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Eye On the Jacksonville Jaguars: Inside the matchup

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants play their first season-opening home game since 2012 and their first regular-season game under coach Pat Shurmur when they host the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday in MetLife Stadium. Last season, the Jaguars finished 10-6 and won their first AFC South championship since 1999. They earned postseason victories against Buffalo and Pittsburgh and owned a 10-point lead over New England in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship Game before losing, 24-20. The Giants and Jaguars last met on Nov. 30, 2014, when Jacksonville rallied from a 21-point deficit for a 25-24 victory.

What is the Jaguars' biggest strength?

It depends on which side of the ball you prefer, because the Jaguars are exceptionally strong in one area both offensively and defensively. In 2017, Jacksonville had the NFL's No. 1 rushing offense (141.4 yards game), as well as the league's top pass defense (169.9 yards allowed a game). The Jaguars were also second in points allowed (16.8 per game), total defense (286.1 yards per game), and sacks (55). They came within nine minutes of advancing to Super Bowl LII because they were strong across the board.

Which player is key to the Jaguars' offense?

Second-year running back Leonard Fournette, who rushed for 1,040 yards (eighth in the league) and nine touchdowns as a rookie, despite missing three games. His 304 touches (268 carries, 36 receptions, one for a touchdown) led all running backs. Fournette is a big (228 pounds), powerful and violent runner who consistently picks up yards after contact and has the speed to turn any run into a touchdown. The Jaguars will try to recreate their formula for success that worked so well last year: run the ball, control the clock, score touchdowns in the red zone (which they did 64% of the time, the league's second-best figure), and win the turnover battle (plus-10 turnover differential in 2017).

View the starters for Sunday's matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars

What is the strength of the Jaguars' offense?

Any team that runs the ball as well as Jacksonville has a big and powerful offensive line, as is the Jaguars' group opening holes for Fournette, T.J. Yeldon and Corey Grant. Four of the five starters on the line are at least 6-5 and 322 pounds, the kind of road graders who can wear down a defensive front and keep Fournette churning along. Left guard Andrew Norwell, signed as a free agent from Carolina, is one of the league's best run-blocking interior linemen. Left tackle Cam Robinson has exceptionally long arms, and right tackle Jermey Parnell is exceptionally strong.

Which player is key to the Jaguars' defense?

So many to choose from – Jacksonville had four defensive Pro Bowl starters – but we'll go with All-Pro Jalen Ramsey, who is arguably the best cornerback in football. Ramsey most often covers the opposition's best receiver, which means he could be following Odell Beckham, Jr. all afternoon. He is big (6-1, 208) and physical and has excellent ball skills.  

What is the strength of the Jaguars' defense?

One of the NFL's best and deepest defensive fronts. Jacksonville had 55 sacks last season, one less than league-leader Pittsburgh, and consistently harassed quarterbacks with just its front four. End Calais Campbell has great first-step quickness and strength to discard linemen who try to block him alone. Tackle Malik Jackson was also a Pro Bowl starter. The line is backed up by a speedy group of linebackers led by Telvin Smith, a Pro Bowler and second-team All-Pro. A rangy, sideline-to-sideline player, Smith led the Jaguars with 102 tackles (76 solo) last season.

What is the strength of the Jaguars' special teams?

Again, much to choose from because Jacksonville has outstanding special teams. But kicker Josh Lambo deserves a mention. He joined the Jaguars prior to their Week 6 game at Indianapolis and made 23 of 24 field goal attempts, including all four of his postseason tries. He hit field goals from 56, 51 and 54 yards, the last one in the AFC Championship Game in Foxborough. In 2016 with San Diego, Lambo led the NFL with 67 touchbacks. The Jaguars have terrific coverage teams, led by Donald Payne, who had a team-high 12 special teams tackles last year, and Lerentee McCray, who had nine.

Based on the scouting report, what must the Giants do to win the game?

Stop Fournette and the Jaguars' run game (although the Jags were 3-0 without him last year). Not just because he is the Jaguars' most prominent weapon. When he – and they – run well, they don't need to rely on quarterback Blake Bortles and their receivers to win games. Bortles continues to improve, as his 85 pass attempts without an interception in last year's postseason indicate. But he is more productive when he can make the defense hesitate with play action, which is much more effective when the opposition is focused on Fournette. Like all offenses, Jacksonville's isn't as strong when it's one-dimensional.

Statistics you should know:

• The home team has won all six games in the series, which began in 1997. 

• Bortles has 14,928 career passing yards, the fourth-highest total by a quarterback through his first four seasons in NFL history. In addition, Bortles and Cam Newton are the only two NFL quarterbacks with at least 300 rushing yards in each of the last four seasons.

• Campbell last season was an AP first-team All-Pro as a defensive end and second team as a tackle as he tied for second in the NFL with a career-high and franchise-record 14.5 sacks.

• Jacksonville had four players with at least 8.0 sacks last season. No other team had more than two such players. 

• The Jaguars intercepted a team-record 21 passes in 2017, and the players responsible for every one of them are still on the roster.

Photos from the all-time series between the New York Giants and Jacksonville Jaguars.

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