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Jaguars vs Chargers: Players to watch

A trio of offensive starters must play their best ball in the Jaguars first playoff game since 2017.

Tennessee Titans v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

The Jacksonville Jaguars are set to host a playoff game against the Los Angeles Chargers on Saturday night. In a Week 3 rematch between these teams, the Jaguars are 2.5-point underdogs according to DraftKings Sportsbook.

These are the players I’ll be watching most on either side of the ball.

QB Trevor Lawrence

Trevor Lawrence put the offense on his back against Tennessee. The Jaguars managed just 19 yards on the ground (its third-lowest total in franchise history) and earned only 10 yards from screens and 44 yards off play action (each of which were bottom-three single-game marks on the season).

Lawrence was responsible for 91% of the team’s offensive yards plus 10 of its 12 first downs, mostly via true pocket passing and timely 100-mph fastballs. But while he kept drives alive in impressive fashion, the second-year quarterback was also responsible for points left on the field: he fumbled a red zone reverse, overthrew a touchdown to Zay Jones, and underthrew another one to Christian Kirk.

Jacksonville’s offense has been great between the 20-yard lines this season, but its red zone execution has been the difference between several wins and losses -- and it almost cost the Jaguars the AFC South crown.

The team’s most likely path to the Super Bowl is through Justin Herbert, Patrick Mahomes, and one of Josh Allen or Joe Burrow. That's essentially the list of NFL passers that are comfortably better than Lawrence today. Trevor will need to be near-perfect, but especially in the red zone, in order to take the Jaguars on a postseason run and stake his place among the league’s elite quarterbacks.

WR Zay Jones

Wide receiver Christian Kirk was a single yard away from his third 100-yard game of the season -- though his Week 18 performance was arguably his best of the year on tape.

His 25-yard touchdown and 33-yard slot fade against the Titans are good examples. I’m on record as saying, “he kinda just runs away from guys,” but the former Texas A&M star proved me wrong throughout his first Jaguars campaign with nuanced route running.

Jacksonville’s second-leading receiver behind Kirk is Zay Jones, who did not have a good showing against Tennessee. He had a drop and failed first down to force a punt on Jacksonville’s first drive, and Jones ended the game with four catches for 21 yards. It was the third straight week that he was held to under 25 receiving yards and dropped at least one pass.

While Jones shouldn’t be expected to replicate his 10-catch performance from Week 3’s matchup in Los Angeles, he’s gotta show up in this playoff game. People are starting to forget about Zay. A bounce-back from him would go a long way towards the Jaguars advancing to the next round, especially with how much man coverage the Chargers deploy.

RB Travis Etienne

It’s prove-it time for the pair of former Clemson teammates. Lawrence is trying to live up to wild expectations first set upon him as a teenager, and Travis Etienne needs to seize the moment as well.

The slashing running back was limited to just 17 yards on seven attempts against Tennessee. He also ran for 45 yards back in Week 3 compared to 100 for James Robinson.

The Chargers run defense has improved since then but is still a liable unit. Like Jones, Etienne needs to play to the best of his abilities to help Doug Pederson out-duel Brandon Staley once again.

Whoever covers WR Keenan Allen

Wide receiver Mike Williams has been ruled out after unnecessarily suffering a back injury in last week’s loss. Williams is arguably the only Charger who poses a consistent downfield threat for Los Angeles, so Herbert will have an even smaller margin for error in Joe Lombardi’s “horizontal-spread” offense.

The Williams injury also frees up breakout cornerback Tyson Campbell to move around the field. He followed the bully-ball wideout in Week 3 (allowing just one catch) and likely would have shadowed again had Williams been able to suit up. Now Campbell, and the rest of Jacksonville’s offense, can focus their attention on Keenan Allen.

Allen is arguably the second-most important player on the Chargers offense. However, he runs the majority of his routes from the slot, where Campbell has aligned just 69 total times this season (four snaps per game) per PFF.

Whether Campbell moves inside for this game, or the Jaguars leave coverage responsibilities to other defenders, limiting Allen is a must for Jacksonville’s defense.

From Matt Bowen of ESPN:

Jacksonville has to account for the Chargers receiver on third down when game-planning for this matchup. He’s going to line up all over the field, in reduced formations and in the stack or bunch sets. And he’ll be put in motion. Allen can win one-on-one due to his savvy route running traits, and Los Angeles will scheme for him to attack zone coverage with middle-of-the-field sit routes off the mesh concept, flood and levels.

Over his past four games, Allen has caught 10 of 13 targets on third downs, converting seven of those receptions for first downs. We know the Jags can go man heavy on third downs, playing Cover 1 on over 58% of coverage snaps in their past four games. Let’s see if Jacksonville matches or travels with cornerbacks Darious Williams or Tre Herndon, and I would think about using bracket techniques here, too. The Jaguars can’t allow Allen to get loose and make himself available to Herbert.

Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See for details.