The Jacksonville Jaguars have a tall, tall task ahead of them this weekend.
The Jaguars are no strangers to being underdogs and a month ago just showed the ability to pull off a massive upset and knock off a top team. But this Sunday is different, with the 2-9 Jaguars now traveling to the West Coast for a Week 13 bout against the 7-4 Los Angeles Rams in hopes of ending a three-game losing streak.
Can the Jaguars end that losing streak against the Rams, or does it continue moving into Week 14? We break it down below.
1) Can Joe Cullen matchup with Sean McVay?
John Shipley: In terms of schematics, I think so. Joe Cullen has done a good job of manufacturing pressure, especially in recent weeks, which suggests to me that he will have his chance to ruin some of McVay's passing plans as long as the Jaguars shut down the run and put themselves into third-down situations. With that said, the Rams' passing game will have talent advantages throughout the game. I think Cullen will make solid calls and have a good game plan, but whether these calls can be executed against the Rams is another story entirely.
Gus Logue: At the beginning of the season I'd say no way, but at this point I think Joe Cullen has a chance at a statement game against boy genius Sean McVay. The Rams offense tends to start hot and then peter out a bit in the second half of the season as opposing defenses are able to key in on McVay's tendencies. If Jacksonville is able to stifle Los Angeles' run game on early downs to allow Cullen to get into funky zone blitzes on third down, I think this game could end up close if the Jaguars' offense holds up their end of the bargain.
Demetrius Harvey: I think we've already seen what a Joe Cullen-led defense, at least with this personnel, can do against a Sean McVay offense. While they aren't exactly the same, the similarities between the San Francisco 49ers offense and the Rams' offense is similar. The motion and twists and turns that confuse a defense could have similar effects. I think that will continue through this week against the Rams and the Jaguars will have a tough time on Sunday because of it.
2) Can Trevor Lawrence finally throw two touchdowns in a game?
John Shipley: I doubt it. The Rams have a pair of extremely talented cornerbacks and three defensive linemen who are each capable of breaking a game open with just a few plays. Trevor Lawrence hasn't thrown multiple touchdowns in a game since he threw three in Week 1 vs. the Texans, and nothing about the Rams' defense or the Jaguars' offensive issues suggest to me that changes this week. Lawrence had a good chance to hit this mark last week, but if he couldn't do it then, I have my doubts the Jaguars offense does it now.
Gus Logue: I'm not holding my breath. The Rams are strong against both the run and the pass but its biggest priority is limiting explosive pass plays -- if we do end up getting a breakout game from Trevor Lawrence this season, it would shock me if it came against this defense. Aaron Donald presents a massive mismatch against Ben Bartch in the trenches, but I think James Robinson will be the key to the offense on Sunday like he has been the entire season.
Demetrius Harvey: That's remarkable that Lawrence has yet to throw more than one touchdown in any game since Week 1 of the season. But, no, if this is the week you're banking on it, don't hold your breath. Lawrence can only do so much and going up against arguably the best defense they've faced this season probably isn't going to help those efforts
3) Who do the Jaguars need to have a big day on defense to secure a victory?
John Shipley: Josh Allen. I think the Rams are going to be dropping back to throw the ball a good amount against the Jaguars considering their injuries at running back, so I think the key factor for the Jaguars' defense will be forcing Matthew Stafford into mistakes. The best way to do that? By getting pressure on the veteran quarterback and rushing him into poor decisions and off-scheduled throws. Allen is the Jaguars' best chance to do that considering the lack of one-on-one winners across from him on the Jaguars' defense, making his performance key.
Gus Logue: Rayshawn Jenkins and Andrew Wingard. Considering Jacksonville's adaption to more zone coverages and Los Angeles' staple deep crossing routes, I think the Jaguars safeties will be a bigger key in this game against Matthew Stafford and co. than the cornerbacks. While Robert Woods is on injured reserve and Odell Beckham Jr. is questionable, the Rams still have two strong weapons in Cooper Kupp and Van Jefferson, each of whom rank top-25 in explosive pass play rate among 71 qualifying wide receivers (per Sharp Football Stats).
Demetrius Harvey: The Jaguars will need another big day from Tyson Campbell to succeed. Going up against one of the best receivers in the league in Cooper Kupp, Jacksonville will not have faced any tougher competition yet, including in Week 3 against a hampered DeAndre Hopkins. With Shaq Griffin out, Campbell will need yet another big game.
4) Can the Jaguars do anything against Jalen Ramsey this week, or does Ramsey have a big revenge game?
John Shipley: No, the Jaguars won't be able to do much against Jalen Ramsey. The players who typically have success against Ramsey (there aren't many of them) typically do so with precise route-running and being able to lull Ramsey into making self-inflicted mistakes. None of the Jaguars' wideouts is the kind who will threaten Ramsey, whether vertically or as a route-runner on a down-to-down basis. I expect Ramsey to make a few splash plays, potentially create a turnover, and in the end just have the advantage over his former team.
Gus Logue: Throw away from Jalen Ramsey is the simplest, and best, option. The former Jaguar is likely to torment any current Jacksonville receiver who matchups up against him, as Trevor Lawrence's weapons have struggled to create any separation this season. Ramsey is also aggressive in the run game and as a tackler, but Jacksonville's main concern in the rushing game should be steering as far away from Aaron Donald as possible. Lawrence will need to target Los Angeles' outside cornerbacks to find any success in this game.
Demetrius Harvey: There's not much you can do to challenge Jalen Ramsey, but you also don't have to be afraid of him, there are plenty of ways to go away from the All-Pro cornerback and we've seen teams have success against Jacksonville in the past with Ramsey on the field, there's no reason why it should be impossible simply because he's on a new team.
5) Score prediction?
John Shipley: Rams 30, Jaguars 13. The Jaguars at full-strength wouldn't be able to matchup with the Rams very well, but this is a Jaguars team that will be without their No. 1 cornerback and their four most naturally explosive playmakers on offense. I just don't see the Rams overlooking the Jaguars the way the Bills did a month ago.
Gus Logue: Rams 25, Jaguars 16. Jacksonville is 2-0 against the spread as double-digit underdogs this season (Los Angeles is favored by 13.5 points) and I expect them to improve to 3-0 in that area. But while I think this game could be closer than most anticipate, it's hard to see a scenario where Jacksonville can match up with Los Angeles' superior talent and coaching for a full 60 minutes. Aaron Donald might single-handedly beat the Jaguars on Sunday.
Demetrius Harvey: This one could get ugly, but I have the Jaguars losing 35-10.