Here is a detailed look at the key players to watch for the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Kansas City Chiefs’ keys to victory leading up to their Week 9 game at noon at Arrowhead Stadium. The game will air on CBS (Ch. 5 in Kansas City).
Coach: Gus Bradley (14-41) is in his fourth year as an NFL head coach, all with the Jaguars. Bradley, 50, is a positive, very upbeat leader but his 14-41 record — and accompanying .255 winning percentage — is the worst of any coach in the Super Bowl era with a minimum of 50 games under his belt. Bradley, who has placed third in the AFC South for three consecutive seasons, has a defensive background; he spent 2009 to 2012 as the Seattle Seahawks’ defensive coordinator, helping to mold the “Legion of Boom”-led defense that eventually led the way to a Super Bowl title in 2014. Bradley has brought the same “all about the ball” defensive philosophy to Jacksonville and has spent the last four years acquiring pieces to run it.
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Offense: Nathaniel Hackett, 36, will coach his first game as the Jaguars’ offensive coordinator after Greg Olson was fired following the Jaguars’ 36-22 debacle of a loss to the Tennessee Titans on Thursday Night Football. He is the son of longtime college and pro coach Paul Hackett, an offensive guru who was the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator from 1993 to 1997. The Jaguars rank 15th in the league in passing (258 ypg) and 30th in rushing (72.6 ypg). The pass-happy Jaguars have passed the ball approximately 69 percent of the time — the most in the league — and have gone shotgun on approximately 49.3 percent of their offensive plays, the sixth-most in the league. The Jaguars are also a predominantly a three-wide team, though they’ll mix in some two-tight end sets. The offense is heavy on bootlegs and multiple formations, but they’ll use a little read-option to take advantage of Bortles’ athleticism. Hackett has said they want to run the football more. “Last year as a team, they rushed the ball more than they threw it,” defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said.
Defense: Todd Wash, 48, is in his first year as the Jaguars’ defensive coordinator and his fourth overall with Jacksonville, as he was promoted after serving as the defensive line coach. The Jaguars run a 3-4 “under” defense that is built around speed, physicality and tackling. The Jaguars are predominantly a single-high team that currently ranks eighth in passing defense (224.6) and 27th in rushing defense (124.7). The Jaguars rank 25th in the NFL with 13 sacks and dead last in turnovers forced with five.
Special teams: Mike Mallory, 53, is in his fourth year as Bradley’s special-teams coach and fourth overall as a NFL special-teams coach. Kicker Jason Myers has converted 86.7 percent of his field goals. Myers is also a kickoff specialist — most of his kicks (65 percent) land for touchbacks so Tyreek Hill may not get many opportunities to change the game. Punter Brad Nortman has dropped 10 punts inside the 20 and has impressed Chiefs special-teams coach Dave Toub. “Nortman, the punter, is going to put us in situations where we have to get everybody blocked up because he hangs the ball so well,” Toub said. The Jaguars’ coverage units are solid while their return units are in the bottom half of the league on kicks (21st) and punts (27th). The Jaguars, however, had all sorts of special-teams issues against Oakland two weeks ago — including a muffed punt, a fourth-down conversion run by a punter and poor judgments on punt returns inside the 10-yard line — and Marqise Lee fumbled a punt last week against Tennessee.
Four keys to a Chiefs victory
1. Dial up some power and misdirection
Jacksonville’s defense is very fast, but fast defenses can be exploited with misdirection running plays like counters, which Chiefs coach Andy Reid is more than capable of dialing up. The Jaguars also struggled on power running plays featuring pulling linemen and are susceptible on bounce outs and outside runs, as their ends and corners lost contain a number of times last week against Tennessee, which rushed for 214 yards in 43 carries (4.9 ypc). The Chiefs also have a read-option game that could be effective against the Jaguars.. Questioning a team’s effort is always an iffy proposition, but there was some loafing to the football last week. The Chiefs might try to make them prove they can be physical, decisive and willing to tackle, as they missed their fair share last week. But the Chiefs aren’t underestimating the Jaguars. “I think in last week’s game versus Tennessee, that’s not who they are — and we know that,” co-offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said. “They came out on short rest and obviously didn’t play how they wanted to play. In the defensive category, they’re a top-10 defense and they play that way. Trust me, we’re well aware of that.”
