Game Preview: Jaguars vs. New Orleans Saints

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 This week I think we will get a lot of answers about the ’11 Jaguars. Can they keep the pace at Everbank Field with a real playoff (and championship) contender? Is this defense for real? Is Maurice Jones-Drew playing his best football right now? Can the passing game get some traction this weekend? Let’s see what we can expect from Jack Del Rio’s team on Sunday.Let’s start with the matchup everyone looking for: Drew Brees and the Saints offense versus the Jaguars defense. If we look the numbers, two great units will face off. The Saints have the 2nd ranked offense, while the Jaguars having the 4th ranked defense after 3 weeks. More stunningly, the Jaguars didn’t allow a team to go over 300 total yards. After 3 weeks they are the only one’s to do so. They’re stopping the run really well, although I didn’t like some plays made by Jonathan Stewart on the Carolina game, and are even ranked 7th against the pass – after facing the rejuvenated Matt Hasselback, Mark Sanchez and rookie sensation Cam Newton. Meanwhile the Saints average 338 yards only in the air (and 437 in total yards/game). Brees is not only a great QB (he is already over 1000 passing yards and 9 TDs – the Jaguars QBs have produced less then a half of that and the whole offense produced only 2 TDs), he has a team full of great receiving targets. He has 4 very solid wide receivers, (looks like the maybe best of them Marques Colston, will return to the line up this week) and a rising star at the TE position (Daniel Graham) and even one of the RBs (Darren Sproles) is a multifunctional weapon. I think we will get a good look about how good or bad) is the new Jaguars secondary. Last week they ‘almost’ intercepted Cam Newton 4 (some say even 7) times. They can’t count on so many (if any) mistakes from one of the best QB in the league. Which is bad news, because I think the Jaguars must win the turnover battle (and win big) to have any realistic chance to win this game.

 And the bad thing is, the defense can’t focus on the passing threat alone, because the Saints have not 1, but 3 very good RBs on their roster in Sproles, Pierre Thomas and 1st round pick rookie Mark Ingram. But – just like last week’s opponent, the Panthers- Saints have not have been so effective on the ground then in the air. Mostly Ingram and Thomas carry the load. Sproles is used as a receiver as a kick returner more. One of the most exciting battle will be the battle of the Saints offensive line vs. the Jaguars defensive line, even Gene Smith said on Monday he is really looking for to see that battle. New Orleans has maybe the best OG tandem in Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks. The duel between them and the Knighton-Alualu tandem will be a real big one for those who are not just keeping exe on the skill players. However, there is a problem: Tyson Alualu’s health. He is according to many not looking like somebody who is at 100% now. He knee is a big problem, and maybe that was the reason, the Jaguars run defense had been worse against Carolina then it was in the previous 2 games. To be fair, New Orleans has issues as well. The starting center, Olin Kreutz will be most likely miss the game, just like RT Zach Strief. Sadly for the Jaguars their backups, T Charles Brown (2nd round pick from ’10) and Brian De la Puente, who beat out last year’s 4th round pick C Matt Tennant (Saints traded away a 4th round pick to the Jaguars to get him) as the primary backup. With these2 in the lineup,New Orleans doesn’t missed a beat againstHouston. Looks like the Jaguars get their sack leader, Matt Roth back, so if he and Alualu will be cleared to play, I will really interested how they can pressure Brees, and which line will win the duel in the trenches.

Now if we turn the page at take a look at the Jaguars offense versus the Saints defense, the picture not looking so bright (I think we can say the Saints offense vs. the Jaguars defense might be the battle we can be more optimistic…). Although like last week, the Sainst defense looks like a bit banged up especially at the LB position, where Will Herring and rookie Martez Wilson is out, although the leader of the Saints defense Johnatan Vilma might return at MLB. The other two likely starters at LB will be Jo-Lunn Dunbar, who is maybe the best form among the Saints linebackers. In the other hand Shaun Shanle is just a guy, and he could be targeted in the passing and especially by the running game, if Jones-Drew (or Karim) can pass the defensive line. Speaking of that unit, Sedrick Ellis is a great DT, and Brad Meester will his hands full with him. In the other hand the two new players at DT (Aubrayo Fralin and Shaun Rodgers) can present the spot the Jaguars offense might try to open up for Maurice Jones-Drew.Franklinplayed not so well last week. And in Shaun Rodgers case, you just can’t predict, if shows up to play or not. If yes (like againstHouston), that’s a big problem. If no, that’s very, very good news for the running game.

And the Jaguars need to be good with the ground attack, because former Jaguars DC (and current Saints defensive coordinator) Gregg Williams will send the full house to blitz and rush Blaine Gabbert. He has a pretty decent track record against rookie QBs since he joinedNew Orleans. In the 2009-10, the Saints faced 9 rookie QBs. They throw 15 interceptions and 2 TDs in thosegames. I know everybody wants to unleash Gabbert after last week’s ultra conservative play calling, but maybe this is not the ideal game to do that, at least not early. If the running game has success, and the Saints must load the boy, then Gabbert can show, if he has a talent of a Top 10 pick or not. And the Jaguars must stay away from the 3 # long plays. That’s the time S Roman Harper or the DE duo of Will Smith and Turk McBride usually making plays. And there is a rookie called Cameron Jordan also in their roster. Those who read Black & Teal for a long time knows, that we were (at least I was) crazy aboutJordan, and would welcomed him with open arms if Gene Smith would’ve drafted him. So keep an eye on him. Especially since the offensive line will have a major shake up this week. LT Eugene Monroe is injured, and it questionable if he can play or not. If the answer is no, Guy Whimper will replace him at LT, Eben Britton will take back his old job at RT and Will Rackley will return to the LG spot. Although Britton at his old position would be good, I’m not confident (to say the least) about a Whimper – Rackley left side against this defense and pass rush.