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Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Washington primer: Key matchups, storylines, predictions, and more for Week 15

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Incredibly, the Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9) open as a touchdown favorite as they return to the ‘Bank to take on Washington (6-7) at 1:00pm EST for the final home game of the 2018 NFL season.

BROADCAST: For those not attending the game, we’ll have Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon on the call with Steve Tasker on the sideline.

REFEREE: Uh, the NFL gave Clete Blakeman another Jaguars game? Oh to be a fly on the wall when Coughlin talks to him before the game. #MylesJackWasntDown

UNIFORM WATCH: *Insert favorite 2018 season funeral joke here*

Opponent

Washington have had a really bad few weeks. From Alex Smith suffering a potentially career and overall well-being threatening leg injury that has already required several surgeries, to claiming Reuben Foster after yet another domestic violence allegation, to now promising second-round rookie Derrius Guice also having infection complications with his ACL rehab, Washington have had about as bad a month as you can imagine. It was all sunshine just a few weeks ago when Washington were 6-3 and on the top of the NFC East ladder before succumbing to a four game losing streak. As the kids say, life comes at you fast.

Offensively, they are essentially a bunch of loose parts strewn together to try and pose as some type of passable NFL unit. After losing backup Colt McCoy to a leg injury and Mark Sanchez throwing one of the most incredible pick sixes in my recollection last week, the dust has settled on San Diego Fleet quarterback Josh Johnson, who hasn’t played an NFL snap since 2013. Washington could have atoned for some of the negative PR they received from claiming Foster by giving Colin Kaepernick, who once replaced Alex Smith in San Francisco, an opportunity to compete, but again they failed to do so.

To be fair, Josh Johnson looked remarkable last week. Johnson worked with head coach Jay Gruden in 2013 with the Cincinnati Bengals so there is familiarity there, but Johnson’s impressive performance needs to be taken heavily into context. By the time he entered the game it was already well out of reach and the Giants didn’t necessarily have to put out full effort with the game already in hand. Also, the Giants were certainly unprepared for Johnson, because, well, he didn’t have any film since 2013. Johnson should have a much more difficult time against the Jaguars with two extra days of rest of rest and preparation, but it’s also no secret the Jags defensive line has struggled mightily against mobile quarterbacks and defensive coordinator Todd Wash simply hasn’t been able to figure it out. With Alex Smith’s career in jeopardy, Johnson actually has a lot to play for to stake his case for being on Washington’s preseason roster in 2019 and be a potential candidate to compete for the vacancy.

Reports are that Gruden has had Johnson working a lot of zone read/option packages in practice this week and totally tailoring the offense to his strengths as a runner for this week, so that’s kind of frightening.

The offensive line for Washington has also been just as banged up as the Jaguars unit to the point where familiar face Luke Bowanko had to fill in and take snaps at right guard last week. They still have their starters Trent Williams and Morgan Moses at the tackle spots and opening day starter Chase Roullier at center, but the guard spots are definitely in shambles. Adrian Peterson has played beyond his years and hopefully the Jaguars aren’t scarred by the nightmare that was Derrick Henry last Thursday Night and don’t allow a repeat performance. Jordan Reed is likely out at tight end with an injury, so expect Vernon Davis and a pinch of Jeremy Sprinkle. From the receivers, it’s really Josh Doctson and Jamison Crowder, which is far from the most fearsome duo Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye have seen in their careers.

Defensively, Washington has underwhelmed as of late and really since they acquired safety HaHa Clinton-Dix from the Packers for a fourth round pick before the trade deadline Ryan Kerrigan is an exceptional edge rusher from mainly the left side, but Preston Smith hasn’t had that sack numbers in a contract year that most were expecting him to have. There’s also been some drama between the team’s two starting inside linebackers, as Mason Foster has expressed frustration with having to pull double duty to compensate for Zach Brown’s horrendous ability in coverage this season. Outside of the safeties and cornerback Josh Norman, they are pedaling out young corners in second-year man Fabian Moreau on the outside and rookie Greg Stroman in the slot. Moreau started out the season as the nickel, but has recently moved back outside with the injury to opening day starter Quinton Dunbar. The real strength of Washington is their defensive line, where they roll (tide) deep. First round defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne has played exceptionally this season and fellow ‘Bama boy Jonathan Allen has also flashed his first round ability next to him, especially in nickel. The unsung hero, however, is former Temple Owl Matt Ioannidis, who has really impressed as a rotational lineman, and rookie Tim Settle is another player who has impressed at nose tackle.

For more information about the opponent, check out Ryan O’Bleness’ all-time series history against Washington.

Storylines

Last week, I asked if the Jaguars should be in full tank mode. At this point, they need to be. The injury to Alex Smith now throws another potential team in the rookie quarterback market, and frankly Washington have shown they are not afraid to do whatever it takes to trade up and acquire the franchise quarterback of their choice. Could that guy be local area kid Dwayne Haskins Jr., who grew up in a suburb right outside of D.C.? I don’t know and I don’t want to get into a whole draft thing in this article, but it’s totally something their Team President would do and narrowing the gap in draft position between the Jaguars and Washington could have rippling effects when it comes to draft night.

