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Preview: Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Jets

When two also-rans play, and the storylines are lacking, the best way to preview such a matchup is to show just how futile both franchises have been in recent years. And for the Jacksonville Jaguars and the New York Jets, the real storyline could be that the Jaguars (2-1) enter MetLife Stadium as road favorites for the first time since Week 10 in 2011 (at the 0-9 Indianapolis Colts).

Today is also the first time Jacksonville has been favored on the road over a team with at least one win since the 2007 National Football League Playoffs.

Apparently the Las Vegas bookmakers have little faith in the Jets (1-2) despite their dominating 20-6 victory, last week, over the Miami Dolphins in their home opener, because the Jaguars are a three-point favorite. It’s a rare position for the Jacksonville team, but not one for the MetLife Stadium dwellers, as they’re heading for yet another lousy season.

This was supposed to be the winnable portion of what will be a brutal schedule for Gang Green, but if they can’t find a way to upend the Jaguars, the predicted rough season will get an earlier start than expected.

Salute Magazine takes a look at the key storylines in this American Football Conference matchup.

#1 Can Gang Green gang up on the quarterback? … Blake Bortles is the target today for a Jets’ pass rush that needs to get out of its sack rut. Gang Green has just five sacks so far, tied for 27th in the NFL – with three of them coming on Dolphins’ quarterback Jay Cutler, last week. Bortles, though, is nine years younger and more mobile than Cutler, so he possesses a bigger challenge.

Jets’ defensive end Kony Ealy thinks today can be the day to pile up some sack numbers, reasoning the defense probably leads the league in “almost sacks.”

“Every time you pop on the tape we’re in the quarterback’s face, we’re pushing the pocket,” Ealy said. “We’re missing them by a hair. We get hands on them, we just didn’t get him all the way down … We saw sparks of that last week, and as weeks increase we should see more and more of that.”

Bortles has been sacked only twice this season, so this will be a good battle.

#2 Bilal Powell to the rescue … Starting running back Matt Forte (turf toe) was ruled out Friday, leaving the Jets with a running back by committee – led by career backup Bilal Powell. It’ll be just the 23rd career start for Powell in 81 games played. He’ll be spotted by rookie Elijah McGuire, who has impressed the Jets’ coaching staff.

New offensive coordinator John Morton has faith in both backs as primary ball carriers, but would like to have a 1-2 punch instead.

“He [Powell] can be an every-down back, but so can Eli,” said Morton, who admitted he’d rather spread the wealth. “Both can be [every-down backs], but that’s not the way we do things here. I like keeping guys fresh [by] playing a lot of different guys in different roles, [and] try to keep the defense on their toes. I think when you do that and you have a back that is really fresh, you can play more at a high level during the game.’’

Powell, who set a single-season franchise record, last season, with a 5.51 yards per carry average, said he’s ready to be the bell cow if needed.

“Ever since I was younger I’ve always been competitive,’’ Powell said. “That’s one of my things, compete whenever. And be ready to compete and always stay ready.’’

He’ll need to get back to the excellence Jets’ fans saw down the stretch, last season, as he’s been limited to a paltry 2.6 yards per carry average so far. It’ll be a difficult task against a Jacksonville defense that is emerging as one of the best young units in the league.

And if Powell can’t crack the Jaguars’ front, Morton won’t have any problem turning to the rookie. The veteran won’t rock the boat if that happens, though, and is actually a big supporter of the former University of Louisiana-Lafayette star. Powell has noted the sixth-round pick, who was thought to be a long shot to even make the roster, has most impressed with his pass protection – which is usually the last thing a rookie running back perfects.

Morton said McGuire is ready.

“He’s got a great approach to the game like he’s a three or four-year vet,” Morton said. “I think it’s his preparation, everyone is helping … and it’s him wanting to do it. It’s hard for a rookie to come in and play right away in this league.”

#3 Can Josh McCown break his streak of futility? … The journeyman quarterback entered this season 2-20 as a starter in his last 22 starts, but today he’ll try to do something so rare for him – win two games in a row in consecutive weeks. Not since 2004 has McCown done so, and that was with the Arizona Cardinals when he beat the Dolphins and New York Giants in back-to-back weeks. And that was the one and only two-game winning streak of his career. Since then, he’s 0-8 the week after victories and 14-37 overall. Last week, though, he also knocked off the Dolphins, so maybe this is a good sign.

#4 Time to end another streak … The Jets have gone 60 straight games without a defensive touchdown, making that the longest active streak in the NFL. Gang Green is so far ahead of (behind?) the rest that the second-longest drought belongs to the Dallas Cowboys (25 straight).

Jets’ cornerback Morris Claiborne was amazed about that statistic.

“I had no idea it’s been that long,” Claiborne said. “I’ve seen [former Jet cornerback Darrelle] Revis take a couple of them back, but I guess that was a long time ago. … Eventually, it has to happen. Hopefully, it happens this Sunday.”

Bortles is a prime candidate to break this miserable streak. Since 2014, he has 53 interceptions (second to Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers’ 56), plus another 16 would-be interceptions that were dropped by defenders, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

“Hopefully, on Sunday, he can come out doing that and we can capitalize on a couple of them,” Claiborne continued. “He has a strong arm. He’s not afraid to go down the field with the ball. … You have to play everything honest, play everything from the top down. When those moments happen, you have to capitalize on them.”

The last time a Jet defender returned an interception for a touchdown was on Oct. 20, 2013, when Antonio Allen took New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to the house in a rare upset win for Gang Green. Since Allen’s touchdown, the Jets have defended 3,802 plays.

For an organization that has used its last nine first-round picks on defensive players, it’s time.

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