2. Take some deep shots
Chiefs quarterback Nick Foles, who is getting the nod this week in place of Alex Smith, has a strong arm; he should get an opportunity to put it to good use against a youngish defense that’s only recorded 13 sacks this season. Time to air it out some and let Jeremy Maclin, who hasn’t quite had the season he was hoping for, and dynamic fifth-round rookie Tyreek Hill stretch their legs a bit. The Jaguars’ surrendered a 36-yard touchdown to the Titans last week on playaction, so that’s something the Chiefs might try to emulate. The Jaguars also haven’t forced a turnover in their last three contests, so there’s not a whole lot to lose by throwing it around a bit unless they can finally start making some plays with the ball in the air. This Seahawks-style defense is also a little vulnerable to wheel routes down the sideline, so don’t be surprised if the Chiefs dial up a few of those, too.
3. Makes them prove they can run it
The Jaguars’ running backs — T.J. Yeldon (3.5 yards per carry) and Chris Ivory (3.2 yards per carry) — are talented. “They’ve got two really good backs, Yeldon and Ivory, both physical guys,” Sutton said. The Jaguars, however, have not been able to get going this year, largely because the Jaguars have lost the battle at the line of scrimmage all year long. They just don’t generate a ton of movement at the point of attack — which explains their No. 30 ranking in rushing, and two runs of 20-plus yards all season — which means the Chiefs could choose to place even numbers in the box and rely on their defensive front to stop the run without an extra defender. Doing so might help them devote an extra defender to the next key to winning, which is ...
4. Limit explosive passing plays
Two players the Chiefs need to concern themselves with are receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, two big targets who specialize in big plays downfield. Quarterback Blake Bortles has more than enough arm to get it downfield, too; he led the league in attempts, completions and yards a year ago and Robinson (17.5 yards per catch in ’15) and Hurns (161 yards per catch) feasted on smaller defensive backs for chunk gains, as the Jaguars led the league in completions over 20 yards. “Guys that can stretch you down the field,” Chiefs inside linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “They can throw the ball up and make a play.” They have not had as much success throwing the ball downfield this year, however; they’ve dropped to 16th in completions over 20-plus yards because a.) defenses are taking away some of those opportunities with two-deep coverage and b.) Bortles has really struggled with his accuracy. The Chiefs might try to do the same over-the-top coverage, but the Jaguars’ offensive line allowed some free runners up the middle on blitzes last week, so don’t be surprised if the Chiefs selectively blitz Bortles, too. “They’ve got enough weapons to keep you nervous,” Sutton said.
Four Jaguars to watch
No. 5, QB Blake Bortles, 24 years old, 6-5, 239, third season
Former No. 3 overall pick who had a nice season in 2015, completing 58.6 percent of his passes for 4,428 yards, 35 touchdowns and 18 interceptions, but has been fighting it some this year and is on track to complete 60 percent of his passes for 4,352 yards, 27 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. Big, sturdy guy who possesses a good arm. Mechanics have been very off recently, however; his wind-up motion has been getting longer and he’s struggled with his accuracy, both deep and short, with some inexplicable wobbles mixed in. Will also throw off his back foot and make bad decisions in the face of pressure. Was visibly frustrated last week and brought in his own passing coach this week to help rectify his issues. The body language of his receivers last week wasn’t great as Bortles looked indecisive and struggled with his accuracy, but Bradley says Bortles is liked by his teammates. “The issue with him is he can be hard on himself and if it doesn’t go quite his way he takes it all in,” Bradley said. “If we don’t play quite as well as we need to, he shoulders all of the blame, just like good quarterbacks do. I think there’s a level of frustration that he’s not performing up to his best.” Is a good athlete who can run and escape pressure and isn’t above lowering his shoulder to lower the boom on defensive backs. “He’s one big dude, and he can maneuver a lot better than they say he runs,” Sutton said. “He’s got escapability.”
No. 15, WR Allen Robinson, 23 years old, 6-3, 218, third season
Posted a monster 2015 campaign in which he made the Pro Bowl by catching 80 passes for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns. Numbers are down this year — he’s on track to finish with 73 catches for 837 yards and seven touchdowns — but Bortles’ accuracy issues haven’t helped. He’s also been seeing more double teams after his breakout 2015 season. Big, physical receiver with good speed, footwork and burst out of his cuts. Knows how to get open and really stands out on contested downfield balls — routinely shows the ability to elevate over smaller defensive backs and win with the ball in the air. “He’s really noted for his 50-50 balls — he can go up and take the ball from ya, and Blake trusts him,” Sutton said. Saw 15 targets last week and mainly lined up on the left side of the formation against the Titans, which means he could be prominently involved in this week’s gameplan, especially if the Jaguars choose to avoid star cornerback Marcus Peters like other teams have recently.
