The Jaguars return home 3-2 after an impressive win in Pittsburgh. Despite the hot start to the season, one thing the Jaguars haven't accomplished is winning a game in front of the crowd at EverBank Field. Technically, the Jaguars have a home win, but that came on their annual trip to London for their "home game" at Wembley Stadium. It's not like they've been given ample opportunity to this point in the season - their only true home game was a week two loss to the Titans. So, the Jaguars have their second opportunity to impress in front of the Duval faithful. They'll take on the Rams Sunday, who also sit at 3-2 and hold the lead in the NFC West. Both teams have new head coaches and a plethora of new faces.
The Rams certainly aren't outside of the Jaguars weight class, but they do possess an impressive offense and a defensive coordinator that's not afraid to dial up the blitz. Did I mention they have the best defensive tackle in football?
The Jaguars haven't earned a win at EverBank in nearly 10 months. It's time for them to show their fans what they're made of. Here's 3 keys, that if accomplished, will carry the Jaguars to victory.
1. Keep Todd Gurley in check
For much of the first half of the Jaguars win in Pittsburgh the Jags defense practiced a bend but don't break style. Le'Veon Bell was able to have some success in the first half both as a runner and receiver. He's not dissimilar to the Rams RB Todd Gurley, who leads the Rams in rushing and receiving. The Jaguars need to to fly to the ball in run defense and stay gap sound. They were able to do that at times in the first half against Pittsburgh and did so for nearly the entire second half, which forced the Steelers to almost completely abandon the run. The Jaguars don't need to stuff Gurley on every play. They do, however, need to avoid allowing the big play. In the Jaguars last loss they gave up three runs of 33 or more yards, which killed the defense. They'll need to play smart, fundamental football to keep Gurley from busting a big one in week six. This is my number one key to victory because if the Rams are forced to pass the ball, the Jaguars secondary and pass rush will be able to tee off. When that happens, no-one, and I do mean no-one, can beat the Jaguars.
2. Don't let Aaron Donald wreck offensive drives.
Aaron Donald is the best defensive tackle in football. He wreaks havoc multiple times in every game. Not allowing Donald to get a strip sack, or forced fumble, or bat a ball for an interception is crucial. The Jaguars have got to keep up with down and distance in order to sustain offensive drives. They won't be able to do that if Donald is wrecking shop every series. This task gets even tougher if the Jaguars starting center and best offensive lineman Brandon Linder isn't able to go. He missed the Jaguars win in Pittsburgh with an illness - the same illness that has kept him out of practice all week. If Linder is unable to play, the task of slowing down Donald will go to Tyler Shatley, who played admirably last week and has played well in the past when asked to start. Asking a backup to contain Aaron Donald is a tough task, but if the Jaguars can slow him down at all, they'll be in good shape.
3. Be prepared for exotic blitzes and looks.
The Rams defense is coached by Wade Phillips, who for my money is one of the two or three best defensive coordinators in football. Phillips loves to blitz. His defense has gotten to opposing QBs 15 times in five games so far. Last year, when Phillips was the Broncos DC, he blitzed Bortles 18 times when the Jags and Broncos faced each other. His Broncos defense only got home once, and they are far more talented than is the Rams defense, but the threat is still there. The Jaguars can't allow any of Phillips' exotic blitzes to turn in to turnovers. The offensive line will have to be ready for a tough task, but they have been all year. RBs Leonard Fournette and Chris Ivory will also need to be ready to slow down incoming blitzers, something Fournette failed to do in week five.
The Jaguars have one of the most dominant units on either side of the ball in the entire NFL. Their defense has been wrecking shop so far in 2017, but the Rams believe they too have one of the best units in football. Their offense is averaging 30 points per game (granted they scored 46 against the Colts, 41 against the 49ers, and 35 against the Cowboys - all subpar defenses) and is on pace for a huge turnaround in 2017. I believe if the Jaguars slow down Todd Gurley then they'll win. And I believe they'll slow down Todd Gurley, who was held in check by the Seahawks defense last week.
I'm predicting the Jags get their first win at EverBank Field in 2017.
Jaguars 27, Rams 20
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