The Jacksonville Jaguars face the Atlanta Falcons at Wembley Stadium on Sunday - with plenty to prove. After a disappointing defeat to the Houston Texans last time out, here are three matchups that could prove crucial to the Jags getting a much needed win this weekend:
Chad Muma vs Bijan Robinson
do yourself a favor...— Hayden Winks (@HaydenWinks) September 19, 2023
play this Bijan Robinson run in .5x speed pic.twitter.com/Uqkud5yL4q
With the news that linebacker Devin Lloyd will miss at least the next two games after having surgery on his injured thumb, Chad Muma will assume a starting role on the Jaguars defense for the trip to the United Kingdom. A third-round pick out of Wyoming last year, Muma has had an inconsistent start to his NFL career, recording 49 tackles in 19 games (2 starts). A heavy hitter, if Muma makes contact with you, you know about it. That being said, he has had obvious issues working in space and combatting quicker running backs, with his own athletic profile challenged by ball carriers who can change direction at speed.
That doesn’t bode well for the game against the Falcons on Sunday. It has taken the sum total of three starts to learn that Bijan Robinson is already one of the best running backs in the NFL - and undoubtedly worthy of the eighth overall pick in this year’s draft. The former Texas Longhorn has already racked up 315 all-purpose yards and a touchdown as Atlanta leans heavily on their ground game to grind out results. The perfect blend of speed, elusiveness and power, Robinson is making his case for rookie of the year from the jump.
The athleticism of Devin Lloyd would have been ideal to match up against Robinson, and even then it would have been a tough afternoon. Without that luxury, the Jaguars will be hoping that Muma and the rest of the linebacker corps are able to keep the talented Texan in check just enough to force the ball into the hands of Desmond Ridder. Do that, and it’s half the battle won for this defense.
Calvin Ridley vs AJ Terrell
The Jaguars offense has not played their best football the last 2 weeks.— Jamal St. Cyr (@JStCyrTV) September 27, 2023
Calvin Ridley said he came to Jacksonville wanting to help the offense so he is "Getting back to square one"
"I want us to get on track and look elite and explosive." pic.twitter.com/HZxU6tVO14
Should this read ‘Calvin Ridley vs himself’? The talented wide receiver has openly admitted he’s on something of a revenge mission this season, and there’s no game where he’d like to shine more than against his former employers. Whilst there was no animosity between Ridley and the Falcons after he was traded to the Jaguars last November, there’s nothing quite like showing off in front of your ex. But in light of Doug Pederson’s assertion that this offense is ‘pressing’ too much, this might be a recipe for disaste
After an explosive return to the field in Week 1, Ridley has had quiet outings in the teams’ two defeats since. Last week against the Texans, he had two critical drops - uncharacteristic to say the least, and perhaps vindicates his head coach’s opinion that Ridley and the rest of the playmakers on this team need to take a beat and let the game come to them. Considering Atlanta’s potent secondary, this might be shrewd advice…
Ridley will likely line up opposite Falcons CB1 AJ Terrell. Entering his 4th year in the league, Terrell was named an All-Pro in his 2021 breakout season, and has remained a tough opponent for receivers ever since. With reinforcements coming in the form of Jessie Bates and Jeff Okudah this offseason, the back end of Atlanta’s defense is difficult to attack. Considering Zay Jones looks unlikely to play I wouldn’t imagine Lawrence to shy away from targeting Ridley - in fact I expect precisely the opposite if the Jags get behind the chains in this one.
Jamal Agnew vs Cordarrelle Patterson
The Jaguars enter Sunday’s game as slim favorites against the Falcons, and small margins will likely determine how this game pans out. Special teams are too often ignored when it comes to previewing football games, but in this overseas matchup both teams possess electric kick returners that have the ability to swing momentum in the blink of an eye.
Jamal Agnew has 6 returns for touchdowns in his seven year NFL career; an astonishing number. Named a pro bowler last season, Agnew is even more deadly when the stakes are highest: his average of 37.9 yards per return in 2022 was the second-highest in a single postseason by any player in NFL history (minimum five kick returns). His value to the Jaguars is without question, despite a less than flattering outing against the Texans last week. If his number is called on Sunday, watch out.
If there’s one person in the league that could potentially challenge Agnew for king of the kickoff return, it’s a man who will be on the opposite sideline this weekend. Cordarrelle Patterson has NINE touchdown returns in his career - albeit with three years more in the league than Agnew, and five of those TD’s came as a rookie with the Minnesota Vikings. Nevertheless, sleeping on Patterson would be incredibly foolish - and considering the Jaguars’ woes on special teams last week, coordinator Heath Farwell will no doubt be drilling the importance of lane discipline into his unit.
Both Agnew and Patterson have been limited in practice this week - but both are expected to play. Whichever of these two returners are able to flip the field will likely be on the winning side come Sunday night.
The Jaguars desperately need to get back to winning ways in Week 4. Who are you looking forward to watching?