One guy who won’t want to hear anything about tanking is head coach Doug Marrone, who might be in hot water if the Jaguars drop this home game against a skeleton-crew Washington team. While it’s likely Marrone returns at this time in my opinion, the way these last three games go could flip the script and force a house cleaning. I’ll have a piece come out this week about the coaching staff and what directions they could go in this vein for 2019, but I wanted to wait until after this game because I feel like it’s going to be a huge factor in how they choose to proceed. We should have a lot more answers come Monday morning.

On the field, let’s see what some of the young guys can do. I know this has been a consistent theme lately, but it would be good to see even more of this if the game gets out of hand. Though unlikely, if the Jaguars are up by two scores in the fourth quarter, it would be great to see Quenton Meeks get some snaps and rest Bouye or Ramsey, Smoot in there on every snap to rest Calais, or even Nick DeLuca representing his people on a snap here or there as the team will be seeking solutions for linebacker depth in 2019.

One last storyline will be Blake Bortles. If the game gets out of hand, either positively or negatively, will we see a cameo performance by Bortles in what is inevitably his final home game as a member of the Jaguars? There are some who could care less about this, and quite frankly, never want to see Blake again, but it would be a classy gesture for Bortles to come in and take the last series of the game as sort of a “farewell” to Jacksonville. The Jaguars’ 2018 Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee has been a terrific ambassador to the community and hopefully if such a situation arises, the fans will cheer him on give him one last “thank you” for all his hard work and always putting team ahead of self.

Key matchups

Jalen Ramsey vs. Josh Doctson/Jamison Crowder

I’ve listed Ramsey as the first player in the matchups section all season because frankly, he’s this franchise’s most exciting player. Washington have a pedestrian receiving corps thanks to injuries and neither Josh Doctson nor Jamison Crowder are the type of talents that would cause Ramsey to shadow and follow around the field like Antonio Brown. Expect Ramsey to lock up whomever they decide to line up across from him.

Yannick Ngakoue vs. Trent Williams

There aren’t too many marquee match ups in this game, but Yannick Ngakoue going against one of the best left tackles in the NFL in Trent Williams is one of them. This is a big game for Ngakoue personally having grown up in the Washington, D.C. area and attending college at University of Maryland, so expect him to go psycho mode and try to get to double digit sacks this season.

Telvin Smith Sr./Myles Jack vs. Adrian Peterson

Can we not this week with the 200-yard rusher? Thanks.

Taven Bryan vs. Luke Bowanko

It’s more likely that Bryan will line up across left guard Ty Nsekhe at three-technique, but if they do flip flop a little bit, a Taven Bryan vs. Luke Bowanko match up would be (kisses finger’s like a chef). Bryan needs to get his first career sack this week, and if he can’t do it against this depleted Washington interior offensive line, it might not happen this year. The pressure has been there this season for the Jags; the sacks just haven’t. It’s almost like those two 10-sack performances against the Texans and Colts last year really padded the stats.

Ronnie Harrison vs. Josh Johnson

Ronnie got his first career interception last week and was one of the lone bright spots on an embarrassing defensive unit. It’s still early, but early returns indicate that the Jaguars may really have found gold at strong safety with Harrison, and having a talent like that producing on a third round rookie contract could be huge for the future, especially with a Jalen Ramsey extension looming.

Ereck Flowers vs. Preston Smith

While Ryan Kerrigan versus what could be Josh Wells with Jermey Parnell looking iffy may be a disaster on the right side this week, the left side will be one to watch as I believe Flowers has a future in Jacksonville as a young swing tackle. Only 24 years old, Flowers has looked fine (especially against the run) and could be vying to be the team’s opening day starter at right tackle in 2019 while Will Richardson Jr. continues to get healthy and stronger. The two most important traits for an NFL swing tackle outside of versatility and experience to play both sides is durability, and Flowers has proven to be exceptionally resilient against injuries in his career. Hopefully, Flowers doesn’t tag Preston Smith as “power” guy in the vein he had Calais Campbell as a “speed” guy earlier this season.

Final prediction

If Jay Gruden does employ a full out option/zone read offense this week against Todd Wash and the Jaguars, I do think it will be a problem for them and they should find the end zone at least twice in sixty minutes by doing so. The offense hasn’t mustered double-digit points with Cody Kessler to date, and although there are vulnerabilities in the defense, they are still a respectable unit that should be able to apply pressure with their pass rush and collapse the pocket from both the interior and on the edges. This Washington team under Josh Johnson is low key a bad match up for the Jaguars, and it’s not impossible that they sneak away with a win. As mentioned above, however, a loss could equal a win for the Jags when it comes to the quarterback sweepstakes come April.

Jaguars lose 14-10.