Tha Sports Junkies 101

Green Bay Packers Week 1 Preview: Jacksonville Jaguars

Packers vs Jaguars - NFL MK Photography via Flickr


Green Bay Looks To Start Off On a Winning Note Against Jaguars

The greatest time of the year is finally upon us. No, it’s not quite Christmas, but for the people who root for the Green Bay Packers it may as well be. After a 2015-16 season filled with extreme highs and even more extreme lows the Packers and their die-hard fan base are ready to go. The first task for Aaron Rodgers and company will be heading to Jacksonville to face a revamped and hungry Jaguars team.

It goes without saying that the 2016-17 season will be filled with expectations for Green Bay. They possess what most consider an offense and defense worthy of top-10 consideration, and as of last week are favored to win all 16 games of the season.

Projections and betting odds are fun to discuss, but the Jaguars are the kind of team that will break through many of the ceilings that have been placed on them this year.

In 2015 the Jaguars defense ranked in the bottom half of the league in almost every statistical category. They ranked 24th in yards allowed per game (375), 15th in rushing yards allowed per game (106.8), and 29th in passing yards allowed per game (268.2).

Jacksonville worked hard in the off-season to correct those blaring deficiencies through the draft and free-agency.

In the secondary, the Jags added Prince Amukamara through free-agency and Jalen Ramsey in the first round of the draft.

Amukamara has been an underrated corner for many years in the NFL. From a analytics point of view, in 2015 he averaged 1.04 yards per coverage snap, tied at 15th among corners. Ramsey comes highly touted from college powerhouse Florida State, and is thought to be a future shutdown corner.

The two new acquisitions will join former Packer Davon House, who had 13 pass defenses in 2015, tied for 5th in the league, and a team high 4 interceptions. The much improved secondary will provide a larger task than most Green Bay fans probably realize.

Regardless of the makeover, the big wild-card in this game will come in the form of Aaron Rodgers’ new weapon, Jared Cook.

After many seasons without a viable threat over the middle the Packers added Cook during the off-season in a surprise move by their usually inactive general manager, Ted Thompson. Cook has always been a talented guy but had little chance for success with 7 quarterbacks in 7 years in Tennessee and St. Louis.

Week 1 will provide a good look at the potential of the connection. Last season the Jags struggled mightily to stop opposing teams tight ends. They allowed the 4th most touchdowns versus the position (9) and the 6th highest yardage mark (965).

Cook should be able to use his unique speed and size to create first downs almost at will versus the Paul Posluszny led linebacker group of Jacksonville. However, Posluszny will be the primary player that Rodgers and the Packers coordinators will be keeping a close eye on.

Despite the teams lack of success stopping teams in the intermediate pass game, he is always a threat to make a big play.

Last season, Posluszny compiled a team high and near league high in total tackles (133). The team captain and leader also snatched 3 interceptions, tied for 2nd most in the NFL from the position.

The Jaguars will also be tasked with stopping a freshly cleared Jordy Nelson, who is as determined as ever to show why he’s still one of the best receivers in the league.

Nelson’s return will provide Cook some space because of the attention he requires. Safeties will be unable to help on Cook because of the aid over the top they need to provide versus Nelson. It should be a very successful week for Cook fantasy owners.

Slot receiver Randall Cobb will also experience a renaissance of sorts with Nelson back in the fold. He experienced a massive drop off in production last year. Cobb had career highs in receptions (91), yards (1,287), and touchdowns (12) in 2014 with Nelson, and saw a vast drop-off in all three in 2015 (80 receptions, 829 yards, and 6 touchdowns).

Like with Cook, the Jaguars may have a tough time containing Cobb if they choose to play primarily man coverage. He has a way of slipping past defenders and getting open when plays break down. There is no quarterback-receiver combination better during chaos than Rodgers and Cobb.

Another story-line for Sunday will be new left guard for Green Bay, Lane Taylor who takes over for All-Pro Josh Sitton, and his ability to handle Malik Jackson in the trenches.

Jackson is one of the most feared tackles in the NFL and was a key piece in the Denver Broncos record setting defense last year.  He gives the Jags defense credibility due to his name alone. Most of his time last season was spent over center, but Jacksonville will allow him to unleash his skills a little more freely this season.

