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Jaguars vs. Panthers: Individual matchups that could decide the game

When the Jaguars face the Panthers on Sunday as the seasons starts, which individual matchups will be critical for the Jags to win the game?

Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

It's Week 1 for the Jacksonville Jaguars, baby! The Jaguars kick off their season this Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, and while it will be a battle between the two teams on each side of the ball, I'm looking for a specific individual matchup that could make-or-break the game for the Jaguars.

But "individual matchups" does not necessarily mean just two players facing off against each other. It could be the Jaguars pass rush vs. Cam Newton, our linebackers against Greg Olsen, Allen Robinson vs. Charles Tillman, and more.

This week, that matchup will be between the example itself: Blake Bortles vs. the Panthers secondary.

Blake Bortles vs. the Panthers secondary

The starters in the Panthers secondary are cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Josh Norman, the starting free safety is Roman Harper, and the starting strong safety is Kurt Coleman.

Last year, three of these four players combined for a total of nine interceptions. The fourth player, Tillman, only appeared in two games for the Chicago Bears before tearing his triceps and missing the season.

Carolina's secondary is fairly solid, and should be a good matchup for Blake Bortles. Normal came on strong during the latter half of last season and both Harper and Coleman were solid throughout 2014.

Bortles, however, had an incredibly inconsistent year last year, where he threw only 11 touchdowns against 17 interceptions and made many mistakes. He's fixed a lot of what we saw last year by tweaking his mechanics and shortening his release, and he looks very comfortable in the Jaguars' new offense under coordinator Greg Olson.

Case in point: this preseason, Blake completed 65% of his passes. That's not including several drops that, were they completed, would have resulted in a 78% completion rating. Drops or no drops, those numbers are far better than his 2014 completion percentage of 58.9%.

How can Blake win the matchup?

Bortles can win his matchup against the Panthers secondary if he can continue to play like he did throughout the preseason. He needs to remain poised in the pocket, not pulling down and running unless it's absolutely necessary. If he can continue to read the defense well and make throws that can extend drives -- as he did in the preseason -- it will lead lead to points.

The running game also must be a factor. If the Panthers are allowed to play off the line and not fear T.J. Yeldon or Denard Robinson, Bortles won't find many windows in the Panthers' secondary.

I think this is the matchup that decides the game. If Blake can win, the Jaguars should prevail and go on to beat Carolina, starting the season 1-0 for the first time since 2011.