Despite how much the talking heads hate that this game between the Jaguars and the Baltimore Ravens will be on prime time TV Monday night, I think it could turn out to be a very interesting game. Let’s face it – the Jaguars are on the brink of collapse. They are desperate (or at least they should be). Their upcoming opponent has the best defense in the NFL right now, but the Jaguars defense is playing well enough to hang with them. I think this match up offers more than the average observer thinks. Let’s dig deeper…
I start with the biggest problem for the Jaguars in this game – the Ravens defense. How good they are? They are allowed the fewest points per game (14) in the NFL. That is what matters most (but they ranked 3rd in the fewest total yard allowed category as well). Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano elevated the defensive performance to a whole new level. You think Rex Ryan blitzed a lot? They blitz the QB every angle as possible. Ravens defenders collected already 15 sacks and 8 players recorded at least 1.0 sacks and ). You think the Steelers can stopping RBs (well now even Jaguars fans knows, they have issues about that lately)? Let’s see how top tier level RBs performed against this defense. Rashard Mendenhall – 45 yards, Chris Johnson 53 yards, Steven Jackson 23 yards and last week Arian Foster had 49 rushing yards. They are 2nd against the run, so Maurice Jones-Drew alone will most likely not win this game… I think the Ravens front 7 is playing the best football right now in the league, and I see no weak points at all in that unit.
Ray Lewis is playing like a guy in his 6th and not in his 16th year. The match up between him and Maurice Jones-Drew will be a feature attraction of the night( and the other big one will be Ray Rice vs. Paul Posluszny). Haloti Ngata is a nightmare for any offensive line player. If he will match up against Will Rackley, that could be really ugly for the Jaguars. I hope Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton can play (as LT and LG), because for the 3rd pick rookie the NFL is clearly too big step up, and he is just not good enough. If he must play against Ngata, I think that match up will create turnovers, and Gabbert’s health will be in danger. Terrence Cody is really a mountain, hard to move around (Brad Meester against him will be one of the biggest match up of the game). Cory Reading is a very solid player. The LB group is I think maybe better then the Steelers have when they are full healthy. Next to Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Jarret Johnson and Jameel McClain playing just outstanding lately. In the 1 loss Ravens had so far in ’11 season it wasn’t the front 7 who played badly. No, when you want to find some weak points in this very strong Ravens defense, you must look at the secondary. And I speak not at the safeties. Ed Reed is the best safety other then Troy Polamalu. His partner for now -because the injury of Tim Zbikowski will be Bernard Pollard (I’m still mad at Gene Smith not to sign him back in ’09…) a great run defender, no wonder why they so successful versus the run this year). There problem is at corner right now. Because Chris Carr and the 1st round choice of ’11, Jimmy Smith are both injured, Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams are playing in there position. I consider them awful or bad, but they are not that great either. However. because they playing behind a real strong front 7 there flaws can be disguised. The one time Ravens lost(against Tennessee on Week 2), Titans QB Matt Hasselback and then healthy WR Kenny Britt torched the Ravens corners, and that was one of the key element to their victory. Sadly I think the Jaguars doesn’t have the firepower and the QB fordoing the same. To make things worse, Jimmy Smith and Carr practiced this week. We will see if the Ravens head coach John Harbaugh will decide to activate any of those two players. Jimmy Smith’s return is more likely.
So what will the Jaguars offense do which are 32nd in the NFL in total offense, 32nd in passing offense and averaging 12 points a game? Well, that’s a good question. Although the Jaguars got some patches this week with the return of WR Mike Sims-Walker and TE Martin Rucker, they are sill very big underdogs of this match up. Sims-Walker means a big target for QB Blaine Gabbert, who is running good routes and could be effective in the slant. The Jaguars used Jason Hill for that role so far, with not so good results. With the move, Hill can be used as a deep threat WR, while Mike Thomas could return to be a slot receiver, a position he had a lot of success. The big question is, how good is Sims-Walker now? He was a healthy scratch last week for St. Louis, which is not a good sign. But he knows the Jaguars offense very well, plus maybe he is the missing ling for the passing game, which kept this offense from being productive. Also since most likely the Jaguars will get Kassim Osgood back, they must make some decisions about who will be active on game day. They have 7 WR in the 53 man roster. Thomas, Hill, Osgood and Dillard (who by the way the Jaguars should target more)are locks in my opinion. I think Sims-Walker will be active in the first coupe of games to see if he had problems only with the Rams offensive schemes, or simply his production just fall back. So that means Cecil Shorts and Chastin West as game time decisions. Shorts is still the punt returner ( I don’t know why…) but he is looking like nowdays a Division III player who doesn’t belongs to the NFL. On the sidenote: Did I mentioned that GM Gene Smith should rethink this whole ‘small school drafting’ project, because safe to say his picks are now hurting this team much more then helping them. The other player who must be involved more and be much better is TE Marcedes Lewis. Now that Zach Miller is IR, he remained the only real pass catcher tight end on the roster. Zach Potter is blocker more, while I don’t think the Jaguars can expect a lot from martin Rucker, at least not in the first 2-3 games. Another side note: add TE to the Jaguars off season needs, the Zach Miller experiment is closing to the end in my opinion. Obviously he is not the Jaguars version of Dallas Clark or Owen Daniels… Keep your eye on senior Missouri TE Michael Egnew!
