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Know Your Foe: Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jacksonville Jaguars might have been the most talented 3-13 team I've seen in professional football since I've been watching. But, another year of losses brought about change for the Jaguars from the top on down.

Gus Bradley was fired before the Jaguars left Houston back in December, after the Jaguars' loss to the Texans. Owner Shad Khan decided to stay in house, handing Doug Marrone, the team's offensive line coach, the full-time head coaching reins after a 1-1 stint as interim coach to finish the 2016 season. Khan wasn't done pulling some aces out of his sleeve, either, as he looked to the past to impact the future. Former Jaguars head coach Tom Coughlin was brought back in a front office capacity to right the ship and get the Teal and Black machine moving in the right direction.

It's not as if general manager David Caldwell hasn't put together a squad loaded with talent, especially in the last two years. Here are the key players Caldwell has signed or drafted in the past two seasons.

DE Malik Jackson
DE Yannick Ngakoue
S Tashaun Gipson
LB Myles Jack
CB Jalen Ramsey

CB A.J. Bouye
DE Calais Campbell
S Barry Church
T Branden Albert
RB Leonard Fournette
T Cam Robinson

Nearly one half of the entire starting 22 has been turned over in Jacksonville in 24 months, but after quarterback struggles in training camp and preseason games, many Jacksonville fans questioned why Blake Bortles wasn't part of that turnover as well. He was replaced during Week 3 of the preseason, but he won the job back and will be the starter for Week 1 in Houston.

Can Bortles get it right in Year 4? If so, the Jaguars can be scary. If not, they'll be taking a look at the future in the 2018 NFL Draft, yet again.

Let's get to know the Jacksonville Jaguars, 2017 version.



2016 Team Profile
Rush offense - 101.9 ypg (22nd in the league)
Passing offense - 233.0 ypg (20th)
Total offense - 334.9 ypg (23rd)
Scoring - 19.9 ppg (25th)
3rd down percentage conversion - 35.3% (T23rd)
Giveaways - 29 - 16 INT, 13 Fumbles (T4th highest)

This is the starting lineup the Jaguars used in Week 15 against the Texans at NRG Stadium:
WR - Allen Robinson
TE - Alex Ellis
LT - Kelvin Beachum
LG - Jeremiah Poutasi
C - Brandon Linder
RG - A.J. Cann
RT - Jeremy Parnell
TE - Ben Koyack
WR - Marqise Lee
QB - Blake Bortles
RB - T.J. Yeldon

This is the projected starting lineup for the Jaguars in Week 1 of 2017:
WR - Allen Robinson
WR - Marqise Lee
C - Brandon Linder
RG - A.J. Cann
RT - Jeremy Parnell
TE - Ben Koyack
QB - Blake Bortles

*ALL CAPS indicate a new projected starter in 2017 *

Key Offensive non-starters**

RB - T.J. Yeldon
RB - Chris Ivory
WR - Dede Westbrook

Most significant offensive addition in the offseason: Without question, it's Fournette. The Jaguars hired its former offensive line coach as head coach. They brought a hard-nosed, tough and disciplined former coach back to the front office. Their quarterback needs to throw less, not more. Is there any secret that the Jaguars are going to get on the Fournette Train, early and often in 2017?

Uh, no.

The Jaguars are anticipating an Ezekiel Elliott-like impact from the rookie out of LSU. If there's a position more suited for a rookie to make an impact early in his career, it's probably running back. The difference, though, is that Dallas has three pro bowlers on the offensive line and Jacksonville, well, doesn't, not to mention Fournette was banged up during the preseason, only playing in one game.

What's the biggest concern for the Texans defense facing the Houston offense? Everyone will assume it's Fournette, but the Texans tackle well and Fournette needs to take advantage of a poor tackling defense to pile up yards in a power scheme. He'll get his yards, but it's going to take 25-27 carries to do so against this, or any other, defense.

It's the receivers that worry me more than anything else. The emergence of Marqise Lee after Allen Hurns missed the last five games of the season will pay dividends in 2017. The Jaguars now have three legit options in the passing game - Robinson, Hurns and Lee. If Bortles has time to get the ball off against this pass rush, there's a good opportunity to hurt defenses at all levels with these three pass catchers. Throw in the speedy Dede Westbrook and this unit can put a ton of pressure on a secondary.

