How will the 49ers look after the bye week? It will certainly be a test as they travel to Jacksonville to take on an under-the-radar Jaguars squad ready to assert their spot amongst the league’s best teams. DraftKings Sportsbook has the 49ers as 3-point favorites over the Jags.
SF O SKILL (QB/WR) VS JAX SECONDARY
In his second season in Jacksonville, CB Darious Williams is having a career year. His 87.8 PFF coverage grade is second among all corners with at least 100 snaps. The former Ram has yet to allow a touchdown as the primary defender and has grabbed three picks. 11 of the 53 targets on Williams have been forced incompletions, the second-highest amount among DBs.
Despite giving up over 260 yards through the air a game, Jacksonville has been efficient against aerial attacks on a down-to-down basis. They just happen to have seen the third most pass attempts as a defense due to their ability to create and sustain leads, forcing opponents to pass more while playing from behind.
But only five teams have a better defensive EPA/Pass play than the Jags. And this is without a potent pass rush. This secondary might not have any household names, but it has been an unheralded group through the first half of the season.
Opposite Williams is Tyson Campbell, a 2021 second-rounder that’s become a solid boundary corner, especially in run support. The former Georgia Bulldog is dealt more matchups against true X receivers due to the size advantage to his teammates (Williams: 5’9, 187, Campbell: 6’1, 195).
Starting nickel, Tre Herndon may be the weak link amongst this unit, allowing an opposing passer rating of 119.3 in coverage so far this year. Andre Cisco and Rayshawn Jenkins are in their third season as the starting safety tandem. Cisco is tied with Williams for the team lead in interceptions.
SF O COMBO (RB/TE) vs JAX 2ND LEVEL DEFENDERS
Two off-seasons ago, Jacksonville used a load of resources on upgrading their linebacking unit, and it’s starting to show signs of improvement. They signed free agent Foyesade Oluokun from Atlanta to a three-year, $45 million contract.
They spent two top 70 NFL draft picks on Devin Lloyd (round 1) and Chad Muma (round 3). And now, defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell feels comfortable leaving the team in base personnel with all three linebackers on the field.
Jaguars were trotting out their Base defensive personnel even when the the Colts were in 11 personnel with 3 WRs.— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) October 16, 2023
Colts tried to run against it 5 times and gained a grand total of 9 yards. https://t.co/tsYuO1rqpS
Oluokun and Lloyd have played like one of the top duos in the league at the halfway mark. Oluokun is PFF’s 7th ranked linebacker in coverage (min. 100 snaps), and Lloyd is 15th. Oluokon is credited with 92 tackles this year, the third-highest total in the NFL. This may be the toughest challenge of the season for the 49ers running backs and tight ends, at least in the passing game.
Expect to see plenty of Jenkins lining up down in the box as well, especially when the Niners show run out of 11 personnel. I imagine Jacksonville will have a harder time matching the YAC squad out of base like they have been against teams with less threatening receiving corps.
The Jaguars do blitz at one of the highest rates in the NFL (just under 30%), but it shouldn’t be anything San Francisco isn’t used to, as they’ve already played the three highest defenses in sending extra defenders (MIN-51.3%, NYG-43.1%, PIT-38.0%)
SF O LINE vs JAX D LINE
There’s no question the strength of the Jaguars defense lies in the coverage. It’s not that the defensive line has been able to apply pressure - they have the 7th highest hurry percentage - but that they are unsuccessful at turning those pressures into meaningful stops. Only two teams have fewer sacks than Jacksonville. Of their 16 total this season - 9 are from former first-rounder edge Josh Allen.
Allen is the best talent on this side of the ball and his nine takedowns marks the second-highest season total of his career. All signs point to Allen getting his name recognized with the elite edge rushers in the league by season’s end.
Allen’s running mate, and former first-overall pick, Travon Walker is still struggling to find his footing. It was a surprise ascent on draft boards for Walker, who didn’t necessarily stand out amongst the National Championship Georgia Bulldogs defense.
His transition to the NFL hasn’t developed as quickly as some of the other pass rushers in his class (Aidan Hutchinson, Kayvon Thibodeaux), but he’s still only 22 and has shown glimpses of being a really strong edge-setter, especially against the run.
Along the interior, Jacksonville deploys a modest rotation of defensive linemen. Roy Robertson-Harris is the leader of the pack, having logged 100 more snaps than the rest of the group and posting the highest PFF overall grade and run defense grade in his position room.
