To defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars and avoid an early exit from the playoffs, Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers must avoid a repeat of the shell-shocking performance displayed in their 38-10 loss earlier this season.
Points are expected in this Wild Card rematch, and the Chargers must be prepared to take on one of the NFL’s most-improved defenses
The Jaguars may not tout a hearty selection of household names, but several playmakers have helped transform this unit into one keen to fortify the trenches and take away the football.
The AFC South champs rank fifth in the NFL with 1.6 takeaways per game. In their Week 18 win against the Tennessee Titans, the Jaguars swarmed quarterback Josh Dobbs for four sacks, an interception, and a forced fumble. The Titans were held scoreless in the fourth quarter.
Additionally, the Jaguars’ 3-4 base defense has been instrumental in quashing the run. Opponents only averaged 4.2 yards per carry (seventh-best in the league) and 114.8 rushing yards per game (12th-best) in 2022. The Jaguars have been especially impressive over the last three weeks of the season, giving up no touchdowns and only 162 yards on the ground.
Here is a look at the three impact players on defense for the Jaguars who the Chargers must craft their gameplan around.
OLB Josh Allen
The Chargers will look to neutralize the best player on the other side. Outside linebacker Josh Allen totaled 57 tackles (11 for loss) and six sacks during the regulars season, the latter of which leads the Jaguars. Allen has also forced four fumbles and recovered two loose balls, including the one forced from Dobbs’ hands that he scooped and returned 37 yards to the end zone. The play earned him AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Allen is a powerful rusher who effectively uses his speed and explosiveness to overwhelm offensive tackles. He can fluidly switch between attacking the pocket to blanketing routes in his zone or out of the backfield. Allen also has a high success rate at backing down blockers with his length to constrict the pocket and create opportunities for other members of the pass rush.
Keeping Allen contained will be key to decreasing the stress on Herbert and maximizing his time to throw.
NT Davon Hamilton
Hamilton, a third-round choice by the Jaguars in 2020, has become one of the team’s best defensive pieces at the nose tackle position. Hamilton garnered 39 tackles and 27 pressures, which included three sacks. His 74.9 PFF grade on the year ranks sixth on the Jaguars. This year, his pass-rush tasks have been expanded and he has shown the ability to win with strength and get upfield with urgency.
However, Hamilton’s best work includes absorbing double teams up front so his linebacker support can swoop in and corral the running back. At 6-4 and 320 pounds, Hamilton is well-equipped to do precisely that. The Chargers didn’t run the ball much in their last outing, but starter Austin Ekeler struggled for just five yards on four carries.
The interior offensive line must win the battles against Hamilton to establish the run and open up play-action pass opportunities.
CB Tyson Campbell
Campbell had a big rookie year in 2021, leading the Jaguars in interceptions and pass breakups while ranking fourth in tackles. With a starting role locked down, Campbell parleyed his first-year success into a sturdier performance that displayed major improvement in coverage against the league’s top targets. Campbell collected three interceptions and nine pass breakups, earning an 81.2 PFF Grade – better than Jalen Ramsey, Darius Slay, and Stephon Gilmore.
Campbell was also responsible for a huge play in the win over the Titans, picking off Dobbs with under a minute to play in the third quarter to set the Jaguars up in scoring position. He has good length to stiffen receivers at the line and possesses the awareness to get eyes on the quarterback for opportune plays on the ball.
With Mike Williams out for Saturday’s game with a back fracture, Josh Palmer will get the chance to challenge Campbell on the outside.