It’s been eight years since the Buffalo Bills last played in London — a game they narrowly lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars. That victory in Wembley Stadium officially placed the Jaguars in the win column across the pond, after their first two games didn’t go as planned.
So here we are once again: It’s Bills vs. Jaguars in England, for all the morning marbles to be decided over a heaping helping of bangers and mash. The teams are in vastly different places than they were in 2015, with Buffalo at 3-1 behind an efficiently deadly Josh Allen and stout defense, while Jacksonville’s clawed its way to 2-2 with quarterback Trevor Lawrence continuing to ascend as an NFL signal caller.
Sunday’s match will break a dead-even tie all-time between the two teams, and history tells us that the decision’s likely to tell the story of a close affair. This week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Gus Logue, site manager from Big Cat Country, who took walked me through a few of the key questions I had ahead of this Week 5 international showdown.
Contained below, we tackled the Jaguars’ recent pattern of trouble on third downs, and the success Jacksonville had in limiting the Kansas City Chiefs’ on offense. Plus, Gus dives into what he sees as the Jaguars’ biggest weakness on both sides of the ball, he fills Bills Mafia in on some of the lesser-known play makers in Duval County, and reflects on Jacksonville’s troubling scoring differential in relation to this week’s game.
1. A game within the game this weekend is third-down efficiency. Through four games, the Jaguars have struggled offensively (rated 29th at 31.4% and 16 of 51), while the Bills are ranked second at 51 % and 26 of 51. What’s behind the Jaguars’ struggles, considering the elite cadre of weapons they have on offense?
Jacksonville’s offensive coordinator and play caller, Press Taylor, answered that same question earlier this week. “There’s different things that come up here and there, whether it be situation of the game, play call, protection, route running, catching, throwing. There’s a lot that comes into play with that.” Taylor added that third-down efficiency is “definitely something we need to improve on.”
Basically, the Jaguars have shot themselves in the foot with a myriad of mistakes on third downs. They believe the offense will start humming as soon as they cut down on self-inflicted wounds. The return of a trusted target in Zay Jones (knee) and a veteran lineman in Cam Robinson (suspension) will help. But this offense won’t reach its full potential until Calvin Ridley consistently earns the targets, and ensuing defensive attention, of a true No. 1 wide receiver.
I wrote about Jacksonville’s defensive coordinator and play caller, Mike Caldwell, and what his defensive philosophy means for this week against the second-best third-down offense in the league. Definitely agree with you that third downs will be a big deal on Sunday.
2. Despite the final score, the Jaguars managed to bottle up the Kansas City Chiefs and quarterback Patrick Mahomes — holding them to 17 points. Do you believe they’ll try to replicate some of what they did against the Chiefs in trying to stop Josh Allen and the Bills?
Absolutely. Jacksonville’s plan against any opposing offense is to force them into 2nd-and-long and 3rd-and-long situations with the help of stout run defense. Caldwell’s bunch gets more aggressive with blitzes against younger passers, but against world-beaters like Mahomes and Allen, the Jaguars just try to keep everything in front of them. They did a nice job against Mahomes in Week 2 of containing him in the pocket and limiting scramble drills. They’ll do the same against Allen this week, and try to will a mistake out of him by taking away deep shots.
This game probably comes down to which version of Allen shows up. The Jaguars want to make him look like he did in Week 1, but if Allen plays like he did in Week 4 and just takes what the defense gives him, the Bills should have no trouble winning this game.
3. If you were scheming against the Jaguars, what might you find to be their biggest weakness on both sides of the ball?
Jacksonville’s biggest weakness on offense is its interior offensive line. Controlling the trenches is a good approach for any team, but especially for defenses facing the Jaguars. Bottling up runs and pushing the pocket from the inside would go a long way toward stopping an offense that’s already limited by pass protection. Trevor Lawrence has one of the best arms in the league, but due to his offensive line, he has the third-fastest time to throw and seventh-lowest average depth of target among all quarterbacks this season.
Passing over the middle of the field is the way to attack Jacksonville’s defense. Outside cornerbacks Tyson Campbell and Darious Williams have played just as great as the overall run defense, but opposing offenses can go after nickel corner Tre Herndon, strong safety Rayshawn Jenkins, and Jacksonville’s linebackers in coverage.
4. It’s rare enough that these two teams face off where Bills Mafia may not be keenly aware of those players who make the Jaguars tick, but remain off the radar for most. Who are two players (one offense, one defense) Bills fans should focus in on apart from the big names?
Second-year center Luke Fortner needs to have a big game for the Jaguars on Sunday. With Greg Rosseau (foot) out and Von Miller (knee) likely to be on a pitch count, Buffalo’s pass rush figures to come from interior linemen like Ed Oliver and DaQuon Jones. Fortner is tied with left guard Ben Bartch for most pressures allowed (9) on the team.
On defense, third-year safety Andre Cisco is in the midst of a breakout season. He had an interception and another dropped interception against Mahomes in Week 2 and will look to have a Jordan Whitehead-like performance against Allen in Week 3. Cisco is fourth in PFF grade among all safeties this year.
5. Concerning scoring differential, Buffalo currently sits at +21.0 while the Jags are mired at -0.5. DraftKings Sports book currently lists the Bills as 5.5-point favorites in this game. What’s behind that negative differential? Considering all things, do you think the Jaguars can and will find a way to keep pace with and/or outpace the Bills on offense in terms of the current line?
Jacksonville’s underwhelming offense, which ranks just 21st in points per game (20.0), is the main reason for the negative point differential. A fullback returning a kickoff for a touchdown (plus two coverage miscommunications leading to huge Tank Dell receptions) in Week 3 didn’t help either.
The return of Zay Jones and Cam Robinson is significant, but I don’t think it’ll be enough to keep pace with the Bills. I expect Jacksonville to score 16-23 points on Sunday and Buffalo to score 24-31. My official prediction is 24-20 Bills. If the Jaguars win, it’ll be because of a Mike Caldwell masterclass.
Thanks again to Gus Logue for connecting with me this week to chat Bills-Jaguars ahead of what should be a great NFL Week 5 matchup. Be sure to head over to Big Cat Country to check out my responses to Gus’ questions about the Bills.