Folorunso Fatukasi and Adam Gotsis fill out the starting unit but the Niners will have to prepare for guys like Jeremiah Ledbetter, Angelo Blackson, and Dawuane Smoot off the bench as well. Fingers crossed Aaron Banks is back healthy for this matchup and the Niners starting center and guards can display a level of dominance against a below-average defensive line.
JAX O LINE vs SF D LINE
Much like the 49ers last opponent, Joe Burrow, Trevor Lawrence gets the ball out lightning fast. Lawrence’s 2.41s average time to throw is shorter than every quarterback except for Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa. Even with their newest reinforcement, Chase Young, expecting an abundance of sacks in week 10 might be unreasonable.
Center Luke Fortner is the only offensive lineman to have played every snap this year for Jacksonville, who own ESPN’s 31st ranked pass-block-win-rate and 30th ranked run-block-win-rate. That said, this may be the Jags first week this season with all five of the projected starters active.
Left Tackle Cam Robinson was out for the first four weeks with a suspension, but has since come back at an all-pro pace. His 85.2 pass blocking grade is third among all offensive linemen (min. 100 snaps). Walker Little, who was filling in for Robinson, is expected to come back from a knee injury and slide inside to left guard.
Right guard Brandon Scherff has also been battling an injury, but is as consistently stingy as you’ll find among interior o-linemen. His 80.7 pass blocking grade is second highest among all guards.
For San Francisco to really take advantage of this matchup, look for games, twists, or overload alignments to get Young or Nick Bosa lined up solo on rookie right tackle Anton Harrison. The first-rounder has had his fair-share of learning moments in the first eight games of his career, allowing five sacks and 13 quarterback pressures.
JAX O COMBO vs SF 2ND LEVEL DEFENDERS
On paper, this still feels like an easy choice for San Francisco. But, the 49ers dynamic linebacking duo are not playing at the level expected of them. Warner is experiencing his highest missed tackle percentage since 2019. Greenlaw’s rate is even higher than Warner's’.
Fred is allowing 81.8% of passes in his coverage to be completed, a career worst. Dre has allowed four touchdowns and an opposing passer rating of 105.8 in his coverage. A lot has been made about the defense’s shortcomings during the losing streak. Coming out of the bye, the change needed for this side of the ball has to start with these two guys in the middle.
Jacksonville will be a great challenge to see how much the extra time off helped this defense. Tight end Evan Engram is a receiving mismatch for most linebackers and safeties due to his rangy frame and excellent athleticism. You won’t see him inline much, meaning he may end up seeing more of the safeties and nickel defenders than Warner/Greenlaw.
But the bigger concern when facing the Jaguars is running back Travis Etienne. He’s yet another first rounder on this roster that is starting to develop into one of the league’s best.
Don’t let his yards per carry fool you, Etienne finished last season as the leader in rushing yards over expected. He has shown he can carry a full workload as the lead back, trailing only Josh Jacobs in total touches this year. He’s dynamic as a receiver and is one of the most explosive backs in all of football. For the 49ers to win, containing the former Clemson Tiger will be imperative.
Travis Etienne reached a top speed of 20.27 mph on his 17-yd TD run, his fastest speed as a ball carrier this season.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 20, 2023
Etienne has reached 20+ mph 7 times as a ball carrier since the start of last season, tied for 5th-most in that span.@TNFPrimeVision | #DUUUVAL pic.twitter.com/rJ7xZu99Pd
JAX O SKILL vs SF SECONDARY
Trevor Lawrence probably hasn’t reached the upper echelon of quarterback tiers, but he’s pretty damn close. Lawrence can be a bit like Justin Herbert, making incredible tight window throws with maximum velocity each week. It just hasn’t materialized into the production yet for the former first-overall pick.
As mentioned, like with Burrow, San Francisco should be fully prepared for quick dropbacks and not a lot of wasted time scanning the field from Lawrence. And if there are windows available early, it is going to be a long day for the 49ers secondary.
Arguably the biggest mismatch in this contest is between wide receiver Christian Kirk and nickel corner Isaiah Oliver. Kirk is one of the best slot weapons in all of football and leads the Jaguars in targets, receptions, yards, and receiving touchdowns. If we get a repeat of the Bengals attack on Oliver, I think most fans will want to see a new face in the lineup. But the depth is thin with a lot of injuries plaguing the room.
Jacksonville’s extra time off has also opened up the window for receiver Zay Jones to play in this contest. Jones, Kirk, and former Falcon Calvin Ridley make up a dangerous trio of pass catchers. This is the most complete group of offensive playmakers from RB to TE to WR that San Francisco has faced. With changes coming (Chase Young, Wilks playing calls on the field instead of in the box), let’s hope the bye week gave the defense plenty of time to prepare.