The Jacksonville Jaguars blew out the Los Angeles Chargers in September, traveling across the country to beat the team 38-10 at SoFi Stadium. Doing it again in the playoffs may not be as easy, even with the rematch set to happen at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville.
The most significant difference this time around is that quarterback Justin Herbert is healthy and on a roll. When the Jaguars traveled to LA, there were doubts about Herbert even being available after he suffered a rib cartilage fracture the week prior.
Herbert played through the injury, but completed a season-low 55.6 percent of his passes and threw one touchdown with one interception. Now Herbert is 100 percent and he threw four touchdowns with no interceptions in his last two games.
So what do the Jaguars need to do to move on to the Divisional Round? Here are three keys to a victory over the Chargers on Saturday:
Run the ball
In general, the Jaguars pass to set up the run. However, mixing in an effective run game is still a massive component to the Jacksonville offense. The Jaguars averaged 30 points in the six games they ran for more than 150 yards.
It’s no coincidence that the Jacksonville offense had one of its most lackluster performances last week when the Titans held the Jaguars run game to only 19 yards.
That simply can’t (and probably won’t) be stuffed like that again in their playoff game against the Chargers.
Los Angeles finished the regular season dead last in yards allowed per opposing carry (5.4 yards) and gave up over 150 rushing yards 10 times.
If Travis Etienne Jr. can get going Saturday, along with a sprinkling of JaMycal Hasty, the Jaguars could control the action against the Chargers.
Keep the clamps on Austin Ekeler
The Chargers will be without Mike Williams, who leads the team in receiving yards, due to a back injury. But the player who leads the team in receptions (by a whopping 35) is running back Austin Ekeler.
Ekeler was on the receiving end of 107 passes more than every other player in the NFL except Justin Jefferson, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Stefon Diggs.
That could spell trouble for the Jaguars defense, which has struggled to keep opposing running backs from running free in the pass game. Jacksonville has given up an average of 48.8 receiving yards per game to running backs, second most in the NFL.
Keeping Ekeler from doing too much damage in the pass game will be the responsibility of several players, including Foye Oluokun, Chad Muma, Rayshawn Jenkins, and Tre Herndon.
Get off the field on 3rd down
The Chargers led the league with 112 successful third down conversions. The Jaguars defense allowed 95 third downs to be converted this season, seventh most in the NFL.
Forcing punts could be difficult and takeaways may be even harder for the Jaguars against a Chargers offense that turned the ball over just 19 times, fifth fewest in the league.
Jacksonville’s pass rush has stepped up its game late in the season and a reconfigured secondary with Darious Williams on the outside has been locking down receivers. The upward trajectory of the Jaguars defense will need to carry into the playoffs if the team hopes to keep the Chargers from marching up and down the field Saturday.