Are they really better than last year?: Game Preview against the Raiders

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Call me crazy, but I actually like the fact that the Colts won against the Titans on Thursday night. I know right now Peyton Manning and his crew are finally feeling alive again, but with that victory we can officially count out the Titans. The Jaguars need three more games going their way to clinch the division next week; the best part is – they will be playing in two of those games and are thus in the driver’s seat. Now I know that neither of these two game will be easy, especially the big one next week, but I have a feeling that they can do it. For that dream scenario – the Jaguars clinching the division next week in Indianapolis – this team must defeat an all of sudden very hot and competitive team, the Oakland Raiders.

Now for years, Al Davis’s team was one of the punch lines for comics and football fans, but this year something changed. First, they had an uncharacteristically decent draft. Second, they have signed and traded for pretty good players (except ex-Jaguar Quentin Groves) lately, like Richard Seymour and John Henderson.  Third, they are playing pretty good defense. And last but not least, their running game is red hot, just like the Jaguars. However, they still have flaws and I think the match ups and some X-factors favor the Jaguars.  Let’s break this game in a unique way – which things can be an advantage for the Jags and where I have concerns about this game.

What I like about this game:

First and foremost, I like the Jaguars running game (what’s not to like!), which is ranked 2nd in the NFL. Maurice Jones-Drew is on a 5-game streak of 100+ yards rushing games. Jacksonville has averaged 184.8 yards on the ground in these 5 games. The Oakland rushing defense is ranked 23rd, however they did completely shut down the Chargers ground attack last week (21 yards).  The defensive line is pretty solid against the run with Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly, and former Jaguar John Henderson. However, I think if the Jaguars (and particularly Maurice Drew) can break through the line, he will have room to run. Former Jaguar Quentin Groves is a major liability as a converted linebacker and 2010 top-10 draft pick, Rolando McClain did not practice all week long. That combination is a huge advantage for the Jaguars. By the way, after he was asked about Groves’ performance, Jeff Lageman simply responded “He is terrible”. Well, we will see that on Sunday.

Other factors I like about this game: Jason Campbell, who’s not exactly in the Brady-Manning-Rivers-Brees echelon of QB’s. He is in some ways similar to David Garrard, but I find him more inconsistent. Plus his pass protection is in fact, garbage. The Raiders QBs have been sacked 34 times; if the Jaguars can limit the Raiders’ running game, Jeremy Mincey & Co. can easily turn in a Cleveland-ish sackfest against him, which is sure to affect his accuracy.

Also, it’s looking like the full Jaguars full aerial attack will play this Sunday. Mike Sims-Walker will return to the lineup. Mike Thomas and Jason Hill and the 2 TEs Marcedes Lewis & Zach Miller (both were banged up this week- Marcedes with his thumb and Zach with his ankle) will be open if the Raiders load the box against the ground game. Although the Raiders secondary (in particular shutdown CB Nmandi Asomugha & S Michael Huff) has talent, CB Stanford Routt is looking particularly vulnerable. I advise Dirk Koetter, if he’s planning to throw the ball, to target him heavily.

What I didn’t like about this game:

In the last few weeks, the Jaguars have been outstanding against the run, even against some of this year’s most dominant ball carriers (Arian Foster, Peyton Hillis, and last week Chris Johnson), but struggled against the Brandon Jacobs-Ahmad Bradshaw tandem in New York. Now they face another great running duo in Darren McFadden and Michael Bush. Michael Bush is like to run inside the tackles, so I think he can be limited by Knighton and Alualu. I fear McFadden much more, who likes to run outside and might causes problems for the linebackers. The Raiders’ offensive line, despite their shortcomings in pass protection, have been extremely efficient in run blocking. Let’s not forget this team produced 251 rushing yards against the Chargers in San Diego last week.

The other problem is the Oakland defense, which is pretty stout. They have playmakers that can sack the QB everywhere and every time. The Raiders lead the NFL in sacks (36), so protecting David will be key for the passing game (or just run the ball 50 times again – if the Jaguars can do it one more time – why not?). Even if Rolando McClain can’t play, Kameron Wimbeley has played very well at LB in Oakland’s 4-3 scheme. The defensive line is just a sack factory: Kelly, Seymour and the 2 starting DEs, Matt Shaughnessy and rookie Lamarr Houston, have 21 sacks combined. That is the same number that the entire Jaguars’ defense has produced so far this season. The two safeties are also playing a very dangerous role in the pass rush. Michael Huff and Tyvon Branch have recorded 7 sacks. One more reason to run the ball…

Last but not least, if the Jaguars concentrate too much on stopping the Raiders’ ground game, they have the receivers to punish the secondary. Darrius Heyward-Bay and Jacoby Ford have freakish speed (that’s why they were drafted by Davis) and Louis Murphy is a very reliable target for that offense. And let’s not forget their own tight end named Zach Miller, who is in my opinion the biggest threat in the passing game, based Courtney Greene’s absense while he heals from his shoulder and the major issues the Jags have had covering elite tight ends, which Miller would qualify as.