The Kansas City Chiefs (4-0) face their toughest test to date this season when they play host to the Jacksonville Jaguars (3-1) at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.
The Jaguars, current co-leaders in the AFC South division, advanced to last season’s AFC Championship game before falling to the New England Patriots.
Four keys to victory
1. Balance: The Chiefs cannot afford to be one-dimensional against the Jaguars. Without running back Kareem Hunt against Denver, the offense would have been fairly non-existent on Monday night. The Jaguars will be much tougher, particularly against the pass. The Jaguars ranks first in the NFL in pass defense, and they have allowed just one 300-yard passing game since the start of the 2017 season.
2. Sustain drives: The Jaguars’ defense is one of the best in squelching opponents’ drives quickly and getting off of the field. On what’s expected to be a rainy day in Kansas City, getting more possessions could be a difference-maker for the Jaguars’ offense. The Jags allow the fewest points per drive in the league and have the best defensive success rate (DSR) as measured by Football Outsiders. Only 58 percent of opponents’ overall series of downs end in either a first down or touchdown.
3. Win first down: Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles has posted a 64.2 quarterback rating this season, which ranks 12th in the NFL. However, he has enjoyed marked success on first down. Bortles’ quarterback rating on first down jumps to 116.9, the fifth-best in the league. Winning first down will be crucial to keeping the Jaguars from dominating time of possession and limiting their scoring opportunities.
4. Convert in the red zone: The Chiefs’ offense has been the second-best in the league at converting red-zone possessions into points (82.4 percent) this season. Meanwhile, the Jaguars’ defense has been the second-stingiest in the league in regard to allowing points when opponents get into the red zone (25 percent). Against a defense like the Jaguars’, which has allowed an average of just 14 points per game, empty red-zone trips could doom the Chiefs’ chances.
A former offensive lineman who spent time with Miami, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Dallas and Minnesota as well as NFL Europe, Marrone took over as Jaguars head coach in 2017 (he served as interim at end of 2016) after having spent two seasons as offensive line coach following head-coaching stints with Syracuse and the Buffalo Bills. He rose through the coaching ranks in college and the NFL primarily as an offensive line coach. He and Chiefs’ defensive coordinator Bob Sutton worked together on the New York Jets’ staff from 2002-05 when Marrone was the offensive line coach and Sutton the linebackers coach. Last season, the Jaguars led the NFL in rushing yards per game (141.4) and relied heavily on a stingy defense.
Nathaniel Hackett has coordinated offenses under Marrone for six seasons, including at Syracuse and with the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville. They utilize the run-pass option as well as Blake Bortles’ mobility. Bortles has rushed for more than 1,500 yards in his career and boasts the highest average yards per carry (6.4) of any active quarterback. They’ve worked out of the shotgun 72 percent of the time this season. Their offense uses principles of the Don Coryell system, which stresses stretching the defense with vertical routes and taking multiple chances downfield.
Todd Walsh enters his third season as defensive coordinator with the Jaguars. He began his tenure with the team as a defensive line coach in 2013 under then head coach Gus Bradley. The Jaguars still use Bradley’s zone-heavy 4-3 defense as the basis for their scheme. Last season, the Jaguars rushed just four men more than any other team in the NFL (83.7 percent) and still ranked sixth in the league in sacks. They blitzed (five or more rushers) the fewest times of any defense, and they rushed two or three defenders almost as infrequently (30th of 32) as any team, according to Football Outsiders. They’ll use myriad line stunts as well as individual pass-rush talent to generate pressure.