Quite A Splash
The Jags finished 2015 with a 5-11 record, a couple of potential wins squandered, and questions about whether Gus Bradley would be brought back. They also had a few questions answered. The first was that Blake Bortles could actually be a capable QB. The second answer was that they had some really good wide receivers; both of their starting Allens (Hurns and Robinson) had over 1,000 yards receiving. The other question answered was that their defense was bad. Really, really, second worst in the NFL in scoring allowed, BAD.
Bradley kept his job and got a one-year extension, but defensive coordinator Bob Babich was fired January 5. The Jaguars then embarked on an offseason makeover of the awful defense. Todd Walsh was named DC; a couple of months later, Monte Kiffin was brought in as a defensive consultant and at-large defensive assistant.
Then free agency started, and the Jags started throwing around money. $75.5 Million of guaranteed money as a matter of fact. Malik Jackson got most of the guaranteed money, $42 Million over the next six years. Also brought in was Safety Tashaun Gipson and former NY Giants 1st round pick CB Prince Amakura.
The offense also got some help in the form of Chris Ivory, coming off a career year for the Jets and a new Left Tackle in the form of Kelvin Beachum, obtained from the Steelers. Ivory cost the team $10 Million guaranteed, and Beachum cost the team $1.5 Million guaranteed, but his contract could net him $45 Million if he plays through it.
Bank account drained, the team then turned to the draft...
Defense, Defense, Defense
The Jaguars had seven draft picks and spent 6 of them on defensive players. We Charger fans are quite familiar with their first two picks; Jalen Ramsey DB and Myles Jack LB. Then they went defensive line in picks 3,4,6 (they gave up their 5 to trade up and get Jack) and added another d-lineman with their 7th rounder. Together with last year's 1st round pick (Dante Fowler, who missed the entire 2015 season with a knee injury), it is possible that Jags will start four first-year players on their defense in 2016.
They should score points. Bortles looked like he turned a corner about four games into last season. His arm strength and athleticism were there from his pre-draft workouts. His decision making has improved, and his accuracy is getting to where it needs to be. The TE and WR groups are superb. The O-line is average, which means that Bortles and the RB's have to work harder for success. Assuming some progress from Yeldon and the addition of Ivory, they should be able to get some better balance in their offense. Of course, they threw the ball a lot last year because they were behind in so many games.
Which leads us back to the defense. With at least half the projected defensive starters being new (and 3 of them 1st-year players), how fast the group can come together and play at an NFL level will determine if the Jags can crack the elusive .500 line in 2016.
The AFC South itself is now the incubator for some of the best young QB talent in the league. Depending on how Brock Osweiler works out, he may or may not be the worst QB in this division 2 years from now. The Colts still have some major holes, Tennessee is rebuilding, and Houston needs to get things figured out on offense. The Jaguars have an outside shot at winning this division, but still, look like they are behind the Colts and Texans. A lot has to go wrong for those two teams, and a lot has to go right for the Jags for them to see the playoffs this season.
Gus Bradley is absolutely coaching for his job this season, and GM David Caldwell is also in danger of getting the ax too if they can't get to 8 wins. Owner Rashid Khan is a no-nonsense businessman that understands strategic thinking and taking the long view, but the plan needs to show some evidence of working for him to bring back the current front office and coaching staff.
Outlook Against The Chargers
This early game will test the Bolts pass defense in a similar manner to the Chiefs game the week before would test the run defense. Bortles, Robinson, Hurns, and Thomas present a different challenge than Smith, Maclin, Kelce and ?. Bortles has top-shelf arm strength, good size, and the ability to move (he had 310 rushing yards in 2015 on 52 attempts). The Chargers have had trouble with capable TE's recently, and Julian Thomas certainly is one of those when healthy. The match-up of Allen Robinson against Jason Verrett, two rising stars in the NFL, will be particularly intriguing.
The running game was average last year, but TJ Yeldon did get a 4.1 YPC in his rookie season and FA addition Chris Ivory is coming off of his best season. The Jags offense was potent last year and looks like it has gained ground for 2016. Offensive Coordinator Greg Olsen does not run an unusual system for the 2016 NFL. The root of their offense is the West Coast system, but with a lot of spread, Ehrhardt-Perkins, and Air Coryell wrinkles melded in with the West Coast concepts and terminology.
Defensively, we will get a look at Jalen Ramsey, plus Myles Jack. Seeing those two on the same field as Joey Bosa could provide an early idea of who drafted the best defensive player in 2016.
The Jags defense looks a lot like Seattle's, which is not surprising given Gus Bradley's job as Seattle's DC before taking the head coach gig in North East Florida. This is a 4-3 which mixes in a 3-4 under and nickel packages frequently to show different looks to an offense.
These teams know each other really well; this will be the 3rd straight season they have faced each other. The Chargers have won both of the previous games.
Prediction: This has the potential to be a fun game to watch, with a lot of scoring by both teams. I'll give the Bolts the edge here because of Rivers ability against a defense that will be playing a lot of guys in the 2nd NFL game of their career. Playing at what amounts to a 4:00 p.m. start time for the Jaguars should probably help, too.
Bolts win in a close game that is one of the most entertaining games of Week 2. The Jags are climbing out of the pushover zone though and will surprise a few teams in 2016. It is fortunate that the Bolts are playing against this young team early in the season before they get the chance to figure out a few more things.