It’s a statement game right out of the shoot for the Jaguars. Facing the Packers in the season opener, Jacksonville has the chance to prove they are no longer the young cats who’ve toiled at the bottom of the AFC South.
“I think it’s a good chance for us to go out and rise to the level of our expectations,” said Blake Bortles. “We expect to play well.”
The expectations of going from a 5-11 record a year ago to a playoff contender has hounded this team through out the preseason. General Manager Dave Caldwell did little to turn down the pressure by saying, “We can match up with virtually almost anybody.”
That confidence will be put to the test as Aaron Rodgers leads Green Bay in to Everbank Field five and half point favorites.
While the storyline of Gus Bradley’s job security will hover over the Jags’ through out the season, here are the top three storylines for Sunday:
How will the Jaguars defense handle Aaron Rodgers?
Aaron Rodgers is coming off statistically his worst season of his 12-year career. Now that he has a healthy Jordy Nelson to throw to, Rodgers will try to make a statement that he is back to his old self.
The Jaguars over the off-season upgraded their defense which ranked 29th overall. The upgrades to the secondary in signing Tashaun Gipson and drafting Jalen Ramsey should help a unit that gave up the second most points per game (27.3 ppg) in the NFL last season.
The key will be getting pressure on Rodgers. Dante Fowler Jr. showed speed and power off the edge during the preseason. Now the former first round draft pick will need to keep his motoring running high against one of the leagues’ best offensive lines.
Look for Paul Posluszny to spy on Rodgers to keep him contained. If the defense can keep pressure on Rodgers in the pocket, the upgraded secondary should give them the ability to get off the field.
Bortles and the Allens’ aerial assault
It’s time to take the next step. Blake Bortles is coming off a year in which he set a franchise record for passing touchdowns (35) and passing yards (4,428). His weapons haven’t changed with Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, but Bortles is hoping his propensity for throwing interceptions has.
Bortles provided insight on how he plans to cut down on the turnovers:
“Pre-snap knowing where your going with the ball, kind of having an idea of a visual playing out in your head what happens before it happens,” said Bortles.
Despite not facing a 3-4 defense during the preseason, the Packers system is nothing new for Bortles and Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson.
They know Hurns and Robinson will give them the ability to spread the field. But keeping Bortles upright with Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews barreling down on him will be crucial.
Olsen said he wants a quick tempo to dictate the pace of play to the defense. So look for Bortles to call plays at the line to allow the the Allens to use their speed to get down field.
The Rookies affect
Top draft picks and injuries have grabbed headlines going in to training camp the past two years. First round picks Dante Fowler Jr. and Jalen Ramsey, as well as second round pick Myles Jack appear to be healthy heading in to the opener.
All three are expected to make an immediate impact. Ramsey’s physicality and length gives the secondary a lock down cover corner Bradley’s defense has been missing.
Jack will bring depth to the linebacking core. His ability to go side to side shouldn’t allow for a drop off when Posluszny needs a blow.
These three rookies will be leaned on more when Rodgers drops back to pass.
This is a chance for the Jaguars to come out and assert themselves. A lot of pundits have picked Jacksonville as their “sleeper” team to make the playoffs.
No better chance to prove they’re for real, than to come out on home turf and punch the Packers in the first game of the season.
Report- Jaguars will explore trading DB Jalen Ramsey
The soap opera involving controversial and outspoken Jags defensive back Jalen Ramsey took another turn Sunday morning. That’s when ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the Jags are going to seriously consider trading Ramsey at the end of this season.
Schefter made the comments on ESPN’s Sunday morning “NFL Countdown” pregame show and also wrote about it on ESPN.com, citing League sources:
Jaguars likely to consider trading CB Jalen Ramsey in offseason, per league sources.https://t.co/WzlgVgVRiO
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 18, 2018
As we wrote earlier this week, Ramsey made waves when he tweeted Monday after the Jags fifth consecutive loss that Jaguar fans were going to “miss me when I’m gone.”
Ramsey tried to downplay the controversy, when he met with the media on Thursday, and said that he was only talking to “fake Jaguar fans.” And further, he said that he wants to finish his career in Jacksonville.
We’ve documented the off-season of headaches that included: Ramsey not showing up to OTAs, delaying arriving to training camp by 5 days after the birth of his daughter, and being outspoken in an article on GQ.com criticizing multiple quarterbacks including the Jaguars opponent today, the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger.
And he and former teammate Dante Fowler were both suspended for a week during the preseason for their behavior at a Jags training camp practice, where Fowler was trying to get into a fight with teammate Yannick Ngakoue.
Earlier this week, Coach Doug Marrone took an unusual step for him and actually specifically mentioned Ramsey by name, as having blown a key coverage in the first half on a Colts touchdown pass to tight end Eric Ebron.
