3TFO: Bills @ Jaguars, Week 15
Who would have predicted a couple of months ago that at some point the Jacksonville Jaguars would hold the longest winning streak in the AFC? Well, they are tied at three consecutive wins with three teams, but it’s pretty impressive for a team that started the season with eight consecutive losses. Gus Bradley turned it around after the bye-week and they have lost just one game since with a defense that now looks dominant and able to control the pace of the game.
On the other side, the Buffalo Bills travel to Florida for the second week in a row after losing to the Buccaneers last Sunday. Two weeks ago, right before their bye-week they were still in playoff contention – it was a long shot but they were still on the hunt – and now, two losses later they are already looking ahead to next season. With a young roster and a rookie quarterback every game is an evaluation for them, here are three key matchups for this Sunday’s game.
Cecil Shorts vs. Stephon Gilmore
Two young promising players will face each other this Sunday in Jacksonville. Cecil Shorts was the Jaguars’ Secret Superstar back in May after his breakout season in 2012 and this year he’s still producing despite the unstable situation of their passing offense – Shorts is 233 yards away from gaining 1,000 receiving yards that would make him the first receiver to achieve it in Jacksonville since Jimmy Smith in 2005. His performances lately have been disappointing though; he hasn’t had a ‘green’ grade since Week 10 and has dropped four passes in the last three games. Drops were an issue last year, as he finished third in Drop Rate among wide receivers and it hasn’t improved in 2013 as he already has 10 drops and is fourth in Drop Rate at 13.16.
After his injury at the beginning of the season, Stephon Gilmore is playing better as the season goes on. In the last three games he has graded at +2.4 in coverage and has allowed a completion percentage of 43.5% for 148 yards with one interception and three passes defended. When Jaguars and Bills met last season in Week 13, Shorts came up with seven catches and one touchdown in 11 targets grading out at +2.3 but only one of those targets was when covered by Gilmore and it was incomplete. This Sunday we’ll watch this matchup more often and who wins it will be a key to the outcome of the game.
Buffalo has one the best of the defensive lines in the league, featuring the fourth-highest rated 3-4 defensive end and the sixth-highest rated defensive tackle. Kyle Williams (+29.0) has just two negative grades in the season – and the last one was -0.1 vs. Cincinnati in Week 6 – and Marcell Dareus (+27.9) has six ‘green’ grades in the last seven games. They combine for 55 defensive stops in run defense and 91 total pressures. Their presence in the middle of the trenches also frees up their teammates and especially the linebackers are taking advantage of it with the likes of Mario Williams, Jerry Hughes and the rookie Kiko Alonso ranking among the best players at their positions.
In their meeting with the Jaguars in 2012 Williams and Dareus were dominant as pass rushers recording nine total pressures and grading out at +5.1 together. Center Brad Meester and right guard Uche Nwaneri played that game with poor results in pass blocking: 10 pressures allowed in 52 passing plays. Nwaneri has stepped up this season and is eighth-highest graded guard in pass blocking with 22 total pressures surrendered. On the other side of the line, at left guard, Will Rackley is among the worst guards in pass blocking with a grade of -13.6 and Pass Blocking Efficiency of 94.1. After facing J.J. Watt twice in the last three weeks – who recorded 15 pressures and 13 stops in those games – now they have another big challenge with the disruptive couple of defensive linemen from Buffalo.
Bills Passing Offense
The offensive scheme in Buffalo revolves around the running game with C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson carrying the load but now they are out of the playoff race it’d be interesting to test how E.J. Manuel has improved during the season and let him ride the offense in these final games. Since he came back from the knee injury his passing grade is -8.9 and he managed to grade out of the red in just one game, vs. the Jets in Week 11. That was the only game where he completed more than 60% of his passes in that stretch with a season-high yards per attempt at 8.8. Everything went south after that performance and Manuel had a completion percentage of 55.4% averaging 6.1 yards per attempt in the last two games. His four interceptions last week in Tampa didn’t help either.
Getting help from his receivers would help of course. Stevie Johnson at +5.5 and Marquise Goodwin at +1.1 are the only ones with positive grades in receiving while Robert Woods and T.J. Graham combined for -12.1. Manuel has seen 18 of his 282 passes dropped and his top three wide receivers are all ranked among the 25 wide receivers (at least 25% of the snaps) with the highest Drop Rate. On Sunday they’ll need to put behind them the awful output in the loss vs. the Buccaneers and try to get something going around their rookie quarterback – they need to find out about Manuel before the season ends.
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