JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines key players, matchups and storylines as the Jaguars prepare to play host to the Oakland Raiders at EverBank Field in Jacksonville Sunday
JDR's coming to town, and the Jaguars have a winning streak.
That's the dual storyline this week as the Jaguars prepare for the Raiders, a team that has shown signs this season of developing into a playoff contender.
Jack Del Rio, who coached the Jaguars to two playoff appearances from 2003-2011, will coach at EverBank Field for the first time since he was fired late in the 2011 season. Del Rio, in his second season as Oakland's head coach, had a 68-71 regular-season record with the Jaguars.
Del Rio's return will be a storyline, but it won't be a significant issue for Jaguars players. Only defensive end Tyson Alualu, middle linebacker Paul Posluszny and tight end Marcedes Lewis remain from Del Rio's tenure.
The Jaguars enter Sunday on a two-game winning streak, having beaten the Indianapolis Colts 30-27 in London in Week 4 before beating the Chicago Bears 17-16 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois, Sunday.
The Raiders were expected to be vastly improved this season. So far, they're playing like it.
The Raiders' 4-1 start was their best start since 2002 – the last year they made the Super Bowl – and their 4-2 record has them in first place in the AFC West despite a 26-10 loss to Kansas City this past Sunday.
Key for Oakland is a core group of young players, with quarterback Derek Carr developing into one of the NFL's top young players at his position and wide receiver Amari Cooper doing the same. Carr has 12 touchdown passes with three interceptions this season and Cooper has 36 receptions for 585 yards and a touchdown.
The Raiders have struggled defensively, ranking last in the NFL in yards allowed, but end Khalil Mack is one of the NFL's top young players at his position. He has two sacks this season after registering 15 last season.
Matchups to watch
*Jaguars CB Jalen Ramsey and Prince Amukamara versus Cooper and WR Michael Crabtree.Cooper and Crabtree have keyed Oakland offensively, with Crabtree leading the team with five touchdown receptions. Ramsey shadowed Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery Sunday, and recovered from a difficult start to make the game-clinching pass breakup. There's no guarantee Ramsey will shadow Cooper, but when he does, the matchup will be one to watch. Just as key will be when Crabtree is covered by Amukamara, who has played at a high level when healthy this season.
*Jaguars LT Kelvin Beachum and RT Jermey Parnell versus Mack.The Raiders use Mack on both ends of the line, so both Parnell and Beachum will draw this assignment. Look for the Jaguars to get tight ends and backs involved, too, with most teams chipping and double-teaming the No. 5 overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft.
*Jaguars WRs Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns versus Raiders CBs David Amerson and Sean Smith.Robinson and Hurns remain the critical players to the Jaguars' offense, with Robinson leading the team with three touchdown reception and Hurns turning in game-changing plays at key times in both Jaguars victories this season. The Raiders are allowing a league-high 312.7 yards per game with 12 touchdown passes allowed.
Jaguars to watch
*Blake Bortles, quarterback.Bortles continues to be a major story for the Jaguars. He has struggled at times this season with accuracy, decision-making and pocket presence, but he has made clutch plays late in the last two games to help the Jaguars secure victories in both games.
*Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler Jr., Leo ends.Fowler and Ngakoue have flashed this season, with Ngakoue registering four sacks this season and Fowler registering two sacks with two forced interceptions. The duo didn't get as much pressure this past week against Chicago – partly because Bears quarterback Brian Hoyer throws quickly to minimize the effects of pressure. The duo needs to pressure Carr Sunday.
*Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon, running backs.The entire Jaguars running game is an area to watch this week. The Jaguars have rushed for more than 100 yards in a game just once this season, and ran for 54 yards on 20 carries against the Bears Sunday. The Raiders have allowed the third-most rushing yards per game in the NFL this season.
The Raiders have won three of the past four games, including three consecutive victories before a loss to Kansas City on Sunday. The Jaguars have won their last two games and haven't had a three-game winning streak since 2013 – Gus Bradley's first season as a head coach.
Key to victory
The Jaguars' offense must find answers. They have struggled to run this season – and partly as a result of that, they have struggled mightily for consistency. There has been talk of the team incorporating more no-huddle and tempo into the offense, but the Jaguars mostly need to run block better and need more consistent play from Bortles. Those areas will be key Sunday.
Keep an eye on …
*Wide receiver Rashad Greene (Achilles), tight end Neal Sterling (foot) and running back Corey Grant (toe) all missed the victory over the Bears with injuries. …
*Center Brandon Linder played through a foot injury against the Bears. …