Later Sunday morning, the Jaguars released a statement denying the trade rumor:
Statement regarding CB Jalen Ramsey. pic.twitter.com/e7qquci86b
— #DUUUVAL (@Jaguars) November 18, 2018
Ramsey was a top-10 pick of the Jaguars in 2016 and is in the third year of his four-year rookie deal. So that makes the rumors about a possible trade after the season even juicier, because he’s much more affordable for another team to acquire right now.
The Jaguars will take on the Steelers later today at TIAA Bank field.
Gameday- Jaguars rematch Steelers looking stop losing streak
Who: Jaguars (3-6) vs. Steelers (6-2-1)
When: Sunday 1 p.m.
Where: TIAA Bank Field, Jacksonville
Spread: Steelers by 5 1/2 points (Courtesy of VegasInsider.com)
Here’s what to watch:
Build on last week’s offensive success
The Jaguars came to life on the offensive side of the ball in Indianapolis. Even though it was a 29 – 26 loss, Leonard Fournette was back for the first time in five weeks, ran tough and ended up with two touchdowns. As we have well-documented, he also help set up the play-action pass that has been sorely missed on a consistent basis for Jacksonville.
Blake Bortles (shown above in January’s playoff win) was able to hit Donte Moncrief with an 80-yard touchdown and the Jags had their best offensive output, since game four of the season.
More than likely, the Steelers will put some points on the board, and Jacksonville has to be ready to keep up with them.
Slow down Big Ben
In their two wins last season at Pittsburgh, the Jaguars defense was more than opportunistic against Ben Roethlisberger. They had five interceptions in the regular season win and then, two more takeaways in the AFC divisional playoff win were all critical.
The Jags come in with only eight takeaways in nine games, so far. And, it’s one of the big reasons they are on a five game skid.
If Jacksonville gives Roethlisberger time to throw without sacking and knocking him down or at least pressuring him into early errant bad decisions, it’s going to be a long day.
Get the Swagger back.
Somewhere along the way, the Jaguars have lost part of what made them good in 2017. They played as a confident, almost cocky, football team, especially on defense.
They have been humbled in one decisive loss after another, recently and that swagger is not there.
Playing at home Sunday, can Jacksonville revive some of that attitude in front of the home fans by making some big plays early? There will be a large contingent of Steelers fans on hand, as they always travel well.
Let’s see if it makes a difference being back at home for the first time in almost a month.
Can Jaguars climb off canvas Sunday vs Steelers?
It was January 14th of 2018 and the Jaguars were rematching the Steelers in the divisional round of the AFC Playoffs in Pittsburgh. Jacksonville had already upset the Steelers in Pittsburgh back in the regular season, and most across the NFL felt that Pittsburgh was going to get their revenge that cold western Pennsylvania Sunday.
As you probably know by now, the Jaguars stunned Pittsburgh in a wild 45 – 42 victory which only reinforced the success of their magical turn around season of 2017. Winning 10 games, the AFC South and two playoff games was almost unfathomable, when 2017 began in North Florida.
Still it happened.
But, “that was then, and this is now,” and with a season of expectation and anticipation having evaporated, as Jacksonville stands at 3 – 6 on the season, it’s once again the Steelers in front of them on Sunday.
However, this game will be at home at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville.
And the only question now for the Jaguars is: can the team that put together two great performances against the Steelers last year, climb off the canvas and get back on track for this season with another win against Pittsburgh?
There are positive signs for the Jaguars, even with their recent struggles, that say “yes.”
One of those is the return of the Jaguars best weapon Leonard Fournette, who while he didn’t have spectacular stats (24 carries 53 yards) in last week’s 29 – 26 loss to the Colts, was effective at times, including two Red Zone touchdowns.
The Jags and specifically quarterback Blake Bortles, have missed his presence and the fact that it sets up their play action passing game. Fournette had two big games in the wins over Pittsburgh last year, registering a hundred yards in both and scoring too early touchdowns (photo above) in the playoff win that set the tone at 14 -0 for Jacksonville.
Another positive sign is that the Jaguars defense has begun to play better of late. Even though they lost to the Eagles and Wembley Stadium three weeks ago, then came off the bye and lost to the Colts, they have been registering more pressure and sackss on the quarterback. And, in last week’s case, stymied Indianapolis for much of the second half of the game.
The Jaguars best chance to win is to get Ben Roethlisberger to commit turnovers, again, like he did in the two losses last year. He threw five interceptions in the first meeting in the regular season and had an interception and lost a sack fumble that was returned by Telvin Smith for a touchdown in the playoff defeat.
Will the Jaguars be able to rekindle some of that turnover success against “Big Ben?” It will be a big key.
This game was originally supposed to be a Sunday night Prime-time affair on NBC for all of the country to watch, but the network “flexed out” of that game. Now, CBS will show it, still to a large portion of the country, at 1 p.m. Eastern.
So yes, the Jaguars, but their season is not yet finished. If they can find a way to win here it gives them confidence that they can get back in the AFC Wildcard picture.
And we know, because we saw it twice last year, the Jaguars can play with and beat the Steelers.
Now will we see them show some pride, heart and good football in beating the Steelers again in 2018?
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