Now the good news is that I think the Ravens offense is not that good as their defense. They play makers (like RB Ray Rice, or rookie WR Torrey Smith), but the Jaguars defense can manage to keep them scoring low. Joe Flacco is producing around the same like Blaine Gabbert- He had 2 really good games (Opening day against the Steelers, and vs. St Louis). Add to that, the Jaguars allowed only 2 QBs over 200 passing yards (and 1 of them was Matt Hasselback, who is only went over 200 because of a very weird 80 yard TD “pass” to Kenny Britt on opening day) in 6 weeks. Although, unlike Gabbert, Flacco has good targets in Torrey Smith, Anquin Boldin, TE Ed Dickson and of course Ray Rice, he and the Ravens offense have serious issues in the red zone. They are currently 29th in red zone efficiency. Anquain Boldin is the leading receiver but keep your eye on Torrey Smith who is may be best among the Ravens wide outs. I wish the Jaguars could draft at least 1 WR like him next year… The Ravens get rid of Todd Heap in the off season, so now Ed Dickson is the one the Jaguars must take care of. The 2nd year player is quite productive this season so keep you eyes on him. The real threat is though Ray Rice. He is basically the twin brother of Maurice Jones Drew. Small, hard to tackle, very tough, and can catch the ball very well. Stopping him, and making the Ravens one dimensional is priority Nr. 1 for the Jaguars defense. Although the run defense is a bit worrying me. It is not that good as I expected before the season. They either shut down great backs completely (like Chris Johnson or Cedric Benson) or have a very bad they against them (Like versus Johnatan Stewart, Darren Sproles and last week Rashad Mendenhall). Making Rice a non-factor would be more than great because if the Ravens must throw the ball, the Jaguars have a good chance to rush the passer. Although the middle of the Ravens offensive line is really solid thanks to C Matt Birk, and G Marshall Yanda, there two tackles (Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher) are both struggling. Last week Flacco was sacked 4 times and the offensive line allowed 7 QB hits. Matt Roth and co. must picked up in that area where the Texans defense left last week. Another note, the Jaguars defense must stop the Ravens offense early. Lately the opposite teams scored on their very first drive on the game forcing the Jaguars to equal the score early. Although I respect the talent the Ravens have an offense, Paul Posluszny and need to start helping out the offense from the first drive this time. And I think if the Jaguars defense can either force Flacco into turnovers or limit Ray Rice, they have a chance to turn this into a low scoring game, which is basically the only chance, if we take a look at the Ravens defense & Jaguars offense.
Special teams could be another huge factor. Nick Harris had a decent start as a jaguars last week, and the coverage unit was much more effective all off sudden without Owens, Osgood and Greene. Most likely Montell and Kassim will return, and since Derek Cox can take back his starting CB role, Williams Middleton can contribute more as well. The Jaguars must have turn the starting field positions into their favor to have any chance in this game, so the special teams must return to their ’10 level. Also I want to see at least 1 major return (under major I mean 50+ yards).
I guess other then Jaguars fans (and maybe the Bengals and Steelers fanbase) everyone picking to Ravens to win this game with double digit difference. It’s hard to argue with that (although you can see I tried my best here in this piece). But I think the Jaguars are in the desperate mode because of several reasons. 1. They are in a 5 game losing streak (worst in the Jack Del Rio era). 2. Despite the 1-5 start, the Jaguars still not late to turn this around. Let’s face it the AFC South is not that good this year. Everybody’s favorite Texans dropped 3 game in a row, and could be 4 this Sunday (surprise – not really…). And we all saw how ‘good’ team the Titans were on opening day…So Jaguars still can catch fire, but they must have that spark now. 3. Last time the Jaguars played a prime time game (Week 6 vs. The Titans 3-30) was a pretty awful stinker. They also not won since ’06 a nationally televised game (Then they beat Tom Coughlin’s Giants on MNF, the 100th regular season victory of the franchise). 4. This team is still fighting and not quiting (just see the Steelers game last Sunday), but if they lose 1 or 2 more games, some might start to rest themselves for next year… I agree the Jaguars offense vs Ravens defense catchup looks terrible on paper but I’d not give an advantage to the Ravens offense against the Jaguars defense either! This game is still winnable, with taking care the football (even 1 turnover can kill this team), playing well on ST and defense(this must be a low scoring game), and have show life in the passing game(by the way it would be nice to see Gabbert playing like a Top 10 pick on Monday. He show some flashes but we didn’t see him playing really well in an entire game. This upcoming MNF would be a perfect time to do that). I think the Jaguars can still catch a lightening in a bottle, but if they can’t start win and win now, that lightening will hit them instead and can destroy everything they built up in the recent years…
Prediction: Jaguars 17 – Ravens 14