By Alex Kelly – Jacksonville Jaguars Writer
As the winless Denver Broncos prepare to host a Jacksonville Jaguars team coming off the first victory of their season, the Colorado team are staring down the barrel of an 0-4 start unless they can improve on the performances they’ve produced so far.
The Jaguars have had a long week to prepare for their visit to Empower Field at Mile High after a dominant 20-7 victory over the Tennessee Titans last Thursday night. Jacksonville laid siege to the Titans backfield in a defensive performance that included nine sacks and ten tackles for loss, and another performance beyond expectations for enigmatic Jaguars sixth-round quarterback Gardner Minshew (20 of 30 passing for 204 yards and two touchdowns) that earned him Pepsi Rookie of the Week honours.
Denver, however, is sitting at 0-3 after coming up short last week against a strong Green Bay Packers team. Much of the preseason talk around the Broncos was if their defense would return to form, but so far the former No Fly Zone has not created a single fumble, interception or sack. One 0-4 team in NFL history has gone on to make the playoffs, the 1992 San Diego Chargers, and it seems unlikely this Denver team has the talent to recover from the rough start if they can’t win on Sunday.
The Denver offense didn’t play particularly badly against the Green Bay Packers last week, with their pair of second-year Running Backs Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman managing an OK, if not outstanding, 144 combined rushing yards on 36 attempts with two touchdowns. Broncos QB Joe Flacco doesn’t seem to have suffered as much due to age as was theorised after his half-season in Baltimore last year, but while he isn’t the main reason Denver is losing games this year he isn’t stepping up and winning them either.
Last week Flacco went 20 of 29 passing, for 213 yards, but with no touchdowns and an interception by Green Bay safety Darnell Savage that might be the worst throw by any QB I’ve seen this season.
Against a Jaguars pass rush that has switched it on, it doesn’t seem a stretch to imagine Flacco might end up having his worst game in a Broncos uniform on Sunday, especially with the mediocre offensive line in front of him. The one saving grace for the 34-year-old QB is that star Jags Cornerback Jalen Ramsey won’t be on the field after travelling home to Tennessee for the birth of his second child.
This could lead to Denver Wide Receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Courtland Sutton getting open a lot more and giving him a few easy throws. The key to the game for the Broncos offense is going to be getting their Running Backs going early on and keep Flacco from having to drop back in third and long situations and giving the Jaguars’ cast of talented pass rushers opportunities to hunt him down.
On the other side of the field, this could be an interesting game to watch the Jacksonville offense. Gardner Minshew has looked incredibly composed through two and a half games, and for a sixth-round rookie, really doesn’t seem to have any huge flaws as a quarterback. However, the Broncos defence has too many talented players to not switch it on eventually, and against a fairly week Duval Offensive Line this week seems possible for things to get going and make Minshew uncomfortable. If that happens, the Jags are going to need Leonard Fournette to step up. The third-year running back has been disappointing since the playoffs of his rookie season at the end of 2017.
Fournette managed a quite remarkable stat line last week against Tennessee, totalling 66 yards on 15 rushing attempts, with the longest run of the day coming in at 69 yards. Taking away that one run early in the fourth quarter, the RB out of LSU averaged -0.2 yards per carry on the day. Fournette faces more stacked boxes than any other RB in the NFL, but if he can’t find some form he’s not going to be seen as a threat and opposing Defensive Coordinators are going to start focusing more on defending the pass.
Jacksonville WR DJ Chark should be fun to watch on Sunday. The second-year player is tied 1st in the NFL for most 20+ yard receptions right now and seems to have developed into the player the Jags were hoping for when they drafted him. The wideout has a fantastic rapport with Minshew, and if the pair can keep combining for big plays Chark could emerge as the number one option Duval County have missed since Allen Robinson in 2016. The 23-year-old caught a beautiful pass from Minshew last week for his third touchdown of the year.
Prediction: Jaguars 23, Broncos 17
We could be in for a really tight game on Sunday. Denver needs to get to 1-3 to stay relevant this year. With a loss, the Jaguars might find themselves slipping back from the rest of the AFC South, as the Titans, Colts and Texans are all involved in winnable matchups on Sunday.
(Feature Photo – Credit: Reinhold Matay/USA Today Sports)