Six Points: Jaguars vs. Saints
While the Week 16 matchup between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the New Orleans Saints is a battle of 5-9 teams, that doesn't mean that both teams won't be all out to get a win in this one. For the Jaguars, they'd need some serious help to make the playoffs, but it won't even matter if they lose to the Saints on Sunday.
On the other side of things, the Saints have lost five of their last six games, and are looking to show that they can finish the year strong. Proving that the future is bright will be big, especially since we know that Drew Brees, who may be 36, is still more than capable of slinging it around with the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
Here are three keys to the game for both the Jaguars and the Saints.
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1. Attack the secondary
The Saints are 30th in the NFL in pass defense, yielding an average of 276.4 yards per game. This works out well for Jacksonville since the passing attack is far and away the team's strength. With Jacksonville dealing with injuries to their top two running backs in T.J. Yeldon and Denard Robinson, this is a game where the team should rely on the arm of quarterback Blake Bortles. The Jaguars need to throw it up to talented second-year wide receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns and let them exploit the New Orleans defense.
2. Key on Cooks
Brandin Cooks is the Saints' leading receiver with 74 receptions for 993 yards and eight touchdowns this season. Whoever ends up playing quarterback for New Orleans will most certainly be trying to get him the ball. The Jaguars struggled with Julio Jones last week and while Cooks isn't quite the receiver Jones is yet, he's still plenty dangerous. The Jaguars figure to put cornerback Davon House on Cooks, but need to offer safety help as well in order to keep Cooks out of the end zone.
3. Execute on third downs
Jacksonville failed to convert on all eight of the team's third-down attempts in last week's loss to the Falcons. It's hard to win when you can't sustain drives. The team's injury situation at running back certainly complicates matters, but whether it's screen passes, Bortles taking off and running or whatever else offensive coordinator Greg Olson can devise, the Jaguars have to find a way to move the chains.
1. Get Hightower and Spiller going both on the ground and through the air
Tim Hightower and C.J. Spiller is both more than capable of catching passes out of the backfield, which will be key in Week 16. Not only that, but the Saints will need to get Hightower rolling in the run game as well. The Jaguars have allowed 1,114 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground to opposing running backs. While that's not all that bad, the fact that they've allowed running backs to bring in 89 receptions for 687 yards and three scores is interesting to note. In Week 15, Hightower and Spiller combined for five catches. Expect to see both of their workloads increase a bit in the passing game.
2. Utilize Ben Watson
As mentioned above, the Jaguars should really look to lock in on Cooks, but in general they've done a good job against opposing wide receivers this year. One area where they could improve though, is against opposing tight ends. On the year, they've allowed 72 catches for 890 yards and eight touchdowns to the position. Expect Watson to be a focal point in the passing game on Sunday.
3. Find a way to slow down Bortles
Over the past six games, there's been one thing that stands out about New Orleans' lone victory. They allowed just one single touchdown pass to Jameis Winston and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In each of the five losses, they allowed at multiple touchdowns to the opposing quarterback, and in total gave up 18 touchdowns. That number is simply insane. While Delvin Breaux has been a nice bright spot for the Saints, they need to find the mix of a strong pass rush and good coverage in the secondary that they showed against the Buccaneers. If not, Bortles could be in for a big day.