SAN DIEGO, CA - OCTOBER 14: Running back Ryan Matthews #24 of the San Diego Chargers breaks tackles as he rush for a first down against Indianapolis Colts after rushing for a first down at Qualcomm Stadium October 14, 2013 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
The Jaguars rank last in the NFL in eight different offensive categories. Jacksonville has played two home games in 2013 and scored five points (a safety vs. Kansas City and a field goal vs. Indianapolis). So, the Jags offense has actually only scored three points in eight quarters at home.
On defense, the Jags are next-to-last in points allowed, but their putrid offense certainly has tainted that number. First-year head coach Gus Bradley earned the reputation as a defensive mastermind during his time as Seattle’s defensive coordinator, and at times the Jags have actually played respectable defensive football. A week ago they held Denver’s offense to its lowest yardage and points totals of the season.
However, they have a serious talent deficiency that should be exploited by an almost annoyingly efficient Chargers offense. So, without further delay, here are three players to keep an eye on Sunday in Florida:
Ryan Mathews, RB:
Might seem like a no-brainer to say the starting running back is a guy to keep an eye on but after what Mathews did on Monday night against the Colts, he is suddenly back to being a major part of the Chargers’ offense. When the Bolts, as a team, rush for 100-plus yards, they’re 3-1. When they don’t they’re 0-2. Mathews finally topped 100 by himself on Monday Night Football, the first time he’s done that since December of 2011. It was the sixth 100-yard game of Ryan’s career, with the Bolts going 5-1 in those games. Add to that fact the Jaguars are last in the league in rushing defense, and Mathews should get another 20-25 carries and top the century mark for the second straight game.
Cam Thomas, DT:
Defensive tackles in a 3-4 base defense don’t usually pile up monster tackle or sack numbers. They typically clog up the middle and let guys on the edge or the linebackers to make the stops. But, Thomas has been borderline M.I.A. the last few weeks. He had two tackles against the Colts, but none in the previous two games against the Raiders and Cowboys. Cam has no sacks and one tackle for a loss. His impact on the passing game has come in a different way. Thomas has two pass defenses and one interception. Jags quarterbacks have been dropped 22 times. Sunday’s starter, Chad Henne, has been sacked 10 times in five games (three starts). Jacksonville’s line is not great, and their QB is not good. If Thomas is going to start pushing his way in to the backfield this season, this is the week it begins.
Lavelle Hawkins, WR:
I’m going out on a limb and saying Eddie Royal, who’s officially listed as questionable, will not play because of a toe injury. With a bye week looming, there’s no reason to push Royal against a team the Chargers should beat handily. Give Eddie (as well as Jarret Johnson and Donald Butler) an extra week to get better for the stretch run. So, Hawkins will likely be active and see time on offense, rotating with Seyi Ajirotutu as the third wideout. Hawkins played the first five years of his career in Tennessee, seeing Jacksonville twice a year. Lavelle’s best NFL game came two years ago, when he caught eight passes for 88 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown (the longest of his career). Philip Rivers has proven he will throw the ball to anyone who’s open, even if the target has only been with the team for 20 days. Hawkins could be a surprise difference-maker.
The Chargers do have a recent history of playing down to the level of their competition. However, even if they do that this time around, coming out flat, turning the ball over a few times, dropping passes, missing tackles, forgetting their helmets at the team hotel, whatever, there is such a discrepancy in talent level that the Bolts should be able to overcome it.
It probably won’t be a blowout, but it probably won’t be very close, either. I don’t see the Jags getting in to the end zone on offense, but Josh Scobee is still an effective kicker. He’ll hit a few field goals.
The Chargers will march up and down the field with the same efficiency they’ve displayed most of the season, taking large chunks of time off the clock. At the end, they’ll have their first back-to-back wins (and winning record) of the 2013 season.
Final Score: Chargers 27, Jaguars 12.