I would expect to see him on  Taylor’s side more times than not. The young guard will have his hands full with both Jackson and the now healthy 2nd year man out of Florida, Dante Fowler. Both players have the capability of making plays at the line of scrimmage.

Left tackle David Bakhtiari will be expected to do a lot in helping Taylor. My assumption is Green Bay will also feature a lot of two tight end sets with blocking tight end Richard Rodgers on that left side. With the amount of shotgun the Packers employ it is also reasonable to expect Eddie Lacy and James Starks to help out in the backfield.

Lacy and Starks will also have a chance to shine with the ball. During the preseason, Green Bay proved they can move the call consistently with the two backs splitting responsibilities. Lacy will get a vast majority of the carries, and so far has looked great behind the offensive line. Starks will get most of the passing downs or long distance downs to make plays, and it may come down to these two grinding it out if Green Bay builds a lead through the air.

If the Packers are able to protect Rodgers and allow him to sling it, it could be a long day for Jacksonville, but Green Bay isn’t the only offense in this game.

The Jaguars possess a big risk, big reward offense lead by Ben Roethlisberger doppleganger, Blake Bortles.

The 6’5″, 245 pound quarterback was able to take a bad rookie season two years ago and turn it into a learning experience. In 2015, Bortles finished in the top 10 of all quarterbacks in both yards (4, 428) and touchdowns (35). At times he looked like he was on the cusp of becoming elite, and other times he reminded everyone how young and immature he still was as a pro.

The Packers defense will look to invoke the more juvenile decision making traits out of Bortles. One of the key factors will be getting constant pressure on the young quarterback. Green Bay will be counting on Clay Matthews to excel in his move back to his main position at outside linebacker.

The 2015 Packers lacked middle linebacker depth and were forced to move Matthews out of position rendering him pretty much useless in the pass rush. Through the draft, Green Bay added much needed bodies in the middle and should be able to let Matthews run wild once again.

Stopping Bortles will require winning the line battle. The Jaguar’s offensive line was at often times terrible last year and allowed 51 sacks on their quarterback, 4th most league wide. Bortles threw the ball over 600 times last year and I expect a lot of the same week 1. This will give Packers pass rushers like Datone Jones, Nick Perry, and rookie Kyler Fackrell will all have their chances along with Matthews to make plays in the passing game.

If Green Bay can’t get to Bortles, he has two of the most dangerous targets in the NFL to look to. Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns both have turned into big play magnets for the Jacksonville offense.

Robinson caught 80 passes for 1,400 yards and led the league with 14 touchdowns in 2015, putting him in an elite group. Hurns also reached 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns. The two accounted for over 100 first downs and 50 plays of over 20 yards throughout the season.

The Packers will have to counter the young receivers with a very good, young secondary, led by veteran Sam Shields and second-year corners Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins.

A much hyped safety group of Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will likely be asked to help out in coverage, but for the most part will be focusing on former Denver tight end Julius Thomas. Thomas hasn’t been the same since leaving Peyton Manning, but his unique skill set is always a threat.

The Jaguars only ranked 27th in the NFL in rushing yards per game in 2015 (92.0), but Dom Capers and Green Bay’s defense will have to deal with another talented duo within the offense week 1.

Jacksonville’s one-two punch of ball carriers T.J. Yeldon and free agent signee Chris Ivory could make a huge impact Sunday against a depleted defensive tackle position.

The Packers lost B.J. Raji to retirement and are missing Mike Pennel due to suspension, leaving only Mike Daniels, Letroy Guion, and rookie Dean Lowry active in the middle.

Both Yeldon and Ivory are strong, powerful runners and if the Packers don’t win upfront the Jaguars run game could begin to dictate the pace and leave the defense vulnerable.

If the Jags rushing attack does emerge it may force Burnett to play in the box as a safety and leave Robinson or Hearns in a one on one situations down the field, and that’s bad news for Green Bay.

Ultimately, this game will come down to the Packers playing to their potential. If you were to go through a rundown of each position on the field at any time, Green Bay wins out on almost every match-up. If the Packers play smart and control the time of possession they will win this game and can then move on to prepping for week 2 in Minnesota.

For live updates during Sunday’s game, follow me on Twitter, @MikeTSJ101.