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.