What's the biggest concern for the Jaguars offense facing the Houston defense? They still have to find a way to protect Bortles and open consistent running lanes. The retirement of Branden Albert will force Marrone to put Robinson at left tackle, instead of guard. As such, he'll be forced to block Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney and a healthy J.J. Watt in his first-ever NFL game.

Overall, though, it's the progress of Bortles, no matter the opponent on the other side. He's shown moxie in the six meetings with the Texans; however, against the Texans, he's given the ball away too often. He threw three key picks and a late game pick-six in two games in 2015 and gave the Texans a pick-six head start on the first drive of the game in 2016.

Furthermore, the last two games in NRG Stadium have been cringeworthy.

2015 - 17 for 32, 239 yards, no TD and two INT (one pick-six)
2016 - 12 for 28, 92 yards, no TD and one INT

Since his arrival in 2014, Bortles has thrown a pick in every game against the Texans but one and has been sacked 24 times as well. He plays a clean game and this could be a tough one for the Texans.

2016 Team Profile
Rush defense - 106.4 ypg (19th in the league)
Passing defense - 215.2 ypg (5th)
Total defense - 321.7 ypg (6th)
Scoring allowed - 25.0 ppg (25th)
3rd down percentage conversion allowed - 37.1% (25th)
Takeaways - 13 - 7 INT, 6 recoveries (T30th highest)

This is the starting defensive lineup the Jaguars used in Week 15 against the Texans at NRG Stadium:
DE - Yannick Ngakoue
DT - Malik Jackson
DT - Abry Jones
DE - Tyson Alualu
WLB - Telvin Smith
MLB - Paul Posluszny
Nickel - Aaron Colvin
CB - Prince Amukamara
S - Tashaun Gibson
S - Jonathan Cyprien
CB - Jalen Ramsey

This is the projected starting lineup for the Jaguars in Week 1 of 2017:
DT - Malik Jackson
DT - Abry Jones
WLB - Telvin Smith
SLB - Paul Posluszny
S - Tashaun Gipson
CB - Jalen Ramsey

**ALL CAPS indicate a new projected starter in 2017

Key Defensive non-starters
DE - Yannick Ngakoue
Nickel - Aaron Colvin
DE - Dawaune Smoot

Most significant Jaguars defensive addition in the offseason: It's hard to discern between a Pro Bowl defensive end and the hottest defensive back on the free agent market. Both Calais Campbell and A.J. Bouye deserve mention here because each one has the opportunity to fill a significant hole for the Jaguars defense.

Bouye steps into the role opposite soon-to-be mega star cornerback Jalen Ramsey and will get tested. Given the option of throwing at Ramsey or Bouye, teams are more than likely going to test Bouye. We'll get to why that's important in a second. Regardless, Bouye was phenomenal in 2016 for the Texans, so we all know the impact he can have on this Jaguars defense.

Campbell, though, was a bit of surprise. The Jaguars still had a ton of cap space and spent it on a guy that's been incredibly consistent, producing 5.0 sacks or more every single season in Arizona, other than his rookie campaign. He can play outside on first down, bump inside on second and third down and create mayhem to help Bouye and company in the secondary.

What's the biggest concern for the Texans offense facing the Jacksonville defense? Those two cornerbacks, Ramsey and Bouye, are going to be a handful for every team the Jaguars face. Their size and length are problematic. I never thought Ramsey would be a hit at cornerback so immediately; he was outstanding in 2016. If Bouye maintains the level of play he established over the last half of the 2016 season, the Jaguars are set up at a key position for years. 

What's the biggest concern for the Jaguars defense facing the Houston offense? The Jaguars have drafted Dante Fowler Jr., Yannick Ngakoue and Dawaune Smoot over the past three seasons but those resources haven't gotten the Jaguars pass rush where it needs to be at this moment. Campbell is not best served playing the edge 100 percent of the time and he should be moved inside where he can dominate alongside Malik Jackson on passing downs, in particular.

This Jaguars defensive front isn't very big either. Campbell is going to have to play inside a significant portion of the time, which puts two interior players, Jackson and Campbell, at 282 and 290 lb. respectively. Jackson was a handful for the Texans to block last year and Campbell creates issues as well. Over the entire game, though, are those guys going to be able to handle consistent double teams, getting physically hammered, for a full 60 minutes?

Last and certainly not least, Ramsey suffered a core muscle injury late in OTAs that required surgery in late June and Bouye was held out of preseason games due to an injury as well. Those two will certainly play, but shaking off the rust this late in the process is concerning against Texans star receiver DeAndre Hopkins, in particular.

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