Gameday for the “dress rehearsal” is here! Preseason Week 3 is upon us, and we’ve got a great match-up to watch as the Falcons take on one of the AFC’s biggest contenders in the Jacksonville Jaguars. This team runs a similar defense to the one that Atlanta employs, and has gotten by with a hard-nosed running game and a lot of turnover creation. The Falcons will have their hands full against an elite CB group led by Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, and a stellar pass rush including the likes of Malik Jackson and Yannick Ngakoue.
In today’s article, we take a look at how the Jaguars compare to the Falcons statistically on offense and defense. Since it’s only preseason, we’re still using the NFL’s stats from the 2017 regular season. It’s not perfect, but they’re the most accurate numbers we have. Take a look at how Atlanta matches up with Jacksonville below.
|Points/game||22.1 (15th)||26.1 (5th)|
|Total yards/game||364.8 (8th)||365.9 (6th)|
|Yards per play||5.9 (3rd)||5.4 (12th)|
|Passing yards/game||249.4 (8th)||224.6 (17th)|
|Passing yards per attempt||7.8 (T-4th)||7.1 (13th)|
|Passing TDs||21 (T-20th)||21 (T-20th)|
|Rushing yards/game||115.4 (13th)||141.4 (1st)|
|Rushing yards per attempt||4.3 (T-7th)||4.3 (T-7th)|
|Rushing TDs||12 (T-15th)||18 (T-2nd)|
|Third Down Efficiency||45% (1st)||37% (20th)|
|Turnover Margin||-2 (19th)||10 (5th)|
You all know the Falcons offensive stats by now: while the team was quite good from a yardage and efficiency standpoint, they significantly underachieved in scoring. Atlanta was only 15th in total points, despite finishing 8th in total yards and 3rd in yards per play. In the passing game, the team was 8th in yards, T-4th in yards per attempt, and T-20th in passing TDs. On the ground, the Falcons were 13th in yards, T-7th in yards per carry, and T-15th in rushing TDs. Atlanta was the league’s best team on third down, converting 45% of opportunities. However, turnovers (or lack thereof on defense) were the team’s downfall, contributing to a -2 turnover margin (19th).
The Jaguars were surprisingly effective at scoring—much to do with their defense and very high turnover margin—and were the NFL’s best rushing attack in terms of total yardage. Jacksonville was 5th in scoring, 6th in total yards, and 12th in yards per play. They were mediocre in the passing game, at 17th in yards, 13th in yards per attempt, and T-20th in passing TDs. On the ground, they were dominant in yardage and TDs—1st in rushing yards, and T-2nd in rushing TDs, but only T-7th in yards per carry (with the Falcons, coincidentally). The Jaguars were below average on third down with only a 37% conversion rate (20th), but made up for it with a fantastic turnover margin (+10, 5th).
|Points/game||19.7 (8th)||16.8 (2nd)|
|Total yards/game||318.4 (9th)||286.1 (2nd)|
|Yards per play||5.1 (13th)||4.6 (1st)|
|Passing yards/game||214.3 (12th)||169.9 (1st)|
|Passing yards per attempt||6.7 (T-8th)||6.0 (1st)|
|Passing TDs||22 (T-12th)||17 (T-3rd)|
|Rushing yards/game||104.1 (9th)||116.2 (21st)|
|Rushing yards per attempt||4.1 (T-16th)||4.3 (T-23rd)|
|Rushing TDs||9 (T-6th)||9 (T-6th)|
|Third Down Efficiency||38% (16th)||34% (4th)|
|Sacks||39 (T-13th)||55 (2nd)|
The Falcons were better on defense than many had hoped in 2017, posting fringe top-10 numbers in most stats. Atlanta was 8th in points allowed, 9th in total yards allowed, and 13th in yards per play. The passing defense was slightly above average—12th in yards allowed, T-8th in yards per attempt, and T-12th in passing TDs allowed. Atlanta’s run defense was also above average: 9th in yards allowed, T-16th in yards per carry, and T-6th in rushing TDs. The Falcons were league-average on third down, allowing 38% of third down conversion attempts (16th). The team was also above-average at creating pressure, with 39 sacks in 2017 (T-13th).
Jacksonville possessed arguably the league’s best defense in 2017. The Jaguars were 2nd in points allowed, 2nd in total yards allowed, and 1st in yards per play. They were downright dominant against the pass: 1st in passing yards allowed (169.9/game), 1st in yards per attempt, and T-3rd in passing TDs allowed. On the ground, Jacksonville was decidedly more medicore: 21st in rushing yards allowed, T-23rd in yards per carry, and T-6th in rushing TDs. The Jaguars were top-5 in third down efficiency (34% conversion rate, 4th) and in generating sacks (55, good for 2nd).
As we only have 2017 stats to work with, this projection doesn’t necessarily tell the full story of this match-up. For instance, I believe the Falcons’ offense is likely to be significantly better than the Jaguars’ in 2018. Jacksonville is also likely to score fewer points on defense, and a +10 turnover margin is rarely replicable—particularly with Blake Bortles at QB. However, this is an AFC Championship-caliber roster that took the Patriots down to the wire last year—they should not be underestimated, even with a high-variance offense.
An elite defense can cover up a lot of offensive issues, and the Jaguars’ specialty is pounding the rock with a lead. If this were a regular season game, the Falcons would certainly have their hands full trying to contain Leonard Fournette. They’d also have a difficult match-up in the passing game against one of the NFL’s greatest-ever passing defenses. Despite Atlanta’s plethora of receiving weapons, it would undoubtedly be a tough night for Ryan.
The secret to the Falcons beating the Jaguars lies in exploiting their weakness: this is a team that is built to play with a lead, and they are much weaker defending the run than they are the pass. A play-action heavy game script with a steady dosage of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman could do just enough to keep Atlanta one step ahead of Jacksonville. We obviously won’t get to see this awesome match-up on Saturday—Julio Jones and Freeman will not be playing—but it would’ve been really interesting.
It’s the preseason, though, so we’ll instead be watching to see how Calvin Ridley, Austin Hooper, and Eric Saubert look against top-flight competition. I’m not expecting the offense to have a huge day, but there should be reasonable production even without Julio Jones on the field. Meanwhile, I’d like to see the defense force some turnovers and stop the run against one of the NFL’s best rushing attacks. Putting Jacksonville in a hole and making Bortles dig them out is the best recipe for success.
Overall Advantage: Jaguars
What are your thoughts on the Falcons vs. Jaguars match-up? Any particular battles you’ll be watching during Saturday’s game?