We’re back again with the next segment in the Interview with the Enemy series. This week, Ryan O’Bleness of Big Cat Country answers 5 quick questions before the Week 6 matchup on Sunday: the New Orleans Saints on the road to face Minshew Magic and the Jacksonville Jaguars.
DJ Chark is really coming into his own in 2019, but Marshon Lattimore has held Amari Cooper and Mike Evans to a combined 1 catch in back-to-back weeks. What is the rest of the wide receiving corps doing and who will step up against the Saints if not Chark?
Chark has really had a breakout year so far, and he is emerging as a star wide receiver after struggling with injury and inconsistencies as a rookie. He currently leads the AFC with 485 receiving yards (fifth in the NFL) and his five touchdown receptions currently rank second in the league. At 6’4, Chark is a big target for Gardner Minshew II, but in addition to his size, Chark has been able to use his speed and strong hands to make plays all over the field. The matchup with Lattimore is definitely going to be one to watch on Sunday.
In terms of other wide receivers, Dede Westbrook (the guy most Jags fans expected to be the No. 1 target this year), is coming off arguably his best game of the season against the Carolina Panthers, where he had seven catches for 82 yards (on 11 targets). He is currently second on the team with 23 catches. Expect Westbrook to be involved in the passing game. Chris Conley has been a pleasant surprise for the Jags this season as well. He was signed as a free agent after starting his career in Kansas City. While he’s only caught 14 passes this season, he has amassed 243 yards (17.4 yards per catch) and has found the end zone once. He’s made plays in clutch moments. Keelan Cole and Marqise Lee are other receivers for the Jags, but they have not been involved in the offense very much so far. The Jags have also gotten running back Leonard Fournette involved in the passing game this year, as he is third on the team with 20 receptions.
I can look at the box score from last week’s game and see Christian McCaffrey and the Carolina Panthers ran for a bazillion yards against the Jaguars just one week ago. What gives you reason for optimism the Saints won’t have similar success with Alvin Kamara?
I think Myles Jack and the rest of the Jacksonville defense are still having nightmares about Christian McCaffrey. In fact, the Panthers were having such success with McCaffrey running the inside zone, they just kept running the same play over and over again and the Jags still couldn’t stop it. Kamara is another dynamic back that has me worried on Sunday. I would hope that defensive coordinator Todd Wash has made the proper adjustments to contain Kamara, but who knows. The Jags have to contain their assigned gaps and not get knocked out of them and create wide open holes like they did against Carolina. Jack had a poor game and he was hard on himself after the game, so I would expect him to step up and play better this week. Typically, the defensive unit has bounced back strongly following bad outings, so there is some reason for optimism.
Outside of the running game, what really worries me about Kamara is his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. If the Jaguars try to play man coverage on Kamara and he is one-on-one with a linebacker, then Kamara is going to win that battle msot of the time. Without Brees on the field, Kamara isn’t scoring touchdowns anywhere near the pace he was last season, but he is still getting 20 or more touches per game and the Saints are likely going to rely heavily on him to move the ball downfield. Finding a way to neutralize the talented tailback is going to be key if the Jaguars want to win.
Is Jalen Ramsey suiting up this week? Will it be for the Jaguars if so?
As of the time of this writing, Jalen Ramsey is expected to practice at a limited capacity today and I would assume that continues throughout the week. He’s missed the past two games with a back injury and hasn’t practiced in that time period. He did see a back specialist in Houston recently. Whether or not Ramsey plays on Sunday remains to be seen, but this is definitely a step in the right direction. It would be fun to watch Ramsey and Michael Thomas battle all day long. Although he’s made headlines for requesting a trade, I can say with certainty that he is an absolute competitor and will give it his all while he’s still in a Jaguars uniform. With that said, the Jaguars’s brass is in no hurry to move him. The team would rather work on mending the relationship and keeping its star player. Honestly, I don’t expect a trade to happen this season unless a desperate team offers a deal at the deadline that Jacksonville can’t refuse. Maybe something gets worked out in the offseason, but I hope Ramsey stays. So, Ramsey will either be in a Jaguars uniform or standing on the sideline in street clothes on Sunday.
Who is one player on each side of the ball that Saints fans might not be familiar with who you expect to make an impact on the final outcome of the game?
I mentioned Conley above as somebody to watch, but another player on offense who could be in for a bigger role is tight end Geoff Swaim. Jame O’Shaughnessy was becoming Minshew’s favorite target at tight end, but unfortunately tore his ACL and is out for the season. Swaim, who was signed as a free agent this offseason, should see his usage increase. He’s caught 12 passes for just 60 yards so far this season. The Jaguars just brought back a familiar face at tight end in Ben Koyack, and Seth DeValve also has an opportunity for more playing time. Meanwhile, rookie Josh Oliver (who has been dealing with a hamstring injury since training camp) is expected to resume practicing this week. Hopefully one of these players is able to step up at tight end.
Defensively, rookie third-round pick Quincy Williams is off to a nice start to his career. He has great speed and can make plays sideline-to-sideline. He’s had ups-and-downs, and didn’t have a great game against Carolina, but nobody on the Jacksonville defense really did. You’ll probably hear his name called plenty. Of course, rookie first-round pick Josh Allen has already made his presence felt at defensive end with three sacks and several quarterback pressures. If Jalen Ramsey can’t go, Tre Herndon will replace him in the starting lineup. Herndon’s been picked on a bit in Ramsey’s absence, but he’s made some nice plays, too, including a pass breakup (near interception) against Carolina late in the game to get the Jags the ball back in crunch time.
What is your prediction for the game? Who wins? Final score?
This is a tough one. If the Jaguars contain Kamara and force Teddy Bridgewater to beat them, then I like Jacksonville’s chances at home. If Kamara is getting chunk gains every time he touches the ball and opens up the passing game for Bridgewater, I can see it getting out of hand quickly and the Saints running away with it. I think it plays out somewhere in the middle of these two extremes on Sunday. But, hey, Minshew Magic is real and in an odd turn of events, the Jaguars actually have an offense that can hang with just about any team.
Jags 24, Saints 23
Thank-you, Ryan, for taking the time to answer our questions. Saints fans, make sure you check out Ryan and the work his guys are doing over at Big Cat Country. You can follow Big Cat Country on Twitter @BigCatCountry, Ryan @RyanOBleness, and of course you can follow me @dunnellz.