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Bills-Jaguars Scouting Report: Expect a defensive struggle Sunday

When the Bills run: Finally. That’s what LeSean McCoy had to be saying after cracking 100 yards for the first time this season against the Jets. A change along the offensive line, inserting rookie Wyatt Teller for veteran left guard Vlad Ducasse, seemed to work wonders. The Bills should be at full strength at the position, with Chris Ivory back to face his old team after missing a week because of a shoulder injury. Old friend Marcell Dareus has been a big part of the Jaguars’ run defense. Jacksonville allows an average of 4.1 rushing yards per play, which ranks 11th in the NFL. EDGE: Jaguars.

When the Bills pass: Finally. That’s what fans are saying with rookie quarterback Josh Allen ready to make his return to the lineup. Allen, who has missed the last four games because of a sprained throwing elbow, said he’s confident in his ability to make every throw required. He’ll be doing so to a wide receiver group that looks a lot different than it did before he got hurt. Allen missed the Terrelle Pryor Era entirely, and watched as Robert Foster, Isaiah McKenzie and now Deonte Thompson have been added to the roster – providing a much-needed speed boost. Allen gets a chance to face Jalen Ramsey for the first time since the Jaguars’ star cornerback called him “trash” in an interview with GQ. Ramsey talks a lot, but he backs it up – he might be the best cornerback in football. EDGE: Jaguars.

When the Jaguars run: You’d think a Doug Marrone-led team would be higher in percentage of rushes, but Jacksonville ranks 20th in the NFL, rushing 38.7 percent of the time. That number might increase now that second-year running back Leonard Fournette is back in the lineup. He rushed for a season-high 95 yards on 28 carries last week, his second game back after missing all of October because of a hamstring injury. Like the rest of the Jaguars’ offense, Fournette struggled late against the Steelers, rushing six times for just 7 yards in the fourth quarter. Jacksonville acquired Carlos Hyde in a trade before Week 8, but he’s carried just 17 times in the three games since being acquired. Even with high draft picks such as Fournette, T.J. Yeldon and Hyde, the Jaguars still rank 22nd in rushing yards per game, at 103. The Bills’ run defense ranks 10th overall, allowing 99.8 yards per game. EDGE: Bills.  

When the Jaguars pass: It’s not quite the Nathan Peterman Experience, but the Blake Bortles Experience is still a heck of a ride. The Jaguars passed 18 times against Pittsburgh, and appeared in the second half of that game to lose any confidence they might have had in Bortles. He’s on the hook for $21 million in 2019, putting Jacksonville in a tough spot: Fans are past the point of ready to move on from him, but ownership and management might not be ready to eat that much money. Jacksonville’s leading receiver is a running back (Yeldon), which is never a good sign for a passing offense. The Bills’ secondary is coming off a strong showing against the Jets. That includes rookie Levi Wallace, who went from the practice squad to the starting lineup and didn’t look out of place. EDGE: Bills.

Special teams: Jaguars kicker Josh Lambo has had a great season. He’s 17 of 18 on field goals, with his only miss coming from 50-plus yards. Receiver Dede Westbrook is a dangerous punt returner. Even though he has just six returns this year, those have gone for 87 yards. The strength of the Jaguars’ special teams is their coverage units. The rank first in kickoff return average (16.0 yards) and second in punt returns (3.7 yards). Receiver D.J. Chark leads the Jaguars with four special-teams tackles. The Bills released one of their main special-teams contributors the day before the Jets game in linebacker Ramon Humber. McKenzie provided a spark that has been lacking to the return game. EDGE: Jaguars.

Coaching: It’s the return of St. Doug. There’s something poetic about his team quitting on him this year after he did that to the Bills after the 2014 season, isn’t there? His old-school, run-heavy offensive system isn’t built to compete in today’s NFL. With the regression of the defense from elite to merely good, that’s how this season has gone south for Jacksonville. Give Bills coach Sean McDermott credit for recognizing where his team is and going with a youth movement against the Jets. At this point, it’s imperative to get as good of a look as possible in determining who will be here and counted on in 2019. EDGE: Bills.

Prediction: Jaguars 16, Bills 13

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