Breaking down how the Chargers (4-8) and Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8) match up heading into Sunday’s game at TIAA Bank Field in Florida:
When Chargers have the ball
Just four teams have given up more yards rushing than Jacksonville and only Carolina has surrendered more per attempt. The Jaguars have allowed four opponents to top the 200-yard mark on the ground, including three of their last four. This should be an encouraging sign for Melvin Gordon, who is finally in midseason form after missing the first four weeks because of a contract dispute. He has 356 yards in 76 attempts (a 4.7 average) over the last four games. “He’s running like Melvin Gordon,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “That’s why we’re feeding him the rock.” Given the recent turnover issues for quarterback Philip Rivers — eight interceptions in three games — the Chargers could try to establish the run early and bury Jacksonville with the combination of Gordon and Austin Ekeler. Entering Week 14, Ekeler was sixth in the league in touchdowns with 10, more than Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb. Scoring, however, remains a shortcoming for the Chargers, who rank 22nd in the league, averaging 20.3 points while sitting 12th in yards per game. They’ve scored more than 24 points once over the last nine weeks and that came on a day when Michael Badgley kicked four field goals and the offense contributed only two touchdowns.
When Jaguars have the ball
The Chargers fared well when they faced a “formidable mustache” in Week 9, beating Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers 26-11. Now, they get Gardner Minshew, who, at one point this season, was threatening to become a legitimate cult figure. Filling in for the injured Nick Foles, the free-wheeling, charismatic rookie became a fan favorite with his ability to make plays with his feet and fire the ball downfield. Minshew remains the team’s second-leading rusher while also throwing for 2,432 yards and 14 touchdowns. But, in going 4-4 as a starter, he also was intercepted five times and lost seven of 12 fumbles. Minshew replaced Foles last week in a 28-11 loss to Tampa Bay because, coach Doug Marrone explained later, he thought the offense needed a spark. NFL-sized jumper cables might be more in order. The Jaguars have scored only 47 points (while giving up 129) over their last four games. They’ve lost six of eight overall, with the only wins coming over Cincinnati and the New York Jets.
When they kick
The Chargers released Josh Lambo before the start of the 2017 season in favor of then-rookie Younghoe Koo. Since then, they’ve had nine players — including two who are primarily punters — kick for them in games. During that same span, Lambo has made 63 of 67 field-goal tries and 54 of 58 extra-point attempts for Jacksonville. He signed with the Jaguars six weeks after being cut by the Chargers. Badgley stabilized the position for the Chargers midway through last season and has remained mostly solid since his return from a groin injury five weeks ago.
Jeff Miller’s prediction
A week ago in this space, it was noted that picking the Chargers to beat Denver was difficult because they’d lost five of the last six games in which they were favored. The Chargers were picked anyway, and they lost again — for the sixth time in their past seven games as favorites. Still, this week, they’re somehow favored again. Based on most reports, the Jaguars are not as good or talented as the Chargers. Jacksonville also has lost four in a row and hasn’t score more than 20 points in any of those defeats. But, honestly, after missing with predictions so often on a team that continues to fall short of expectations, there has to a limit. Consider that limit reached.