This Week 2 matchup between Jacksonville and San Diego features two 0-1 teams that feel very differently about their situations. The Jaguars quietly generated some preseason hype after loading up on defensive talent in the draft and free agency, while returning many young offensive skill players. Last Sunday at home, they pushed Super Bowl contender Green Bay to the final seconds, before falling 27-23. Meanwhile, the Chargers blew a 17-point, fourth-quarter lead at Kansas City, eventually losing in overtime. To add injury to insult, star wide receiver Keenan Allen tore his ACL, his third season-ending injury in as many years.
Jacksonville and San Diego combined to win just nine games last year and each team is looking to right the ship and make some noise in 2016. The Jaguars are hoping to take advantage of what has been a watered-down AFC South in recent years to claim their first playoff berth in nearly a decade. The Chargers appears to have more of an uphill climb to get back to the postseason with defending Super Bowl champion Denver and Kansas City, a playoff team last season, also in the AFC West along with a young and improving Oakland team. An 0-2 start to the season would spell trouble for either team, so Sunday’s matchup should be an entertaining and competitive affair.
Jacksonville at San Diego
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 18 at 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: San Diego -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Keenan Allen’s Replacements
Chargers’ fans and fantasy owners alike were hoping this would be the year Allen would put his injury issues behind him and finish a full season as an elite wide receiver. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL in the last week’s loss at Kansas City, ending his season before it even got started. The question now becomes: who can step up and emerge as the No. 1 receiver?
Travis Benjamin broke out in Cleveland last season to the tune of 68 receptions, 966 yards and five touchdowns before signing with San Diego as a free agent. He is a deep threat who can blow the top off of defenses. Tyrell Williams was an undrafted free agent in 2015 and spent most of the season on the practice squad before catching a pair of passes for 90 yards and a score in the final game. Dontrelle Inman is back for a third year with the Chargers after posting 35 receptions in 2015.
While San Diego is hoping to catch lightning in a bottle with one of these receivers, it may also choose to return to the passing attack that led to the most efficient season of Philip Rivers’ career in 2013, when Ken Whisenhunt, who is back as offensive coordinator, implemented a dink-and-dunk offense that relied heavily on running back Danny Woodhead. Twice in four seasons in San Diego (2013, ’15) Woodhead has recorded 76 or more receptions. He had five grabs (one for a TD) last week against Kansas City. With a variety of pass catchers available (don’t forget about reliable tight end Antonio Gates) for Rivers, this week will be a great chance to see if the Chargers can compete without their No. 1 receiver.
2. Jacksonville’s Pass Rush (Or Lack Thereof)
One of the biggest reasons why Jacksonville lost its season opener was because the defensive line was unable to consistently pressure Aaron Rodgers. The Jaguars’ only sack was on a Rodgers scramble, otherwise the Packers’ quarterback had plenty of time to pick apart Jacksonville’s defense. The Jags signed former Bronco defensive lineman Malik Jackson in free agency and welcomed back 2015 first-round pick Dante Fowler Jr., who missed all of his rookie season because of a torn ACL, but the line has yet to gel.
Rivers does not have the same elusiveness as Rodgers, so this game should be more of a measuring stick for the Jaguars’ pass rush. If the defense can’t get after Rivers on Sunday, however, discussion will heat up regarding the early returns on the changes made on that side of the ball.
3. San Diego’s Offensive Play Calling
Last week San Diego gained possession of the ball with three minutes left in the third quarter and a 17-point lead. To this point, Melvin Gordon had 51 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 11 carries. Kansas City’s defense had been unable to stop the powerful back to that point and conventional wisdom would indicate that head coach Mike McCoy and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt would ride Gordon through a clock-killing fourth quarter.
Yet in the final 18 minutes of the game Gordon would carry the ball just three more times. Woodhead, more effective as a pass catcher, logged seven carries in that time frame while Rivers dropped back to pass 14 times. This baffling strategy opened the door for an epic Chiefs comeback, with the most puzzling decision coming when McCoy chose to kick a 54-yard field goal instead of using Gordon on fourth-and-2 at the Chiefs’ 36-yard line.
If the Chargers take an early lead at home against Jacksonville it will be interesting to see if McCoy feels the pressure of last week and changes his approach. If not, Blake Bortles, who put up some incredible numbers while down big in games last season, could mount a comeback similar to the one Alex Smith led a week ago.
San Diego fared poorly against the run last season, giving up 4.8 yards per carry. However, Jacksonville was only able to muster 1.8 yards per attempt last week with Chris Ivory inactive. If the Jaguars can’t establish a running game, the Chargers have an opportunity to use their short passing game and Melvin Gordon’s power running to jump out to an early lead. However, last week proved that the Chargers have a lot of work to do on both sides of the ball late in games and Blake Bortles has a lot of weapons, including Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Julius Thomas, to use in a comeback attempt. San Diego has yet to prove itself, especially without Keenan Allen, and the Jaguars are motivated after a close call against a Super Bowl contender in Week 1. Look for the Jaguars to pull out a tight win and put Chargers head coach Mike McCoy on the hot seat.