The Jacksonville Jaguars signed what seemed like a who’s who of the NFL’s free agent group in 2016. Many believed that this would be the year that they finally took a step forward, toward the playoffs. Conversely the Lions signed a few depth players, and Marvin Jones. Pundits picked the Lions to win four games and place last in their division. These are two teams that have shown exactly how little some people who claim to be experts actually know about the subject that makes them money. Their trajectory could not be heading in a more different direction in the 2016 season. Jacksonville sits at 2-7, and worst in their division, while Detroit rides a bye week surge into first place in the NFC north.
The Jaguars have an impressive receiving corps, and a quarterback that many question due to inaccurate passes and problematic mechanics. This should sound somewhat familiar Detroit fans who have been paying attention to the national media’s preseason narrative about the Lions for the last several years. The good news for Jacksonville fans is that if there has ever been a cure for a struggling quarterback with decent receivers, it’s the Lions’ defense. The Jaguars went all in for immediate gains and have so far come up empty, while the Lions have played the long game and seen – at least in the eyes of the national media – surprising early returns. This Sunday’s tilt between the Lions and Jaguars should be a very interesting one. Are the Jags drafting second overall, or will the Lions continue their trend of playing up and down to their competition? Here are some of the key factors in this weeks game.
Julius Thomas Should Have a Great Day
On paper this is a no-brainer, the Lions have trouble defending tight ends in the middle of the field and Julius Thomas is a very good receiving tight end. With that said the Jaguars have not been using Thomas in the seams between the hash marks of zone defenses, and this is where the Lions are their weakest. He has been deployed in a great number of short out patterns near the sideline after chipping a pass rusher, a route that is an outlet and not the focal point of a passing play. Unless the Jaguars do something different than they have been, Thomas could be a surprisingly ill-used threat on Sunday. There has been a lot of speculation that the Jaguars’ coaching staff are in trouble, that their owner is losing patience. If the Jaguars’ offense is struggling, and Thomas is not spending a lot of time in the middle of the field, that will be a good indicator that their time should probably come to an end very soon.
Theo Riddick May Have a Tough Week
Myles Jack has come off the Jaguars’ injury report. For those of you who do not watch college football, Jack was injured during his last year in the NCAA, and fell to the second round of the draft despite being a linebacker capable of single covering wide receivers at the collegiate level. His knee injury required microfracture surgery, and was said to have put a ticking clock on his NFL career. His run in the league should be a brief, but spectacular stretch of shadowing players like Riddick. Without Jack, the Jaguars have been nearly as bad this season as the Lions at defending the middle of the field but better everywhere else. Jack has also been fighting a hip injury this season, which has limited his impact for the Jaguars. This week however would seem to be a perfect opportunity for the rookie to do what he does best, and take away the Lions’ most dangerous weapon in key passing situations. The Lions’ offense has been running through Riddick and Ebron the last few weeks, and whether it is in zone or man coverage Jack seems likely to see a lot of both players on Sunday. With Telvin Smith’s family situation undoubtedly affecting him this week, how Jack responds for the Jaguars will be key in this weeks game.
Lions 27, Jaguars 21
The Jaguars’ defense is ranked eighth in the NFL in yards allowed, but have had trouble creating turnovers. Their offense has been turning the ball over at an alarming clip but moving the ball a lot up and down the field. A certain amount of that is the result of the Jaguars falling behind early, teams taking their feet off the gas, killing the clock rather than moving the ball and garbage time offensive yardage. A certain amount, but not all of it. On a good day the Jaguars’ offense is dangerous. On a good day their defense has the personnel to match up with almost any offense in the NFL. I expect this to be a good day for the Jaguars. Nothing draws a team together like one of their own suffering, except possibly the birth of a child. The Jaguars are going to be 50 laser-focused warriors coming to the defense of their wounded comrade on Sunday, and they have a good enough roster to pull out a win if the Lions are not prepared. The Lions have had two weeks to get ready for this; they should be prepared.