Young, Aggressive Jaguars Await the Packers - Week 1 Preview

I would say these aren’t your father’s Jaguars, but they’ve only been around for 21 years. These aren’t the Jaguars you grew up with.

 Allen Robinson (#15) hauled in 14 touchdowns last season in a breakout campaign.

Allen Robinson (#15) hauled in 14 touchdowns last season in a breakout campaign.

I arrive at this conclusion based on a startling realization: the Jaguars might actually be a competently run football team now.

That’s saying both a lot and a little. The Jaguars haven’t won more than eight games in a season since 2007. In each of the last five seasons, they’ve won five or fewer games. They haven’t won their division since 1999.

But the Jaguars also have one of the youngest and most talented rosters around. Examine Bob McGinn’s position-by-position look at Jacksonville, and you’ll come to the same conclusion.

Jacksonville has transformed itself in just a few short seasons. As recently as 2012, Jacksonville’s offense was centered around a running back committee featuring Rashad Jennings, Montell Owens, and a badly broken down Maurice Jones-Drew.

The passing game relied on Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne throwing to Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon. Two of those four are out of the league, and Gabbert is only still around because the 49ers are trying to find the true bottom of the quarterback barrell.

A tale of two Allens

Now, though, the Jaguars feature true talent on both sides of the ball, and they should serve as a good barometer of the Packers’ early season progress.

On offense, the Jaguars will rely on a bevy of talented pass catchers, and the best of the bunch is Allen Robinson. At 6-3 and 220 pounds, he has the size of a big, physical receiver. He used it to make big play after big play last season, to the tune of 80 catches for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns. He’s accompanied by Allen Hurns, an undrafted free agent of similar stature to Robinson, and Julius Thomas, formerly Peyton Manning’s preferred tight end.

Raw, athletic Jaguars defenders are ready to make their mark

Defensively, draft picks rule the roost for Jacksonville. Fifth overall pick Jalen Ramsey is a physical marvel. At 6-1 and 209 pounds on draft day, Ramsey runs 4.41 in the 40-yard dash, more than a match for any of the Packers receivers.

2016 second round pick Myles Jack was thought by many to be the best player in the draft, and many Packers fans wanted him to be Ted Thompson’s selection late in the first round. Knee issues forced the linebacker down in the draft, but he could be a steal for the Jaguars.

The Jaguars also will finally get the services of Dante Fowler, the third overall pick in 2015. He missed all of last season with a knee injury, but brings 4.59 speed to the pass rush.

The youngest team in the NFL - the Green Bay Packers

The Packers will counter with what could be their youngest squad ever. The average age of 25.08 years gives the Packers the youngest team in the league, once again, and nowhere will that youth be more evident than on the offensive line.

 Guard Lane Taylor will start at left guard for the Packers on Sunday.

Guard Lane Taylor will start at left guard for the Packers on Sunday.

Lane Taylor, at 26, is suddenly entering his first season as a full-time starter, as is the man immediately to his right: center J.C. Tretter. How the Packers protect Aaron Rodgers will determine a lot of their success this year, and after the departure of Josh Sitton, the left side of the line has serious questions.

The Jaguars will test the depth of the Packers secondary, as well. In fact, it could very well be because of teams like the Jaguars that the Packers constructed their roster as they did. The initial 53 man roster had a staggering 12 defensive backs, though that number has shifted.

The Jaguars (and much of the rest of the league) are using more pass catchers than ever, and the Packers have to adapt to match that. The depth of the Packers secondary has been considered a strength so far this season, and we’ll get a good glimpse of its true strength on Sunday.

Last Time: Packers 24, Jaguars 15

The Packers haven't played the Jaguars since 2012 (a game I actually attended and posted some pictures from), and the difference between where the Jaguars were then and where they are now couldn't be more apparent.

Jacksonville tried to make hay with a whopping 49 pass attempts from Blaine Gabbert that way, eight of which were caught by Cecil Shorts.

On the Packers side, Davon House (now with the Jaguars) blocked a punt, which was recovered by Dezman Moses for a touchdown. Donald Driver caught his last touchdown pass with the Packers, and Alex Green rushed for 54 yards on 22 carries. A forgettable day all around for Green Bay.

Jaguar to Watch: Blake Bortles

The aforementioned Allen Robinson is a candidate, but also keep a close eye on quarterback Blake Bortles. (Watch the quarterback! How original!) Bortles fits the narrative of “developing young quarterback” pretty well, but that’s a fairly divisive opinion. His raw numbers last year paint a deceptive picture: he threw for more than 4,400 yards, 35 touchdowns, and 18 interceptions, but his completion percentage was an abysmal 58.6%.

The advanced stats are even less kind: according to ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, of the 37 quarterbacks since 1990 who have had at least 500 pass attempts in their first two seasons, Bortles is among the least efficient. Only eight players have produced fewer net yards per attempt than the Jaguars’ quarterback: Jeff George, Christian Ponder, Kyle Boller, Joey Harrington, Alex Smith, David Carr, Blaine Gabbert, and Ryan Leaf.

That’s a murderer’s row of terrible quarterbacks, and it’s a difficult task to suddenly become more efficient, especially when he was already throwing to the Pro Bowl-caliber Robinson. How Bortles matures this year will be an interesting storyline, and if he decides to be generous with the football this week, it could bode well for the Packers.

Jon's Pick

I like the Packers to win, but I don’t love it. This figures to be one of just a couple games in Packers history with a kickoff temperature higher than 90, and when the weather goes to either end of the extreme category, wild things can happen. I think the Packers do match up well with the Jaguars’ strengths, but I am concerned about the left side of the offensive line. If Lane Taylor holds up and Aaron Rodgers gets time, I think the Packers pull it out. 

Packers 28, Jaguars 20

Gary's Pick

After a forgettable training camp and preseason punctuated by Josh Sitton's sudden departure, the Packers are finally playing a meaningful football game Sunday. The last time Gus Bradley coached against the Packers, his defense recorded 8 sacks. If the Packers are as motivated now by Sitton's release as it appears, even the best effort by the Jaguars won't be enough to upset the green and gold.

Packers 27, Jaguars 17

NewsJon Meerdink