Here are my three matchups to look out for:
Jaguars pass rush vs Lions O-Line
Of all the lingering concerns from last season, getting to the quarterback is likely the one thing on the minds of most Jaguars fans. Jacksonville’s defense finished 25th in the league in total sacks in 2022, registering just 35 takedowns all season.
With little in the way of splash additions to the edge rusher group, it was pleasing to see some penetration against the Cowboys last weekend. The Jaguars registered four sacks, with DaVon Hamilton, Jeremiah Ledbetter, and rookies Ventrell Miller and Yasir Abdullah picking up one each.
Despite the promising performance, the front office continues to explore options at the edge position, bringing in Jadaveon Clowney for a visit this week. That tells you that Doug Pederson and Trent Ballke are still wanting more production from a position group with a lot to prove.
They’ll have their work cut out for them in Detroit this weekend. The Lions boast one of the most experienced offensive lines in the league, with no less than three first-round picks as starters. Bookends Taylor Decker and Penei Sewell are particularly tough customers and will be confident in handling everything the Jaguars’ defensive line can throw at them. This is a big opportunity for the likes of Travon Walker, Josh Allen and their backups, assuming starters do play.
If Jacksonville can get home against this protection, it bodes well for the season ahead.
Jaguars receivers vs Lions defensive backs
“He just talk too damn much!”— Nolan Bianchi (@nolanbianchi) August 16, 2023
Calvin Ridley crashes C.J. Gardner-Johnson’s press conference pic.twitter.com/aB100wQ8vE
Well, this would be much more fun if Calvin Ridley lined up in the slot on Saturday. The star receiver is familiar with C.J. Gardner-Johnson, the nickel corner/safety that signed with Detroit this offseason. ‘CJGJ’ is well known for his trash talking on the field, and in the past has managed to pick fights with the likes of Javon Wims, his own then-teammate Michael Thomas, and former Jaguar Leonard Fournette.
There have even been moments where things have threatened to get a little heated this week. With the Jaguars and Lions holding joint practices, Gardner-Johnson has delivered a couple of big hits that have resulted in scuffles between the two sets of players. Nevertheless, the respect between him and Ridley appears to be real, dating back to their 7 on-7 days in Florida. Ridley even gatecrashed Gardner-Johnson’s press conference to quip, “He’s a good player man, but he just talks too damn much!”
Banter aside, this remains an intriguing matchup. The excitement regarding Jacksonville’s passing game is tangible. And whilst it remains unclear how many snaps the first team units for each team will get on Saturday, Ridley, Christian Kirk, and Zay Jones will be mindful of a talented Detroit secondary. Gardner-Johnson had the most interceptions in the league in 2022 and was one of a handful of free-agent signings the Lions made this offseason. Cam Sutton offers a stern test on the outside, and Emmanuel Mosley and Brian Branch are two more additions that give this group some real depth, not to mention playmaking ability.
CJ Beathard vs Nathan Rourke
Jaguars’ QB Nathan Rourke: pic.twitter.com/jNymKh8FMn— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 13, 2023
When Nathan Rourke entered the game with 8:34 left in the third quarter on Saturday, not many would foresee the impact he would make on his NFL debut. The former BC Lions quarterback, who was named ‘Most Outstanding Canadian’ in the CFL last season, signed with the Jaguars in January after working out for 12 teams in the league. And it appears he isn’t just here to make up the numbers; going 9/17 for 153 yards, Rourke sparked life into a dwindling preseason contest with an incredible touchdown throw, somehow evading three sack attempts before finding Qadree Ollison in the endzone.
Rourke has become something of an internet sensation overnight. But can he be more than just QB3, or a practice squad guy? CJ Beathard was unremarkable in his 27 snaps against Dallas, registering 6 completions from 13 pass attempts for 80 yards. The numbers should be put in context; Rourke played 14 more snaps, and likely against opponents further down the depth chart than Beathard did. But in terms of the eyeball test, the Canadian certainly made a statement.
Could Rourke challenge CJ Beathard for the right to back up Trevor Lawrence? Beathard has the advantage of experience, having started 12 games in his career at this level. He’s also proved he can be relied upon to manage games, particularly during his time in San Francisco. But for fans used to the excitement and X-factor that Gardner Minshew brought to the understudy role, perhaps Rourke is a quarterback more suited to that ilk - a guy who can come in and find a way to win a game, rather than not lose one.
For now, Beathard’s berth is safe. But should Rourke continue to impress, this might just turn into a legitimate QB battle.
What will you be watching for, Jaguars fans?