The Jaguars pulled off a real stunner in their season opener a week ago, beating the reigning division champion Texans 29-7 on the road in a game that made the entire NFL stand up and take notice.
The Titans, the other team that was expected to contend for the AFC South title this year, are up next at Jacksonville’s EverBank Field. Here’s a closer look at what the game means and what the Jags need to do to win it.
Why it’s worth watching
The Jaguars (1-0) haven’t played a home game with a better-than-.500 record since December, 2010. That tells you just how miserable they’ve been, but today’s game offers them a chance to further change the narrative, re-energize their fan base and show they really are capable of competing for their division title. The Jaguars still have a lot of doubters, and rightfully so, but Leonard Fournette looks like an early rookie of the year candidate and the defense may be among the best I nteh league. That unit put on one of the best shows any defense will put on all season last week when it recorded 10 sacks and four takeaways, so it will be interesting to see what it does for an encore.
Key on: Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles
Bortles did exactly what the Jaguars wanted him to do last week. He played efficiently in beating the Texans, completing 11 of 21 passes for 125 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. The Jaguars would love it if that was all Bortles had to do to win each week, but it won’t be. Starting this week, opponents are going to start filling the box in an effort to stop Fournette and put the game on Bortles shoulders. Bortles has reportedly made some good strides in his desperate attempt to correct the mechanical flaws that derailed him a year ago and he’s playing with more confidence right now, but he still has to prove he can win games when the it’s mostly up to him to win them.
With its 10 sacks and four takeaways last week, the Jaguars defense stole most of the headlines and rightfully so. The Jaguars O-line played a game worthy of a few headlines, too, though. With so much uncertaintly regarding the left guard and for a while the left tackle, that unit has been the source of some consternation within the Jaguars camp. It impressively held its own in a battle against one of the best defensive fronts in the league last week, though, allowing just three quarterback hits and no sacks. No one expects the Jaguars front line to play at that level throughout the course of the season but a performance like that tells you just what this group is capable of.
Jaguars DE Yannick Ngakoue hinting he’s gone again?
One of the key free-agent questions for the Jaguars continues to be whether or not they’re going to allow their best pass rusher, Yannick Ngakoue, to test the free-agent market coming up? And, once again, the player may be giving a clue that he’s going to do just that.
Ngakoue tweeted Wednesday morning the following phrase, which seems to indicate, yet again, that he will be playing somewhere else in 2020:
— Yannick Ngakoue (@YannickNgakoue) February 26, 2020
This goes along with something that we wrote earlier in January. That’s when just a couple of days after the season Ngakoue posted essentially a goodbye message to Jaguar fans. This came on the heels of him having held out for a new contract for the first few days of training camp last August, but not receiving a new deal during the season, etc.
Ngakoue, whose 37.5 career sacks are the most by a Jaguars player after 63 career games, is sure to be a sought-after player from many different teams. GM Dave Caldwell said at the end of the season when asked about re-sgning his star pass rusher, “He is a tremendous player and even a better person. How he handled his business this year was tremendous. But, I would say that’s priority No. 1, to make sure he comes back to Jacksonville. Hopefully, we can get that done. ″
It’s also worth noting that at Tuesday’s NFL Scouting Combine at media availability in Indianapolis, coach Doug Marrone repeated that he wants Ngakoue to remain in Jaguars teal and white:
Doug Marrone: ‘’No doubt where I stand or the coaches.”
—They want Yannick Ngakoue back. pic.twitter.com/vOorH4hH95
— John Reid (@JohnReid64) February 26, 2020
However, it remains to be seen if Marrone and Caldwell are willing to “pony up” huge money for him or even potentially, put the franchise tag on him before free agency begins next month?
Ngakoue figures to want a contract close to what the top ends are getting paid right now. Demarcus Lawrence and Frank Clark both signed five-year, over $100 million deals in 2019 and received guaranteed money that exceeded $62 million. That is massive for Jacksonville.
If the Jags opt for the “franchise tag,” then the talented end will be making around $19 million dollars, which is the current average of the top five players at his position. The Jaguars could also put the tag on him and then work on a longer term, salary cap friendly, deal that would replace the tag later in the off season.
Jaguars confirm they are declining option on DT Dareus
At Tuesday’s media session at the NFL Scouting Combine, Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell made official what had been rumored for the last couple of days regarding defensive tackle Marcell Dareus: he will not be brought back for a fourth season in Jacksonville.
Caldwell confirmed the Jaguars are not picking up DT Marcell Dareus' option.
— John Reid (@JohnReid64) February 25, 2020
Dareus only played briefly in 2019, as he suffered a core muscle injury that sidelined him after only six games and he was placed on injured reserve. The former number one pick of the Buffalo Bills had played for coach Doug Marrone for a couple of seasons in Western New York.
Marrone and Caldwell traded for Dareus during the 2017 season and he helped them with their rise to the AFC South title and two playoff wins. This included Darius registering two sacks and four other tackles-for-loss in the Jaguars three playoff games that year.
Dareus made the Pro Bowl twice in Buffalo in 2013-14.
However, he has not lived up to his hefty contract that was reworked Jacksonville last February. Last season, Dareus made over $8 million dollars and the team would have been on the hook for $20 million this year had they picked up the option. That obviously wasn’t going to happen.
Dareus also has had legal troubles off the field, including a civil suit against him in Tampa for alleged sexual misconduct. As we wrote previously, a woman alleged that Dareus had sexually assaulted her in January of 2018 at a North Tampa Florida home, while Dareus was in town for the Alabama-Clemson College Football Playoff Championship Game.
However, that suit filed in Hillsborough County court was “dismissed with prejudice” last April, which means it cannot be re-filed.
Dareus, if healthy after the core muscle injury rehab, may have some value as a defensive tackle on the free agent market.
As for the Jaguars, they have former #1 pick defensive tackle Taven Bryan to play more in the middle and are trying to decide if free agent-to-be, DE Yannick Ngakoue, can be afforded for their 2020 salary cap?