Clayton: 5 Things to watch in Seahawks-Jaguars

Dec 8, 2017, 4:59 PM
seahawks, duane brown...
Pro Bowl LT Duane Brown joined the Seahawks as part of a midseason trade in October 2017. (AP)

In the summer of 2016, I went to a Jacksonville Jaguars-Tampa Bay Buccaneer scrimmage to see what most people thought were two of the up-and-coming teams in the NFL.

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Looking at the Jaguars speed on defense, I thought they were a year ahead on the rebuilding of the defense and on path to be good. The Jaguars offense failed them last year; the Bucs won nine games. One of the deficiencies of the Jaguars was not getting enough veteran leadership to help some of the young players. The signings of safety Barry Church and defensive end Calais Campbell helped to solve that problem.

The Jaguars are a force now — but one that differs from the opinion of cornerback Jalen Ramsey — and Sunday’s matchup against the Seattle Seahawks is a statement game. The Jaguars are 8-4, but, thanks to a down AFC, they have beaten only two teams with a winning record: Baltimore (in London) and Pittsburgh. Remember that the Philadelphia Eagles came to Seattle last Sunday night with a similar resume, and lost by 14.

Here are five things to watch Sunday.

All eyes will be on Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles. Critics continue to insist the Jaguars are one quarterback away from greatness, but that Bortles isn’t that quarterback.

Though he’s cut down his turnover problems this season, Bortles isn’t one to strike fear into a defense. He has completed 58 to 59 percent of his passes throughout his career. His best season was in 2015, when he threw 35 touchdown passes — but many of those throws came when the Jaguars were behind because the defense gave up too many points. Most people around the league believe Jacksonville will go in another direction at quarterback after the season.

The key for the Seahawks is to limit Bortles and the Jaguars offense to 17 points or less. Bortles and the Jags’ offense scored only 17 points in a Week 6 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. The Los Angeles Chargers helped him to 20 points in a Week 10 win, but he completed only 54.9 percent of his passes in that game.

Stoppping the run. Leonard Fournette is one of the leading candidates for Offensive Rookie of the Year. He has 822 yards on 207 carries in 10 games, but an ankle injury has slowed him down as of late. In his past four games, he’s rushed for 226 yards on 77 carries, a 2.9 yard per carry average.

The Seahawks have been one of the best run-stopping defenses in football. Since the Tennessee Titans loss, they have held teams to 3.3 yards a carry and they have to lowest yard per carry average against on first down (2.9). If the defense puts the Jaguars in second- and third-and-long situations, it would have a good chance to win.

Getting better along the offensive line. The Jaguars lead the NFL in quarterback sacks, so the challenge will be their pass-blocking. The Duane Brown trade has been huge in improving the blocking, and Ethan Pocic is also getting better at guard.

Stats Inc. has a stat evaluator that studies the number of hurries allowed, penalties and other stats used to evaluate line. After being reviewed as one of the worst offensive lines earlier this season, the Seahawks have jumped to 21st in a tie with Jacksonville. Pro Football Focus rated the Seahawks the eighth best since the Brown trade.

It’s how you finish. Russell Wilson’s fourth-quarter numbers are incredible. His 15 fourth-quarter touchdown passes tie the NFL record set by Eli Manning in 2011, and Wilson has four games remaining. He’s completed 80-of-114 passes in the fourth quarter (70.2 percent) for a league-best 1,028 yards. Even more stunning is that he’s been sacked only two times in the fourth, and posts a quarterback rating is 134.1.

The key is for the defense to hold the Jaguars to a low score and give Wilson the chance to win in the fourth quarter.

It’s down to Mike Davis and J.D. McKissic at running back. Chris Carson had a setback on his ankle injury this week, so his chances of coming back my have diminished for the regular season.

Davis came through with what the Seahawks needed to win with their ground game. He rushed for 64 yards on 16 carries last week against the Eagles. Russell Wilson will get 30 to 40 yards with his feet, but the better the backs do with the ground game, the less pressure there will be on Wilson.

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