No. 90, DT Malik Jackson, 26 years old, 6-5, 300, fifth season
Was lured away from the Super Bowl-champion Denver Broncos with a six-year, $90 million deal. Largely plays three-technique for the Jaguars, where he can use his size and quickness to get upfield and penetrate, but will occasionally reduce inside to a one-technique. Has recorded 12 tackles, a sack and six pressures in seven games after racking up 45 tackles, five sacks and 16 pressures in 16 games in 2015. Durable; rarely misses games. Gets off the ball fairly well but can occasionally be reached. Has a bull rush and a swim move as a pass rusher, and also has a knack for getting his hands up and deflecting passes; his 15 passes defensed since 2013 rank seventh in the NFL among all defensive linemen. “Even though he doesn’t have the sack numbers he’s had, he’s somebody you have to be aware of,” co-offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said. “He’s too good of a player to not be accountable for.”
No. 51, ILB Paul Posluszny, 32 years old, 6-2, 232, 10th season
Tempo-setting throwback linebacker who leads the Jaguars in tackles (64) and gets his teammates lined up properly. Can still run; despite his age, he has some quickness and juice and remains a rock-solid player. Generally has good eyes and seems to know where the ball is going, though he’ll take some false steps on read option. Takes good angles to the football and is willing to be physical with oncoming linemen but can be moved/controlled once locked on to. Generally pursues hard and can make plays in the alley. “Stud,” Nagy said. “Guy’s been doing it for a long time. Penn State guy. Smart football player. Plays hard.”
Projected Jaguars two-deep
KEY: Bold=Player to Watch, C=Captain, AP=2015 All-Pro, PB=2016 Pro Bowl, *=See “additional notes” section below for more info on player
No., Name, Ht., Wt., Years
5 Blake Bortles (C), 6-5, 239, 3 | 7 Chad Henne, 6-3, 319, 9
24 T.J. Yeldon, 6-1, 223, 2 | 33 Chris Ivory, 6-0, 224, 7
15 Allen Robinson (PB), 6-3 218, 3 | 17 Arrelious Benn, 6-2, 222, 6
*88 Allen Hurns, 6-3, 201, 3 | 13 Rashad Greene, Sr., 5-11, 190, 2
*11 Marqise Lee, 6-0, 200, 3 | 81 Bryan Walters, 6-0, 195, 5
*80 Julius Thomas, 6-5, 256, 6 | 89 Marcedes Lewis, 6-6, 280, 10
68 Kelvin Beachum, 6-3, 316, 5 | 79 Bryce Harris, 6-6, 300, 5
77 Patrick Omameh, 6-4, 316, 4 | 64 Chris Reed, 6-5, 310, 1
65 Brandon Linder, 6-6, 309, 3 | 69 Tyler Shatley, 6-3, 306, 3
60 A.J. Cann, 6-3, 317, 2 | 64 Chris Reed, 6-5, 310, 1
*78 Jermey Parnell, 6-6, 323, 6 | 77 Patrick Omameh, 6-4, 316, 4
*91 Yannick Ngakoue, 6-2, 246, R | *56 Dante Fowler, Jr., 6-3, 250, 2
90 Malik Jackson, 6-5, 300, 5 | 99 Sen’Darrick Marks, 6-2, 309, 8
95 Abry Jones, 6-4, 318, 4 | 94 Richard Ash, 6-3, 325, 1
*93 Tyson Alualu, 6-3, 304, 7 | 75 Jared Odrick, 6-5, 298, 7
*50 Telvin Smith, 6-3, 218, 2 | 44 Myles Jack, 6-1, 247, R
51 Paul Posluszny (C), 6-2, 232, 10 | 52 Hayes Pullard III, 6-0, 233, 2
*44 Myles Jack, 6-1, 247, R | 55 Dan Skuta, 6-2, 252, 8
21 Prince Amukamara, 6-0, 202, 6 | 22 Aaron Colvin, 6-0, 195, 3
*39 Tashaun Gipson, 5-11, 210, 5 | 25 Peyton Thompson, 5-10, 189, 2
*37 Johnathan Cyprien, 6-0, 217, 4 | 47 Jarrod Wilson, 6-2, 209, R
22 Aaron Colvin, 6-0, 195, 3 | 31 Davon House, 6-0, 200, 6
*20 Jalen Ramsey, 6-2, 211, R | 22 Aaron Colvin, 6-0, 193, 3
2 Jason Myers, 5-10, 195, 2
3 Brad Nortman, 6-2, 218, 5
11 Marqise Lee, 6-0, 200, 3
*13 Rashad Greene, Sr., 5-11, 190, 2
46 Carson Tinker (C), 6-0, 239, 4
Bonus notes on the Jaguars
▪ Hurns is a good player who had a nice year in 2015 — 64 catches, 1,031 yards and 10 touchdowns — but both he and Robinson have had the occasional focus drop this season. Still, Hurns has been the primary big-play threat this year, with nine catches over 20 yards or more compared to Robinson’s four.
