Sunday's home-opener against the Arizona Cardinals is loaded with intrigue:
- What strategy will the Jaguars employ against the best receiving corps in football?
- How will the Jaguars deal with the loss of defensive end Reggie Hayward?
- Will rookie tackle Eugene Monroe overcome his opening-day trauma?
- How many empty seats will there be in Jacksonville Municipal Stadium?
Two 0-1 teams clash in a game the Jaguars need to win to avoid heading into consecutive AFC South games winless. Just one week into their season, the Jaguars are facing a must-win game if they are to avoid a slow start.
In a 14-12 loss to the Colts last week, rookie cornerback Derek Cox was targeted by Peyton Manning. Will the Cardinals try the same tactic? Also, might the Jaguars change tactics and use star cornerback Rashean Mathis to cover star Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald exclusively?
"It depends on what our game plan is," Mathis said in evading the question. "That's happened before. That's not out of the question."
Mathis referred to the Cardinals' receiving corps as "one of the best in the league." It includes Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston, all of whom topped the 1,000-yard mark last season when the Cardinals won the NFC title.
Cox isn't the only rookie of intrigue. Monroe, the eighth pick of this year's draft, experienced a nightmarish debut against Dwight Freeney, for which there's been criticism for a failure to give Monroe adequate help in attempting to block Freeney. Will Monroe get help against Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell?
"He's tall and rangy. He's slippery. He's a good player," Monroe said of Campbell, against whom Monroe played in college twice.
Monroe said he's suffering no lasting effects from the Freeney experience.
"I'm not worried about that. Last week is over," he said.
The Jaguars also have a rookie at right tackle. Eben Britton held his own against Robert Mathis in week one. Sunday, he'll get a face full of Darnell Dockett, which raises the question: Is Britton likely to get help in attempting to block Dockett? The likely answer is yes.
"That was a good game to start with," Britton said of the Colts contest. "We've got to do a better job than we did last week."
Coach Jack Del Rio said "we must be better across the board." That's especially true on offense. "We must be better on offense," Del Rio said. The Jaguars' week-one failures have left them ranked 27th in the league in total offense; 29th in passing.
Hayward sustained a season-ending broken leg in Indianapolis. An already-thin defensive line has gotten thinner, leaving Del Rio and Defensive Coordinator Mel Tucker having to juggle the lineup. Of course, Del Rio has not offered any information on what the Jaguars might do schematically.
The most important issue for Sunday's game might, in fact, be the seats that are certain to be empty. The game will be the first of what is expected to be eight regular-season blackouts in Jacksonville, which prompted owner Wayne Weaver to comment this week on the possibility of drafting popular Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, and that may be the greatest intrigue of all.