The San Diego Chargers are a dangerous Week 2 opponent for the Jaguars. Two reasons stand out.
One is the Chargers have Philip Rivers, and whatever else is going on around the roster, Rivers remains in his 13th season one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks. He showed this late last November, when his line-of-scrimmage savvy nearly single-handedly led to a 31-25 Chargers victory at EverBank Field.
The other reason is circumstance: the Chargers lost their regular-season opener last week, 33-27, to the Kansas City Chiefs in overtime at Kansas City, squandering a 21-point second-half lead. The Chargers looked like a contending team early, but a loss like that – coupled with a Week 2 loss to a Jaguars team it has beaten five of the last six seasons – would be a difficult blow to overcome.
The Jaguars have the talent to win this game, but San Diego almost certainly will play like a team with its season on the line, and that makes the Chargers doubly dangerous Sunday.
ONE STRENGTH …
Rivers' pre- and post-snap decision-making may be the Chargers' biggest strength, and the matchup between Rivers and the Jaguars' defense is key Sunday. Rivers is a master at putting the Chargers' wide receivers and tight ends in positions to succeed, and he dazzled in that area in Jacksonville last November. "He's super-competitive and he knows what he's doing," said Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson, who played against Rivers twice a season while with Denver from 2012-2015. "He's a field general. He's just someone he goes out there and slings the rock and gives his team a chance to win. He's as smart as anyone at the line as far as seeing things. I compare him to [former Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning] because I've seen Peyton in practice every day. I see him being that kind of field general. It's not often you see guys like that. Hopefully he talks a lot and we can pick it up, but he's a guy who knows what he's doing."
… ANOTHER STRENGTH
The Chargers have talent defensively, and veteran defensive tackles Brandon Mebane and Cory Liuget make San Diego strong on the interior. But perhaps the Chargers' biggest defensive strength is Jason Verrett, who may be the NFL's most-underrated elite cornerback. "At the end of last season, we went through and evaluated our wide receivers," Jaguars offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "We felt like Verrett played Allen Robinson about as good as any corner in the league." Olson said Verrett covered Robinson wherever he lined up during much of last season's meeting. "I would expect to see the same, but we'll see how it unfolds on Sunday," Olson said. "He's an elite player there, and his skills are still on the rise."
While Rivers versus the Jaguars' defense is an obvious key another critical area is Chargers tight end Antonio Gates against the middle of the Jaguars' defense. That could mean Gates matched up on strong safety Johnathan Cyprien, or weak-side linebacker Telvin Smith, or even middle linebacker Paul Posluszny. Could it mean the Jaguars finding a way to get rookie linebacker Myles Jack and his exceptional coverage ability on the field? Perhaps, because even late in his career Gates remains a primary target for Rivers; he caught second-quarter touchdown passes of nine and 12 yards against the Jaguars last season and Rivers almost certainly will test the middle of the defense with Gates until the Jaguars prove it a bad strategy. "He is such a wise vet," Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash said of Gates. "He does a nice job of stemming you or pushing you a little bit to get open. He has done it for so many years. It is a situation where it is, 'Where is our best matchup?' That is the thing. We have to put our guys on guys that have the ability to cover their strengths."
The Jaguars have lost five consecutive games to the Chargers, including losses in each of the past three seasons. Those losses were one-sided until a six-point Chargers victory at EverBank Field in late November of last season, a key blow to what postseason hopes the Jaguars had at that point. Rivers has thrown 15 touchdown passes and four interceptions against Jacksonville.
"He will be back stronger than ever. This really is a great opportunity for a number of other players to go out there and make the most of their opportunity. The great thing is with the number of tight ends and receivers and backs that we have on our team, there are a number of guys we can work with. There is not going to be another Keenan Allen."
--Chargers HC Mike McCoy on the loss for the season of leading top WR Keenan Allen
"He's one of the top guys in the league every single year. What he's able to do, all the stuff he does at the line of scrimmage, the chemistry him and Antonio Gates have and [running back Danny] Woodhead as well. It's pretty special and he's definitely fun to watch."
--Jaguars QB Blake Bortles on Rivers
"With respect to the guys that will be doing it and with respect to Keenan, I don't know that you just replace him. To me, he's a top 10 guy in the league so those aren't easy to just replace. … We'll find a way, but you just don't replace a guy like that."
---Rivers on the loss of Allen