▪ Lee, a second-round pick in 2014, is having career year with 30 catches for 358 yards. As teams have adjusted their coverage to account for Hurns and Robinson, Lee has been ripping it up underneath. He doesn’t have a touchdown but he can still hurt the Chiefs, provided Bortles can figure out his mechanics and get him the ball in the one-on-one matchups he’ll see Sunday. “Marqise Lee has come around really good for them this year, too,” Sutton said. “He’s stepped up — he’s a much bigger part of their week-to-week plans.”
▪ Thomas scored 24 touchdowns with the Broncos from 2013 to 2014 but only has eight in his two years with the Jaguars. He’s on pace to finish with 43 catches for 512 yards and seven touchdown this season.
▪ Chiefs outside linebacker Dee Ford, who has been coming on strong lately, could be in for a nice game. He’ll be facing Parnell, who is having a nice season but was beat with a speed rush and rip — one of Ford’s new moves — for a sack last week.
▪ Aluala might get the nod at “big” end for the Jaguars since Odrick is battling foot and ankle injuries.
▪ Fowler, the No. 3 overall pick in 2015, missed all of last season with a torn ACL and has more penalties (seven) than sacks (two) this season. He’s yielded the starting job to Ngakoue, a rookie who has been a pleasant surprise; he leads the team in sacks with four. Bradley said Fowler needs to be more consistent. “That’s our challenge for him,” Bradley said. “Sometimes with younger players you have that, but you see flashes of him. You see flashes of his speed, his power and his strengths.”
▪ Smith is undersized but has loads of quickness and good instincts. He needs to improve his tackling — he missed way too many tackles against the Titans — and can be late with his eyes in coverage but has the look of a good player, provided he can hold up in the box long-term at only 218 pounds.
▪ Jack rotates in at strongside linebacker with Skuta and generally comes out on passing downs. Chiefs general manager John Dorsey admitted liking him during the draft.
▪ Cyprien is a physical strong safety who loves to come up and fill running lanes and lay the wood, ala Seattle’s Kam Chancellor. He’ll line up as a linebacker in some nickel looks and likes to throw his body around; receivers and tight ends need to keep their heads on a swivel when running over the middle.
▪ The Jaguars handed Gipson — a former Pro Bowler with 15 career interceptions — $36 million this offseason to play the single-high Earl Thomas role in this defense. He has 18 tackles, one pass defensed and an interception.
▪ Ramsey is an aggressive, physical player with terrific athleticism. “He’s a big kid,” Nagy said. “He’s gonna press ‘ya and jam ‘ya and be physical.” He also plays with attitude, especially for a rookie; Ramsey was ejected from the game against the Raiders two weeks ago and got into a war of words with Baltimore’s Steve Smith, Sr., earlier this season. The Chiefs’ receivers — particularly the super-competitive Jeremy Maclin — need to keep their composure and not let him take them out of their game. “He’s extremely competitive — extremely competitive,” Bradley said of Ramsey, the No. 5 overall pick this year.
▪ The Jaguars are the second-most penalized team in the league (9.4 per game), only behind Oakland (10.8). The Chiefs should stay disciplined and let these guys beat themselves.
▪ Greene, who muffed a punt against Oakland two weeks ago, was a healthy inactive last week. If he doesn’t get the call, expect Lee — who who muffed a punt last week — or Walters to get a shot.
Prediction: Chiefs 27-20
The Jaguars have been outscored 81-8 in the first three quarters of their road games this season. The Chiefs need to come out and take it to these guys early. The Jags looked out of it last week on Thursday Night Football as they fell behind 24-0 before halftime, so if the Chiefs get it up they might be liable to quit, unless the Jaguars get motivated to save Bradley’s job. The hunch here is that they’ll play better and harder, but still fall to a superior Chiefs team.