JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines key players, matchups and storylines as the Jaguars prepare to play the San Diego Chargers in San Diego, California, Sunday
The Jaguars' buzz is simple this week.
Close is no longer remotely enough. It's about winning now, and the time to start winning comes Sunday in San Diego.
Although the Jaguars played impressively at times in a 27-23 loss to Green Bay Sunday – four points and 14 yards from victory – they are still 0-1. Falling to 0-2 would put a lot of pressure on this young team.
This feels like a different Jaguars team than the one that lost to the Chargers five of the last six seasons. It's a more talented team with more weapons on offense, and while the pass rush was not as effective as would be ideal against Green Bay, it's a defense that held up against Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Charges quarterback Philip Rivers isn't as mobile as Rodgers, but Rivers is an elite quarterback with as much savvy and creativity as any quarterback in the league. It's undoubtedly a tough matchup in that respect.
But it's a matchup the Jaguars need to win. And that will be this week's buzz.
The Chargers' season hardly could have started worse. Not only did they lose a 21-point lead in a 33-27 overtime loss to Kansas City, they also lost dynamic wide receiver Keenan Allen to a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament tear. Rivers makes the Chargers a dangerous, resilient team – and considering the circumstances, it's a team that will approach Week 2 as a must-win game. This is a team that looked very dangerous early against Kansas City, blowing out a team that made the postseason a year ago. Is it the team from the first three quarters or the one from the fourth? Stay tuned.
Matchups to watch
*Jaguars wide receivers Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson versus Chargers cornerbacks Jason Verrett and Brandon Flowers.This is strength versus strength. Verrett is perhaps the NFL's most underrated top-level corner and Robinson fits into that category among receivers. If the Jaguars win this matchup, the offense will be difficult to stop Sunday.
*Jaguars nose tackle Roy Miller III and middle linebacker Paul Posluszny versus Chargers running backs Danny Woodhead and Melvin Gordon.The Jaguars pride themselves on stopping the run, and they held Packers running back Eddie Lacy to 61 yards on 14 carries with one rush for 28 yards. The Chargers rushed for 155 yards against Kansas City Sunday, with Woodhead rushing for 89 yards on 16 carries and Gordon rushing for 57 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries.
*Jaguars strong safety Johnathan Cyprien versus Chargers tight end Antonio Gates.Cyprien has struggled at times in coverage, and had a memorable play in the opener on which he failed to wrap up Lacy. The Chargers almost certainly will target Cyprien in the middle of the field with Gates, who remains one of the league's most-reliable receiving tight ends.
Jaguars to watch
*Julius Thomas, tight end.Thomas was critical against Green Bay, playing like the weapon he had been in Denver in 2013-2014. If he continues in that vein, quarterback Blake Bortles suddenly has three go-to, reliable weapons in Thomas, Hurns and Robinson.
*Dante Fowler Jr., defensive end.This is about the entire pass rush. The Jaguars registered one sack as they surrounded Rodgers Sunday rather than employing an all-out rush concept. Rivers wasn't sacked in the opener, but the Jaguars need to change that Sunday.
*T.J. Yeldon, running back.Yeldon rushed for 39 yards on 21 carries in the opener. That statistic wasn't on Yeldon as much as the offensive line, but the Jaguars must run more effectively against San Diego. Their 1.8 yards-per-carry average from the opener won't win games.
The Jaguars have struggled against San Diego in recent seasons, and also have struggled on the West Coast in general. They have lost their last five meetings with the Chargers and haven't won on the West Coast since beating Oakland in 2004. That's a span of seven games.
Key to victory
The Jaguars must figure a way to limit the effectiveness of Rivers, one of the NFL's best managing games from the line of scrimmage. It is that ability that has made him a difficult matchup for the Jaguars in recent seasons. He was particularly effective in that capacity in a 31-25 Chargers victory at EverBank Field on November 29 last season. Rivers in that game expertly got receivers into good matchups against the Jaguars' defense, passing for 300 yards and four touchdowns. Rivers is probably going to have success. He's that good. But the Jaguars need to disrupt him enough to have their own share of success defensively, too.
Keep an eye on …
*Running back Chris Ivory remained hospitalized Monday after being admitted Sunday with a "general medical condition." His status for Sunday's game is "in question," according to the Jaguars.
*Cornerback Jalen Ramsey sustained a sprained left ankle Sunday and his status will be updated Wednesday. …
*Thomas sustained a sprained right ankle and will be evaluated later in the week. …
*Cornerback Prince Amukamara reported hamstring soreness Monday, and his status will be updated later in the week. …