Editor’s note: We welcome in Jacksonville Jaguars writer Ryan O’Bleness of Big Cat Country for “Five questions with the enemy,” leading into the Kansas City Chiefs’ matchup with the Jaguars on Sunday.
1) The Jacksonville Jaguars will be without both RB Leonard Fournette and CB DJ Hayden this Sunday vs. Kansas City. What is the impact of not having these two players and who do you expect to step up in their place?
The Jaguars want to run the ball early and often, and when Fournette is healthy, the offense runs through him. Unfortunately, Fournette has not even played four full quarters combined this season due to a hamstring injury he suffered in Week 1. Fourth-year running back T.J. Yeldon has really stepped up in his absence, proving to be a threat in both the rushing and receiving game, but has dealt with an ankle injury himself. The Jaguars will continue to lean on Yeldon as the lead back during Fournette’s absence, while sprinkling in Corey Grant in specific packages. Brandon Wilds may get very limited reps as well if he needs to spell either player.
Hayden was signed as a free agent this offseason to replace Aaron Colvin at the nickel cornerback spot. He was a bit of a question mark going into the season, but played very well by all accounts early in the season. Hayden is dealing with a toe injury, however, and this will be the third straight game he will miss. Cornerback Tyler Patmon, who played 44 defensive snaps last week, will continue to get more looks with Hayden sidelined. It wouldn’t surprise me if rookie safety Ronnie Harrison sees an increased role in “big nickel” packages as well.
2) In the passing game, WRs Dede Westbrook (28) and Keelan Cole (24) are numbers one and two on the team in targets. What have these players shown during the first four weeks that have made them favorite targets for QB Blake Bortles?
The Jaguars lost expected No. 1 receiver Marqise Lee to a torn ACL in the preseason, but even before Lee’s injury, Jacksonville approached the season with a committee at the position, as Lee wasn’t exactly a guy who would command double teams. Keelan Cole, an undrafted free agent in 2017 who went on to lead the Jags in receiving yards, kind of became the de facto No. 1 wideout for this season following the injury to Lee. He had a huge game against the New England Patriots with seven catches for 116 yards, a touchdown and a ridiculous one-handed catch, but hasn’t caught more than five balls or surpassed 54 receiving yards in any of the other three games. So consistency is lacking with him, but he can make big plays when needed.
Dede Westbrook exploded against the New York Jets last week, catching nine balls on 13 targets for 130 yards. He’s averaging 5.25 catches and 73.5 yards per game, as well as 14 yards per catch. I think he’s been the more consistent of the two receivers mentioned and seems to be building good chemistry with Blake Bortles. The former Biletnikoff Award has only scored one touchdown so far this season, but I expect that to increase. I think Bortles trusts both Cole and Westbrook in key situations, and the target numbers seem to prove that theory.
3) On the defensive side of the football, the Jags offer plenty of household names such as DE Calais Campbell and CBs Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye. But who is one lesser-known players Chiefs fans should be paying attention to come Sunday. Why?
I talked a little bit about Tyler Patmon earlier, but he may be a name to keep an eye on. Patmon did an admirable job last week, playing nearly 80 percent of the defensive snaps and being amongst the teams leading tacklers. He’s going to be tested this week with the many different weapons the Chiefs may line up in the slot. He’ll need to step up in a big way. Rookies Taven Bryan and Ronnie Harrison will try to make an impact in limited reps as well.
4) TE James O’ Shaughnessy first entered the league as a 2015 fifth-round draft pick by the Chiefs before they eventually let him go. What has been O’Shaughnessy’s story with the Jaguars, and how has helped them so far this season?
James O’Shaughnessy was acquired off of waivers from the New England Patriots in 2017, and has carved out a nice little niche role with the Jags. He beat out AFC Wild Card game hero Ben Koyack and others to earn a roster spot this year, and though he’s not really featured in the passing game (three catches for 45 yards so far), the Jaguars like him as a blocker, and that’s important in this offense. While the receiving numbers aren’t there, he has more than capable hands. The Jaguars also have Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Niles Paul as capable pass-catchers at tight end. O’Shaughnessy is not ever going to be a player that opposing defensive coordinators need to game plan against, but he executes his role.
5) Everyone is well aware of the Hill-Ramsey bake-and-forth, but I found that this video of LB Telvin Smith was rather interesting as well. What do you think was on Smith’s mind?
It’s a little hard to decipher, but Smith is a leader of this team and probably is trying to build excitement for the game and get his teammates motivated. It’s likely something along the lines of Kansas City getting all of the hype and less people talking about the Jaguars in the same capacity. I’m taking a guess here, but I assume he is using whatever he was asked/told as bulletin board material and wants to keep it to himself until after the game.