Cole has been talked about by the coaching staff all offseason.
Moncrief has been elevated to a starting role. He has the most experience of anyone on the roster at the position. For a man who signed a one-year deal over $9 million this offseason, he must produce.
Come Out Swinging
The Jaguars cannot squander scoring opportunities. They also must move the ball effectively. The Giants have plenty of weapons on offense.
Bortles must be effective on his opening drive and lead this team to points. He must also show he continues to make good decisions in the pocket and will use his feet effectively on the read option.
“Both Head Coach Doug Marrone and Bortles this week discussed the importance of minimizing turnovers, saying that reducing interceptions is more important than increasing touchdown passes. Hackett agreed.” Oehser added.
If the Jaguars don’t turn the ball over and run the ball effectively, they win this football game.
Prediction: Jaguars 23 Giants 13