Jaguars brace for Wilson, Seahawks (Dec 10, 2017)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson is in serious contention for his first MVP award.

The NFL’s top-ranked defense presents the ultimate test — and opportunity for a major statement.

The Seahawks travel to Jacksonville on Sunday in a matchup of 8-4 teams at EverBank Field. The game was flexed to a 4:25 p.m. ET start and is arguably the biggest contest in Jacksonville in a decade.

The Jaguars are tied with Tennessee for the AFC South lead. The Seahawks are a game back of the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC West, but are the fifth-seed in the NFC playoff picture.

Wilson has thrown for 3,256 yards and ran for 432, but that production doesn’t tell the full story. The sixth-year veteran is carrying Seattle’s offense unlike any player in recent memory. Wilson’s 3,688 total yards account for 82.1 percent of Seattle’s output.

“I’ve really never studied or played against Russell Wilson,” Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said. “I’ve had the past couple days to really study him and I really think he’s having a MVP-type season. When you watch him back there whether it’s throwing the ball, running the football, escapability, prolonging plays, just making plays, durability, I mean he just does it all.”

Wilson has accounted for 29 of Seattle’s 30 offensive touchdowns, throwing for 26 and running for three.

Wilson led Seattle past visiting Philadelphia 24-10 on Sunday night, snapping the Eagles nine-game winning streak.

The Jaguars present another challenge.

Jacksonville’s defense has become uncommonly excellent, even for elite NFL defenses. The Jaguars lead the NFL in total defense (282.5 yards), scoring defense (14.8) and passing defense (167.1).

“They are the best in the NFL by a pretty good margin here in scoring and all that,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “It starts up front for them. They have a big rotation of guys, a big variety of guys that they can throw at you. Their linebackers can fly and the secondary are a bunch of ball hawks back there. They cause you all kinds of problems. Forty-five sacks tells you the story and all the turnovers.”

Jacksonville has allowed opposing quarterbacks to throw 10 touchdowns with 16 picks for a passer rating of 65.6. Wilson enters the game with a rating of 96.9.

Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey has become one of the best in the NFL with three interceptions and 16 pass break-ups. Ends Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue have combined for 22 1/2 sacks. Campbell set the franchise single-season sack record by reaching 12 1/2 in Sunday’s 30-10 victory over visiting Indianapolis.

“Their front four is phenomenal,” Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin said. “We know that we have our hands full with them upfront. The linebackers are very smart and athletic, so we know that they are going to be moving around and causing us some issues in the passing game. Their secondary is extremely talented, extremely confident. I’m looking forward to that challenge because I know they are going to bring the best out of us.”

A major key in the game will be how the Jaguars elect to try and pressure Wilson. They should have a distinct advantage over Seattle’s substandard offensive line.

Does Marrone elect to allow his pass rushers the freedom to rush Wilson at full speed or will he and defensive coordinator Todd Wash want more of a controlled rush to contain Wilson?

The other side of the matchup tilts in Seattle’s favor. Despite losing stars in cornerback Richard Sherman, strong safety Kam Chancellor and defensive end Cliff Avril, the Seahawks remain a stout unit.

The Jaguars lead the NFL in rushing. However, rookie running back Leonard Fournette has been slowed lately by an ankle injury and doesn’t seem to have the cutting ability and power he did in the first six games of the season.

If the Jaguars can’t run the ball well, fourth-year quarterback Blake Bortles will have to beat a secondary that still includes excellent free safety Earl Thomas.

Bortles played well against Indianapolis, throwing for 309 yards with two touchdowns and no picks. Still, the Colts aren’t nearly the defense Seattle is bringing to Jacksonville.

“Philly has been rolling and they shut them down, so it’s impressive,” Bortles said. “This defense has played at a high level for a really long time. They’ve had their staple guys that have been there for a really long time, know the system really well, played in it for a long time. They’re a little banged up with a couple guys out, but they still have a ton of good football players.”