The Jaguars take on the San Francisco 49ers this Sunday at 1 pm at EverBank Stadium in Jacksonville. With the Jags coming in at 6-2 and the Niners traveling cross country at 5-3, many NFL analysts are calling this a ‘measuring stick’ game for both teams to gauge where each is compared to the rest of the league.
Both teams are also coming off a bye week and are getting key players healthy again. This will also be the debut for former second overall pick Chase Young who was dealt to San Francisco from the Washington Commanders. There’s also the storyline of two high caliber playoff teams trending in different directions: the Niners have lost three straight while the Jags are riding a five game winning streak.
The NFL is week-to-week, but as I wrote on Monday, I think this game has very real potential to bleed into the two division games against the Titans and Texans that follow. With that said, if the Jags can accomplish these three things (easier said than done), I believe they’ll win – and win convincingly this Sunday.
1. Contain McCaffrey.
Yes, I know. This one is pretty damn obvious, but it’s still my biggest key to victory. The 49ers are going to get a generous boost with Deebo Samuel back in the lineup this week. Not to mention, Brock Purdy also has George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk to distribute the ball to, among others. But everything seems to run through Christian McCaffrey in San Francisco.
If the defensive line can continue to stay disciplined against the run like they have in the first half of the season and the linebacking core can prevent big gains from McCaffrey when he’s split out as a wide receiver, the Jags will put themselves in good position to sack Purdy and create turnovers.
Purdy is a smart quarterback, but he’s still in his second year. Despite all the playmakers around him, if the Jags can force him to play from the pocket, he’s been susceptible to giving the ball to the other team. And you called it, the Jags are still tied with the league leader in defensive turnovers.
2. Keep Trevor upright.
Coming off the bye week, the Jags have been able to get some key players healthy — including Walker Little who is slated to start at left guard on Sunday. With Little out the past few games, left guard has been an area of concern for Jacksonville – so much so they went out and signed Ezra Cleveland before the trade deadline. Trevor has been getting rushed and sacked, and certain run plays (especially short yardage running downs) have been getting blown up. Time (and health) heals all wounds. Or at least hopefully that’s the case as they take on Joey Bosa, Randy Gregory, and the newly acquired Chase Young.
From a game planning perspective, this may mean that Press Taylor and Doug Pederson need to continue doing more of the same: feed Travis Etienne, call plays that will get the ball out quickly, and move Trevor out of the pocket with designed roll outs. Unfortunately, with Zay Jones unlikely to miss another week, I expect the Jags to continue to be selective about throwing the deep ball.
The Jags offense has done a nice job of moving the ball down the field in most of their games this season. And we’ve seen a rhythm develop. If the offense can finish off drives and not turn the ball over in the red zone (something Doug Pederson talked to the media about this week), I believe it’s very possible the Jags will hang 30 or even more on the Niners.
3. Get a lead.
A fast start can be big for Jacksonville. And even if it’s still close or the Jags are down early, if they can step on the gas and get a two-score advantage somewhere in the second or third quarter, I think we’ll see Brock Purdy show his age as he did against Cincinnati in their last game.
One of the major things that stuck out in that game: Cincy wasn’t clean. They had their turnovers, including in the red zone. But they were largely in control of the game from the outset, and the 14-point win could’ve been even more decisive.
The Niners are an extremely talented and well-coached team, but they’ve lost three straight and scored only 17 points per game in each of those losses. A road game across the country at what equates to 10 am SF time could weigh on Kyle Shanahan’s squad especially if they get down early.
I can see this game going in a few different directions, but fingers crossed one of those directions is a bigger-than-expected win for Pug Dederson and company.