The Jacksonville Jaguars will open their season with what could prove to be a pivotal AFC South battle against the reigning Division Champions Houston Texans today at NRG Stadium.
The Jaguars are coming off a big week in which they finally decided the winners of some of their previously undecided position battles but there’s still a lot that’s unknown about this team going forward.
Chief among those unknowns is not just who will start and get the most work at running back. With that in mind, here’s an advanced look at what today’s game means to the Jags and what they need to do to win it.
What’s At Stake
The Jaguars haven’t beaten the Texans since Blake Bortles became Jacksonville’s quarterback three years ago. They’re 0-6 against them in that span, but don’t blame that all on Bortles. Sure, his play has been spotty, but the Texans are 14-4 against AFC South opponents since Bill O’Brien took over as Houston’s coach. So, in addition to getting them off to the fast start that everyone craves, what a victory would do for the Jaguars today is possibly signal a shift in the power structure of the division. The Texans have owned this division for several years now. Many believe they’ll have to fight a lot harder to keep ownership of it this year, what with Tennessee and supposedly Jacksonville on the rise. A win today would lend further credence to that belief and might even leave some believing the Jaguars are suddenly the team to beat or at least a team to be feared.
An old football cliché says games are won in the trenches and this one surely will be. As they proved a year ago, the Texans defensive front was a force even without three-time Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt. Now Watt is back and along with fellow end Jadeveon Clowney and linebacker Whitney Mercilus, they have one of the most formidable defensive fronts in all of football. The Jaguars will counter with an offensive line that is, well, let’s just say it’s not formidable. The Jaguars are so unsure of the talent here that it wasn’t until this week that they decided to keep Patrick Omameh as their starting left guard and it may only be a result of Branden Albert retiring that rookie second-round draft pick Cam Robinson is starting at left tackle. This is as tough a matchup as the Jaguars front will face and it’s not just a matter of protecting Bortles from their pass rush. The Jaguars want to establish a power running game to take some of the pressure off Bortles. That has to be job one and if the Jaguars can’t do it, they could be in big trouble.
During their three-year unbeaten streak against the Jaguars, the Texans have sacked Bortles 24 times, the most of any team he’s faced. It’s obvious, then, that in order to win this game the Jaguars will have to do a better job of protecting their passer, no matter who it is. At the same time, the Jaguars have to do a better job of getting to the Texans passer themselves. They’ve recorded just eight sacks against Houston the last three years, including just one last year. The Jaguars spent a lot of money upgrading their defense this past offseason, adding pass rusher Calais Campbell and cornerback A.J. Bouye. The idea, of course, was to be better against the pass and that starts with bringing more pressure. There’s no doubt the Jaguars have the talent to effect the quarterback more. In addition to Campbell, they have two promising pass rushers in Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler and another very strong corner in Jalen Ramsey. All the pieces are there for the Jaguars to present a very good pressure package that is capable of winning games, and those pressure packages may be the key to winning this game.
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?