Philip Rivers and the Bolts come to Jacksonville to ruin the return of Minshew Mania
The Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars find themselves in very similar situations heading into their Week 14 matchup. Both teams have underperformed by preseason standards with matching 4-8 records and sot at the bottom of their respective division standings with no hope of making the postseason. And both the Bolts and Jags have lingering head coach and quarterback issues that will surely cloud over the remaining weeks of the season.
The Chargers have dropped three straight games against divisional opponents and all eight of their losses have come by a single score. The latest loss was a 23-20 gut punch from the Denver Broncos and rookie quarterback Drew Lock in his first NFL start, a loss that was decided by a last-second game-winning field goal thanks to a field-flipping defensive pass interference call. That is just so Chargers.
The Jags, meanwhile, have lost four straight contests, which solidified their 11th non-winning season in 12 years. During their four-game skid, the Jaguars have averaged a lowly 11.7 points per game and have been outscored by their opponents 129-47.
Los Angeles at Jacksonville
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 8 at 4:05 p.m. ET
Spread: Los Angeles -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Philip Rivers
The eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback is likely to have his bust enshrined in Canton one day, but his play this season has left the Chargers' front office in a bit of a pickle. Rivers, 37, is in the final year of his contract and is showing obvious signs of decline on a team in need of an overhaul. He is on pace for the lowest touchdown percentage, fewest touchdown passes, and most interceptions of his season. His 15 picks are second in the NFL behind only Jameis Winston’s comical 20.
While Rivers played rather well last week against Denver (20-for-29, 256 yards, 2 touchdowns), his last three outings overall have been exceptionally bad. He’s thrown eight interceptions, completed only 58.0 percent of his throws, and posted a lowly 66.3 quarterback rating. His lone interception against Denver — on a screen pass, no less — was putrid and directly lead to a Broncos touchdown and a 14-point first-half Chargers deficit.
This week, Rivers faces a mediocre Jacksonville defense that’s struggled against the pass since the departure of Jalen Ramsey, ranking 18th in quarterback rating (91.7) and 26th in yards per catch (12.1). If Rivers can stay off the TIAA Bank Field turf, he should have a fair opportunity to prove he still has some juice left.
2. Minshew Mania: The Return
They say hindsight is 20-20, but no one ever mentioned it cost $88 million. Since Nick Foles returned to the Jacksonville starting lineup three weeks ago, the Jags’ offense has fallen off the face of the earth with only 33 points and 661 total yards. This week, the mustached-mystic rookie that captivated the NFL earlier in the season, Gardner Minshew, returns to lead the Jags against the Chargers.
Head coach Doug Marrone said the decision to sit Foles was a difficult one, but he felt that Minshew’s escapability gave his team the "spark" it was missing under Foles. Since his return, Foles threw for just 220.3 yards per game, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. Foles' first-half performance against Tampa Bay last week featured turnovers on three straight possessions, followed by three straight three-and-outs before Marrone made the switch to Minshew at halftime.
Minshew has started eight games this season, posting a 4-4 record with 2,285 yards passing, 13 touchdowns, and four interceptions. However, his eight lost fumbles this season are second in the NFL behind Giants quarterback Daniel Jones.
3. Run the darn ball
Despite Los Angeles’ recent woes, the Chargers' running attack has been rather consistent in recent weeks — a finally healthy Melvin Gordon surely helps. Gordon has four straight games of at least four yards per carry and is coming off one of the best games of his shortened season when he rushed for 99 yards against Denver on 5.0 yards per touch.
Although Jacksonville’s defense had a solid outing against Tampa Bay’s rushing attack last week, holding the Bucs to 74 yards and only five rushing first downs, slowing down the league's 22nd-ranked rushing offense and still losing by three scores isn’t anything to write home about. The Jags’ defense is one of the worst in the league at stopping the run. They have allowed three teams to rush for more than 200 yards and rank 31st in yards per rush allowed (5.1).
With a hit-and-miss passing attack, look for the Chargers to feed Gordon at least 20 carries against Jacksonville on Sunday. Austin Ekeler should see plenty of action as well.
In the grand scheme of the 2019 season, neither the Chargers nor the Jags have a whole lot to play for on Sunday afternoon — both are essentially playing for pride. The biggest question that remains is how well Jacksonville’s offense meshes with Gardner Minshew calling the shots again. My gut tells me the Mania returns at least for one more week, and the Chargers lose in typical Chargers fashion.
Prediction: Jaguars 21, Chargers 18
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.