JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser sets the table by examining key players, matchups and storylines as the Jaguars prepare to play the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California, Sunday …
The buzz is loud and undeniable.
And for one of the first times this season, the buzz around the Jaguars has a giddy, hopeful feel to it because it's about rookie quarterback Blake Bortles.
Bortles, the No. 3 overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft, made his regular-season debut in a 44-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts Sunday. Although he entered the game with the Jaguars trailing, 30-0, entering the third quarter, Bortles injected some life and enthusiasm into the team, completing 14 of 24 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.
Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley named Bortles the permanent starter immediately after the game.
The Jaguars have struggled mightily thus far this season. Since leading the Philadelphia Eagles 17-0 at halftime in Week 1, they have been outscored 119-27, losing three consecutive games. They have fallen behind 21-0 and 30-0 in the first half the last two weeks to Washington and Indianapolis, respectively.
The defense has been of particular concern. Expected to be significantly improved from last season, the unit has struggled with missed tackles and missed assignments, and has allowed 466 yards a game.
Despite all of those issues, the spotlight will remain brightest on Bortles this week. It's clear he's the franchise quarterback of the future, and how he progresses in the coming weeks and months will largely dictate the future potential for the franchise's success.
The San Diego Chargers entered the season as one of the NFL's most underrated teams. That appears to be changing.
The Chargers (2-1), a playoff team a year ago, not only upset defending Super Bowl champion Seattle in Week 2, they traveled east and beat previously unbeaten Buffalo on Sunday in convincing fashion.
The Chargers' lone loss came to unbeaten Arizona, 18-17, in the regular-season opener, a game San Diego led late.
San Diego is very much a team built around its quarterback. Philip Rivers is one of the most underrated players in the NFL, a 32-year-old quarterback in his prime who has a knack for making clutch throws on third downs to keep drives alive. Keenan Allen is quickly emerging as one of the league's top young receivers, and while the Chargers aren't perceived as a dominant defense, they have knack for creating turnovers and making big plays at critical times.
This is very much Rivers' team. He knows how to work clock and has a veteran's understanding of game situations. He and veteran tight end Antonio Gates make this a difficult team to get off the field, and make this a tough matchup for a young, struggling Jaguars team.
Three matchups to watch
*Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny versus Gates.This isn't a true one-on-one matchup, because it's not as if the Jaguars will ask Posluszny to cover the veteran tight end all over the field. But the Jaguars need to be aware of Gates. Covering the tight end has been an issue for this team the past two seasons, and numerous mental errors allowed the Colts' tight ends big plays Sunday. Gates can turn defensive lapses into touchdowns in a hurry.
*Jaguars pass rush against Rivers.The pass rush swarmed in the first half of the opener, sacking Eagles quarterback Nick Foles five times. Though opportunities have been scarce, the pass rush hasn't been as effective in recent weeks, and that must change against Rivers. The first component here is stopping the run. The second is using pass-rushing opportunities to pressure Rivers. He's savvy enough he won't give you the ball a lot, but if you don't pressure him, he'll hit big plays.
*Jaguars offensive tackle Luke Joeckel versus Chargers linebacker Dwight Freeney.The entire Jaguars offensive line remains an issue, having allowed 14 sacks the past two games. At the same time, the unit allowed just one sack in the second half with Bortles in the game, so the rookie's pocket presence could help the front. Joeckel has been OK in three games starting at left tackle this season, and he was better this past week than the week before. He has made some youthful mistakes, which is expected from a player who has started four games at his position. He'll have to be better than OK Sunday. Freeney is 34 and perhaps not the dominant presence he was in his 20s, but he has two sacks, 11 pressures and three quarterback hits in three games this season and he can still bother the quarterback.
Three Jaguars to Watch
*Blake Bortles.He's the guy now. That means all eyes are on him from here on out. He'll handle the pressure and be fine in the long run. He's mature for a rookie, and has the confidence to play the position. How he handles mistakes in the short term will be key to the pace of his development.
*Toby Gerhart/Denard Robinson.The Jaguars began piecing together a running game last week, with Robinson and Gerhart basically splitting carries. Robinson's speed gives the Jaguars a weapon they don't have without him on the field, and Bradley said earlier this week he has earned an expanded role.
*The Jaguars' secondary.It was tempting to make this the entire defense, because there are a ton of areas to watch Sunday. The linebackers have struggled in recent weeks, particularly in coverage, but Bradley particularly focused on cornerbacks when discussing the loss to the Colts. Wide receivers have been too open too often this season. If Rivers has receivers running free early, this could be another one-sided game by halftime.
Keep an eye on …
*Tight end Clay Harbor (calf is expected to practice Wednesday. He returned to practice last week after being out since early training camp, but was inactive Sunday. With Marcedes Lewis out six-to-eight weeks with a hamstring injury, the team needs Harbor as a receiving tight end. …
*Offensive tackle Austin Pasztor (hand) will continue to be evaluated. He has been out since Week 2 of the preseason, and though he practiced full last week with a protective club on his hand, he was inactive Sunday. Veteran Sam Young started in his place, having replaced recently-released Cameron Bradfield in the lineup. …
*Middle linebacker Paul Posluszny (ankle) will be evaluated Wednesday, but his situation is not thought serious. …
*Safety Chris Prosinski sustained an elbow/triceps strain and will miss between two-to-four weeks, the team announced. With Prosinski out, the Jaguars have three healthy safeties – Johnathan Cyprien; Winston Guy, Jr.; and Josh Evans. The team also could move Craig Loston off the practice squad. …
*Wide receiver Marqise Lee (hamstring), who missed the loss to Indianapolis, will be evaluated throughout the week. He is not expected to play against San Diego Sunday. …
*Fullback Will Ta'ufo'ou sustained an ankle injury against Indianapolis and will be evaluated during the week. …