Chargers-Jaguars matchup more intriguing than usual this year
The Jacksonville Jaguars are revitalized and the Los Angeles Chargers are refreshed, which should make for an interesting matchup at EverBank Field on Sunday.
Jacksonville (5-3) is tied for the AFC South lead after winning three of its last four games. That includes prevailing against the Cincinnati Bengals last week, as the Jaguars won at home in consecutive weeks for the first time since October 2016.
The Chargers (3-5) enjoyed their bye last week after a surge of winning three of four games which has them back in the playoff conversation. L.A. gained two of those victories on the road against the Giants and the Broncos.
“Hopefully with a week off the players didn’t too much damage,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “But in our situation, being 3-5 and playing from behind, there is no way we can come out and be flat or not play well. Everything is still in front of us and now we have to go get it. I expect us to play well.”
The Jaguars are expecting the same from quarterback Blake Bortles. He’s been playing well of late, settling in to make the Jaguars one of the NFL’s surprise teams of the first half.
Plus, Bortles has the luxury of the NFL’s top rushing attack, led by Leonard Fournette. The rookie with 596 rushing yards and six touchdowns returns after missing last week’s game for breaking a team rule.
“I feel like he is on track and ready to go,” Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said. “That is in the past.”
If Bortles is effective, he adds an element to an offense which likes to stay low.
“I feel good but we are a running team first, that is no secret and everyone knows that,” said Bortles, whose thrown for nearly 600 yards and two touchdowns in his last two games.
“But that doesn’t mean we can’t throw the ball because when we need to do that, we are good at that, too. We got guys on the outside that can win and we can make plays in the passing game down field as well.”
Bortles is right — the Jaguars prefer to stay close to the ground. They gobble up yards and time of possession. In Sunday’s win, the Bengals were held under 40 snaps.
“That is who we are,” Bortles said. “We control the game, we control the clock and that is what we’re are good at. That way we can keep the other offenses off the field.”
Said Lynn: “The way the offense is playing it is keeping their defense fresh.”
Keeping the Chargers’ Philip Rivers on the sidelines makes sense. When he’s been off the bench, he’s usually kept the Jaguars out of the winner’s circle. Rivers is 6-1 lifetime against the Jaguars with a spiffy 19-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. In his last three outings, he’s 11 touchdowns to zero picks.
“He has played as well against us as any player ever has against this team,” Marrone said.
Rivers though will have to do it against the NFL’s No. 3-rated defense and the top-ranked one against the pass.
Jacksonville, which allows a league-low 14.6 points per game, is good on the back end but it really shines pestering quarterbacks.
The Jaguars’ three-headed monster of Calais Campbell (10 sacks), Yannick Ngakoue (6.5) and Dante Fowler (5.5) will present a huge test for a Chargers offensive line which is battling some injuries.
“They have three guys that can create pressure outside and inside,” Lynn said.
The Chargers counter with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, both with 8.5 sacks.
“We are going to have our hands full with those two,” Marrone said. “Bosa has great technique and Ingram can get off the ball. Both have them have a high motor and they can work their way to the quarterback.
The Chargers are 7-2 against the Jaguars and have won six straight. In five of those games, the Chargers scored at least 30 points.
But Lynn notes the Jaguars are playing their best ball of the season.
“They are hitting on all cylinders,” he said. “This is going to be one of the biggest challenges of the season in my opinion.”
The Chargers defense is being directed by Gus Johnson, the former Jaguars head coach. He’s facing his former team for the first time.
“Obviously he knows the personnel very well and he wants to win this game,” Lynn said. “But he wants to win every game.”
That many speculate the Jaguars could be playoff bound is hard to ignore. But Marrone taps the breaks on those scenarios.
“There is a lot of football left,” he said, “and we have a long way to go.”
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