Here are five keys to the game heading the Week 10 match between the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars:
1. The Perryman Factor – The hard-hitting hammer is back. After missing the first eight games of the season with an ankle injury that landed him on IR/Designed for Return, Denzel Perryman will make his season debut Sunday in Jacksonville. The heart and soul of the Bolts' linebackers corps, his mere presence is a game-changer even if we don't know exactly how much he'll be on the field. Just ask Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone:
"They get the middle linebacker back. He's really the heart and soul of the defense. He's an outstanding football player. I've seen him coming out, watching him play when we played against him. He's someone who can make a ton of tackles."
Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley also weighed in on what Perryman brings to the table:
"He's very instinctive. He's probably our most explosive linebacker as far as his ability to hit and tackle. He has very good instincts in the pass game. You can tell when he came into the huddle that players lit up. He has that presence about him."
2. Focus on Fournette… – Perryman's return couldn't come at a better time as the Bolts will face one of the league's top running backs in Leonard Fournette. The 6-0, 228-pound rookie can beat you with power and quickness, quickly establishing himself as an elite player. The LSU product ranks sixth in the NFL with 596 yards despite missing two games, and is averaging 4.6 yards per carry. He's found the end zone six times, including a 90-yard and 75-yard run. Head Coach Anthony Lynn is well regarded for his knowledge of running backs, and he's clearly a big fan of the rookie rusher:
"He's having a good rookie season so far. He sat last week out and is still sixth in the league in rushing. He's got long speed. He's gone short. He's gone long. It's everything I saw while he was at LSU. He's a prototype NFL runner."
3. …and his Cohorts – Fournette isn't the only running back the Chargers need to prepare for as the Jaguars have three other effective options. Chris Ivory has been a difference maker, carrying the ball 77 times for 278 yards and one TD. He's also caught 19 passes for 177 yards and another score. Meanwhile, T.J. Yeldon has also been effective, averaging a gaudy 8.2 yards per carry (20 totes for 163 yards) and one score. Meanwhile, the Bolts are also wary of Corey Grant, who has carried the ball 19 times for 123 yards (6.5 ypc). Lynn made sure to emphasize the need to corral each back, not just Fournette:
"Those four backs they have, they're pretty good. These guys are all similar except for one. These guys are power guys, quick enough to make you miss and create a lot of yards after contact. You have to tackle them. Gang tackle them. One defender normally doesn't bring one of these guys down."
4. Can Rivers Roll On? – Philip Rivers has feasted on the Jaguars over his career, boasting a 6-1 lifetime record. In the six wins, he sports a 120.3 passer rating with 19 touchdowns and 2,119 yards. In his last three outings against the Jags, he's thrown 11 touchdowns with no picks, including back-to-back four-TD performances. However, Rivers knows he is in for a big challenge this week. Number 17 was quick to note this is a very different Jacksonville team than recent years:
"Looking back on last year, they finished somewhere around sixth or seventh overall on defense. This year they're doing even better. I think it's just a matter of sticking with the scheme of what they do and believing in it. And then they've added some pieces over the years. This is certainly the best group of guys they've had together. So they are playing really well and very fast. We're familiar with this scheme. Obviously similar to what we run. It's one (where) they line up, play what they play, play fast and get after it. Definitely the best Jacksonville defense we've played, but it's been trending in that direction over the last few years."
5. O-Line to the Test – Rivers has no chance at leading the Bolts to victory if he's under duress, and Jacksonville presents the stiffest challenge in that regard in the entire NFL. There's a reason they've gone by the "Sacksonville" nickname as they have a league-leading 35 sacks. They are led by the dynamic trio of Calais Campbell (league-high 11.0), Yannick Ngakoue (6.5) and Dante Fowler Jr., (5.5). Despite their success, Rivers has the utmost confidence in his blockers to give him the time he needs. Still, he knows it won't be easy:
"That's going to be a challenge this week. You're facing a team that has the most sacks in the NFL. They've had two games where they've had 10 in each. So, they can rush the passer, and they rush it for the most part with the four guys up front. Which means they have those guys in cover. That's the ideal way every defense would like to be set up. To rush four and cover with the other seven, which is what our guys do quite a bit. Joey (Bosa) and Melvin (Ingram) and Chris (McCain); all those guys. It's similar to what these guys have done in Jacksonville. You have a handful of guys over five sacks, and they're all active and relentless in the way they rush."