Five things to watch for in the Chargers-Jaguars during Super Wild Card weekend

Five things to watch for in the Chargers-Jaguars during Super Wild Card weekend

Five things to watch for in the Chargers-Jaguars during Super Wild Card weekend

Saturday night’s game between the fourth-seeded Jacksonville Jaguars and the fifth-seeded Los Angeles Chargers is one of the most intriguing games of Super Wild Card Weekend.

Led by young quarterbacks making their playoff debut and risk-taking head coaches who quickly ended postseason droughts, the Chargers-Jaguars matchup has all the makings of a tied game. It also has great potential to be the most entertaining game on the slate with two of the top 10 offenses going against each other.

Brandon Staley’s playoff debut comes in his second season with the Chargers, marking the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 2018. But a year after a Week 18 overtime loss to the Raiders, which would have been worth in LA a playoff berth, the Chargers aim right a wrong after persevering through an injury-riddled season in 2022.

Doug Pederson’s first season with the Jaguars brought Jacksonville its second home playoff game this century after winning the AFC South in 2022. The Jaguars needed to win in Week 18 in order to claim their Premier League crown since 2017, which was the last playoffs for the franchise. appearance.

Saturday will be the very first playoff meeting between the two franchises. They are two of 12 NFL teams to never win a Super Bowl and join the Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings among those in this year’s playoffs vying for the first Lombardi Trophy. franchise.

Here are five things to look out for when the Jaguars host the Chargers on Saturday:

  1. The NFL’s top QBs tomorrow. Justin Herbert and Trevor Lawrence, a pair of under-25 QBs making their playoff debuts, offer a glimpse into the next generation of perennial NFL playoff stars. The Herbert-Lawrence game will be the first-ever playoff game between two QBs selected in the top 10 in the previous three drafts, and will only be the third game for QBs making their playoff debut in their first three seasons in the the Super Bowl era, according to NFL Research. Going into Super Wild Card Weekend as the league’s most efficient passers in the second half of the season, Herbert (70.1) and Lawrence (69.7) boast the two highest completion percentages in the league. NFL since Week 9 and have respective passer ratings of 93.2 and 95.2. The Chargers and Jaguars are two of three NFL teams this season to produce a trio of pass catchers with more than 750 receiving yards from their young gunslingers. Herbert’s 292.2 passing yards per game on the road is the second in the league since 2021, and he faces a Jaguars team that hasn’t allowed more than 250 passing yards since Week 13. Lawrence enters the playoffs after waning an impressive season, throwing just one touchdown and averaging 197.7 yards per game over the past three games despite going undefeated over that span.
  2. An effective passing rush could make the difference. Los Angeles suffered its worst loss of the season in Week 3 when the Jaguars came to town and earned a commanding 28-point win. The disparity in this game’s passing rush offers a key factor for Saturday’s rematch. According to Next Gen Stats, Lawrence was pressured just 12.8% of the time outs while the Jaguars actually rushed Herbert 30.4% of the time. Lawrence went 9-for-16 passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns when given at least 2.5 seconds to throw and led an offense that scored three total touchdowns when the Chargers didn’t apply pressure. Joey Bosa left this Week 3 game early with a groin injury that sidelined him until Week 18, and his comeback is crucial against Lawrence, who hasn’t passed for just 14 yards (2 of 5 completions) the few times he felt pressure against the Bolts. Winners of five of their last six, the Chargers have produced 18 sacks since Week 14, almost half of their total sacks for the season (40), and the demanding revenge against Jacksonville could be associated with the frequency with which the pass rush creates pressure.
  3. Injuries follow the Chargers into the playoffs. Staley’s decision to play his starters in a pointless Week 18 game against the Broncos opened the final chapter of an injury-riddled season. Wide receiver Mike Williams (fullback; questionable) leads the Chargers in receiving yards with 895 of 63 receptions (four touchdowns), and his absence is crucial for an offense that averaged 3.5 points and more than 50 fewer yards per game this season with him in the roster. Williams’ big-play threat creates opportunities for LA, with Keenan Allen getting desired one-on-one matchups and running back Austin Ekeler seeing plenty of space up front on short passing plays. Williams’ presence also had a big effect on Herbert’s effectiveness on third down, with the QB averaging 7.7 yards per attempt with seven touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 108.6 with Williams playing. and mustering 5.8 YPA, no touchdowns, two INTs and a 61.8 passer rating without the wide range. For a Chargers team that lost key players on both sides of the ball in 2022, Williams’ availability may be key to a win, but it could also be central to a disappointing, but fitting, end to their 2022 season. .
  4. The opportunity presents itself for Travis Etienne. The second-year Jaguars running back has largely slipped under the radar in his healthy first season, but a breakout game looms against a leaky running defense. The Chargers allowed 145.8 rushing yards per game (28th in the NFL) and 5.4 yards per carry. That’s more than 30 YPG more than any other playoff team in the conference and the worst YPC average allowed in the Super Bowl era, according to NFL Research. Only five teams in NFL history have allowed a higher YPC in a season, and Etienne’s big-play speed is a serious threat that has the potential to complement Jacksonville’s passing offense. Etienne has rushed for 1,125 yards and five touchdowns (5.1 YPC average) while adding 316 receiving yards (35 receptions) this year. Most of that production came after Week 6, when Etienne became the star RB in Jacksonville, ranking fifth in the league with 910 rushing yards from that point. While the Chargers’ run defense has improved over the final weeks of the season, Etienne presents himself as a potential X-factor on Saturday night and the stage is set for him to punctuate a breakout season.
  5. Staley mentality, Pederson could provide a breakthrough moment. The Chargers and Jaguars are led by head coaches who aren’t afraid to take risks. For better or worse, Staley quickly earned a reputation for his fourth down decisions, but the Chargers have undoubtedly embraced that attitude since last year. In 2022, the Chargers haven’t been as successful on fourth downs, converting 51.7% of 29 attempts compared to 22 of 34 attempts (64.7%) they converted last season. Identifying when to take those risks, which has been a mainstay of Staley’s critics, has been a specialty trait for the coaching style of Pederson, who won Super Bowl LII with the underdog Eagles. The Jaguars also tried their luck with Pederson at the helm, ranking in the NFL’s top 10 with the Chargers in fourth attempts and conversions (14 of 27; 51.9%). Pederson brought undeniable excitement to Jacksonville upon his arrival, and the Jaguars players grew more confident throughout a season that started with a 2-6 record. The upstart Jags might have an advantage here given Pederson’s past playoff experience, but Staley’s Chargers have planned the game well and have a more distinct veteran presence on the field. Add to that the fact that Staley’s defense will face Pederson’s offense, both of which are this coach’s forte, and you have an intriguing head coaching plot that is sure to have cameras ready. away when that moment of decision-making comes.

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