Is Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons a trap game for the Jacksonville Jaguars? (And how bizarre is that concept to contemplate?)
Consider the following:
- Matt Ryan, Falcons quarterback, is having the worst year of his career, and the last few weeks have been the kind of death spiral that fuels trade rumors. Ryan and the Falcons got shut out in Carolina last Sunday, in a 38-0 laugher that wasn’t as close as the score. Ryan is a dome quarterback, through and through, with wind and a grass field impeding him like they do Drew Brees of the Saints.
- Devonta Freeman, the Falcons’ running back whose performance catalyzed so many fantasy football rosters early in the season, has fallen off in recent weeks also. The struggles of the passing game (which runs through all-world wideout Julio Jones) have allowed defenses to simply double Jones and key on the run.
- Atlanta’s not stopping anyone on defense these days, either. Meanwhile, the Jaguars have one of the best wide receiver tandems in Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, along with being stacked with credible skill players at tight end and farther down the wideout depth chart. While T.J. Yeldon likely won’t be playing for Jacksonville at running back, Denard Robinson has fresh legs and is running with a bit more nastiness this season than in the past. The line, meanwhile, is keeping the pocket clean for Blake Bortles.
All the pundits are picking Jacksonville to win, which is not what anyone would have expected when Atlanta started its season 5-0.
And that could be a problem. What happens to a football team (or any organization) when they have talent, and they internalize the “us against the world” narrative?
They either pack it in. Or they find new urgency, as they play for their jobs, their places in the league, and (at least sometimes) their coach.
The Jaguars are still in the AFC South mix, one game out with two seriously flawed teams ahead of them. They are peaking at the right time; the stretch run. And Atlanta has no stretch run ahead of it that anyone can see, despite actually having the better record at 6-7.
This feels like an “easy win” for the Jaguars. But really? Those who have been watching this team for the last two decades know that nothing in Jags’ history is easy.
To win, Jacksonville has to do what Carolina did last week. Start quick, get up by three scores in the first quarter.
The worst thing they can do is let the game be 3-3 near the half.
Whereas last week, Jacksonville poured it on in the second half, Matt Ryan is not decrepit Matt Hasselbeck.
The quick start is the key. As is keeping the foot on the gas for 60 minutes.
The Falcons’ crisis of self doubt must be reinforced early and often. If they aren’t yelling at each other at halftime or on the sidelines, then there is a problem for the home squad.