A well rested Jacksonville Jaguars team travels west to face the winless Denver Broncos. The Jaguars will look to follow-up their dominant victory over division rivals the Tennessee Titans, carried by the wings of Gardner Minshew and the controlling bridle that is the Jaguars defensive pass rush.
Filip Prus has wrote about the player matchups to look for, which you can read here. Alfie Crow broke down how Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco has historically fared against Jacksonville, and Ryan Day shared coach Doug Marrone’s thoughts on how Denver running back Phillip Lindsay can be a potential game changer.
These are five storylines I will be following during and after Sunday’s game.
The continued improvement of Taven Bryan
Week 1, one quarterback hit on 18 plays for 26% field action.
Week 2, two assisted tackles and 2 quarterback hits on 17 plays for 27% field action.
Week 3, two tackles, one assisted tackle, one tackle for loss, two quarterback hits, and one sack. He was on the field for 22 plays, for 28% field action.
When asked about Taven Bryan’s play earlier this week, Marrone had this to say:
He’s starting to put them back to back. Now, you want to see that growth continue. He’s doing a nice job.
Regarding Taven’s improvement to disengage blocks and make plays:
He’s starting to do that, and that can be something that can really help our football team. It’s obviously something he’s working on and trying to do.
The Broncos issues at offensive tackle are well documented. Garret Bolles is a penalty machine and Ja’Wuan James is out with an injury. They start a rookie at one guard position in Dalton Risner. If Todd Wash calls this game like last week’s, the talent and stress coming from the defensive end positions should create a matchup advantage at interior positions.
Taven is definitely strong enough to be a menace. If the light has turned on for his football acumen, he will be a welcomed storyline.
Get creative at the running back position
Leonard Fournette cannot catch a break. When he finally gets a long run he is caught from behind. When the Jaguars decide to go for it on 4th down, on that same drive, the play call is a pass.
Criticisms of Fournette have come from all directions, and the blame for his lack of impact is both on him and the offensive line. Last Thursday night was less about the former as he experienced too many plays where first contact was behind the line of scrimmage.
The Jaguars have stated they want to ride Leonard, but in the Denver elevation it makes no sense to grind the game with one back. Denver is allowing just over 109 YPG, and the Jaguars must try to exploit this. I do not know why this team is insistent on not getting rookie Ryquell Armstead live action, but for this game it is critical to not empty the team’s tank before the 4th quarter.
This is not to ignore the elephant in the room that is the Jaguars run blocking. The advantage favors the Broncos run stop, so creativity is warranted.
Minshew and the bigger microscope
This is an obvious one, but to ignore it would be irresponsible.
Interesting bit of information. Minshew was one of the quarterbacks the Broncos “informally” spoke with during NFL combine, and Chad Johnson over at 247Sports wrote that Minshew in Denver might fit what offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello runs. Others wrote that Minshew could be one to groom as an eventual starter.
But it’s the combines. How many teams might have said that?
For the most part, Minshew Mania has been localized. Then Thursday night happened. Then a visit from “Napoleon Dynamite” character Uncle Rico happened. The New York Post called him a “Counter culture star”. Even his return to Washington State for the Cougars game versus UCLA garnered national attention.
Nothing about Gardner implies he cannot handle the fame. Adversity has been the coal that feeds his train. He thrives under pressure, but a Denver team needing a win, along with a Broncos defense yet to play to its talent level, adds to the external forces.
One more interesting bit of information. Peter Shraeger, one of the hosts on NFL Network’s Good Morning Football loves Minshew.
I’ll take him because he won a lot of games at Washington State.
I don’t know if he goes on Day 2, if he goes on Day 3, or if he goes undrafted -- but I know I’m a Gardner Minshew guy,
If Gardner can grab his first away win as a NFL starting quarterback, in a hostile environment, and at a spotlight time slot, the mania becomes more of a justified belief.
If Ramsey is not healthy enough to play
I will make this short because we are all dealing with Jalen overload. My position, as it relates to star players, is that they are leaders by default. Vocal or silent, the play on the field inherently puts them in a position of influence and respect. Jalen has not shown a desire to hold that position, but maturing to that role would benefit his present value to the Jaguars and his future value to wherever he lands.
Expect to see cameras on him if he is walking the sidelines. I am very interested to see what his role might be as motivator and advisor for his defensive teammates.
Apart from the human interest story is the opportunity to see a Jaguars defensive sans Jalen Ramsey. Filip Prus focused on how such a scenario might be a stage for AJ Bouye.
Bouye has always been the Robin to Jalen’s Bat Man. I know they are close personal friends, but being the overlooked competitor and junkyard dog that he is as an undrafted free agent - make no mistake about it. He wants to prove he can be the guy in the spotlight, and I’m looking forward to seeing him earn that healthy contract in that role after perhaps his best game since 2017 last week against Tennessee. Bouye’s body type is actually a solid match up for the twitchy route-runner Emmanuel Sanders, and I feel strangely comfortable about the match up, especially with Sanders limited in practice with a quad injury all week, perhaps mitigating the explosiveness of his releases in his routes where he normally wins.
It has been well reported how Jalen feels respect has been loss from both sides of the argument, and as such his trade request is still on the table. We need to know if the defensive whole is greater than the parts.
The aftermath of a victory
A strong argument can be made that Jacksonville should be 2-1, and while Jaguars fans might see this as a sure victory, many “experts” expect Denver to get their first win of the season.
But what if Minshew carries this team to .500? The schedule is favorable, and the AFC South is up for grabs. The narrative of this team changes considerably, and a week five visit to Charlotte assumes an even bigger spotlight, especially if Carolina Panthers undrafted second year quarterback Kyle Allen goes into Houston and plays above the clouds.
Is it hyperbole to put so much weight on such an early season game? I do not agree with such sentiment. Beating the Titans was a momentum win. We saw Sacksonville’s return. We saw Minshew to Chark become more reliable.
I would argue 2-2 has the fan base taking seriously about the playoffs, and the overall culture of this team will become more unified.
Imagine Minshew achieving rookie of the week for a third time in four weeks. Why would one not be awash in post season banter?
Also, I am headed to Charlotte for the game. I fully expect a hearty presence of Jaguars fans to visit the Queen City.
What storylines have your attention?