Behind enemy lines: Bills – Jags Q&A with Jacksonville beat reporter Phillip Heilman

By: Nick Wojton

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As if the Buffalo Bills (9-7) cracking the postseason for the first time in 17 years wasn’t enough of a headline, there are a number of stories within the story.

Buffalo’s first playoff game in 17 season against the Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6) will feature a former head coach, a former first-round pick, and don’t forget, there’s still a game and opponent to breakdown.

With that, we spoke to Jacksonville beat reporter Phillip Heilman from the Florida Times-Union/ (@phillip_heilman) for more on the Jags:

Q: Doug Marrone, how much credit does he deserve for the successes the Jags have achieved this season?

Doug Marrone deserves a fair amount of credit for the Jaguars’ success, mainly because of the culture he has worked to create. One obvious example is how the ping pong table in the team’s locker room was removed almost immediately upon Marrone and Tom Coughlin beginning their regime. From there, Marrone challenged players with an extremely tough training camp, which clearly had them ready for the start of the regular season, a problem former coach Gus Bradley seemed to have. Marrone has had some missteps during the season, particularly with the usage of rookie running back Leonard Fournette early in the season, but overall he has done a nice job.

Q: Marcell Dareus, you know where this is going, has he helped improve that already dominate defense?

People in Buffalo probably don’t want to hear this — and I don’t blame them — but Dareus has been a great fit in the locker room and a good fit on the field. He’s rotated snaps with Abry Jones, so his playing percentage is probably near a career low. But the one issue the Jaguars’ defense had early on was teams gashing them up the middle on the ground. The addition of Dareus has helped fix that. He’s also gotten along well with veterans on the team. It’s almost hard to imagine this guy was such a problem in the past. 

Q: Top pass defense for the Jags. Is it at simple as that? Will the Bills need LeSean McCoy to muster ANYTHING on offense? Or has the pass defense had some holes?

Not to sound like a cheerleader, but the Jaguars’ secondary is pretty impressive. The duo of Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye has been exactly what the team envisioned. Barry Church has been a significant upgrade at strong safety, and Tashaun Gipson is playing well opposite him. I said earlier this week that I don’t see a path to a lot of points for the Bills without McCoy and here’s why: Over the past month or so, the Jaguars have allowed one or two big plays per game.

I think Derrick Henry’s 66-yard touchdown last week or even what Arizona did to them. But teams don’t typically score on multiple eight- or 10-play drives against them. Without McCoy, who is the guy on that offense who can hit a home run? From watching recent games, Kelvin Benjamin doesn’t look like that guy right now, and I’m not sure anyone else really qualifies either. What the Bills should try to do is keep the Jaguars in their base defense and attack linebacker Paul Posluszny in the passing game with Charles Clay and Nick O’Leary. Posluszny is a liability in coverage at this point in his career and really the only hole that comes to mind for the Jaguars’ defense. 

Q: Leonard Fournette was great early this year but the Jax offense just seems to run it, run it again, and run some more. Marrone did that in Buffalo, too. Will Jacksonville live and die by the run? Or have they showed a tendency to ditch the run if it’s failing and put their hopes in Blake Bortles?
Fournette’s splits are pretty concerning if you’re working inside EverBank Field. He has two 100-yard games since Oct. 15 and other games of 33, 25, 48, etc. Part of that is the ankle and quad injuries he suffered and also the offensive line has been banged up.
That said, I would expect Fournette to get at least 20 carries in the game, with the other running backs getting a handful. Marrone has been clear that his idea of playoff football is a good running game and solid defense. Blake Bortles isn’t “trash” or whatever opponents have been saying about him of late, but he can still be a bit of a turnover machine. I think the Jaguars know they should win if they don’t have any turnovers, so Bortles won’t be dropping back a ton. 
Q: Finally, what’s your score prediction for this one?

Prediction: Jaguars 20, Bills 10

It looks like the Buffalo coaching staff has done an outstanding job to get the team here, but I think the Jaguars have enough strengths to knock them out. 

Phillip Heilman is a Jacksonville Jaguars beat reporter for the Florida Times-Union/ For more on the Jaguars leading up to Sunday’s kick follow Heilman on Twitter at: @phillip_heilman. 

Jacksonville RB Leonard Fournette — USA Today photo


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