Game Preview: Jaguars at the Atlanta Falcons
By Zoltan Paksa
The Jaguars had their best game of the season on Sunday, but they have no time to celebrate. The 3rd game within 11 days is approaching fast on Thursday night in Atlanta against the Falcons. And most likely the Jaguars facing the toughest opponent in this 3 game stretch when they hit the filed in the Georgiadome. Atlanta is most likely will make the playoffs (again), and although they are not as dominant as they were last week, at home they represent any team in the league a huge challenge. That not means they don’t have any weak points the Jaguars can use against them. Let’s dig a little deeper.
The two team are know each other a bit despite they haven’t played in a regular season game since Week 2 of 2007 . That is because Atlanta head coach is the former defensive coordinator of the Jaguars, Mike Smith. The 2 teams has joint practice in training camp, and they played a preseason game in both years as well. Also, Atlanta has a couple of ex-Jaguars players on the roster, who spent many-many years with the team, like backup LB Mike Peterson and fan favorite LS Joe Zelenka. Maurice Jones-Drew just said this week, when the two teems met, it has a feeling like you playing your brother. That could be useful for both teams, since there is not much time to prepare themselves because of the short week.
The Jaguars defense despite the many injuries had a great game, creating 5 turnovers against Tampa Bay. Well I don’t expect to something similar this week. I fear we could see the repeat from the previous prime time game against the Chargers, since Atlanta has a top notch all around offense.QB Matt Ryan may have an up and down year this season, but lately he found his groove again. That means trouble for the injury ravaged Jaguars secondary. Ashton Youboty, Drew Coleman and Kevin Rutland had great games, but Josh Freeman (at least in this year) is not exactly representing the same level of challenge as Ryan does. Also, Freeman doesn’t have the weapons too. WR Roddy White is one of the best receivers of the NFL for years, and this years 1st round pick Julio Jones showed a couple of times why Atlanta traded away half of their draft picks to get him. But both wideouts has something common with the Jaguars WRs though, they drop a lot of passes, especially White (both for example Jones had a game winning TD drop against the Texans). Their 3rd WR, Harry Douglas is developed himself into a very reliable and dangerous weapon (he had a long TD catch in the preseason against the Jaguars), but he might miss this game because of an injury. And of course there is Tony Gonzales. Based on how problematic was with the starters defending great TEs this year, and maybe the Jaguars must play Akwasi Owusu-Ansah at FS, because Dwight Lowery is banged up, and his backup Chris Prosinski is now on IR, that is a serious mismatch favoring the Falcons. The Jaguars defensive line could help out the secondary with an effective rush against Ryan, but the Falcons offensive line is solid (not that good, but allowing not so much sacks and pressure either). The only spot where Joe Cullen’s “rushmen” have a chance is the LT. Sam Baker is really struggling lately, and he always do 1-2 penalties. Look for Jeremy Mincey to use this as an advantage.
That air attack is a big problem alone, but Atlanta is effective on the ground too. Michael Turner has the 3rd most (1068)rushing yards in the NFL, and could always be capable of a 100 yards game. Especially since the Jaguars run defense is worse then I expected this season. His backups, rookie RB Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling has similar carries as any backup Maurice Jones Drew has this season. Rodgers starting to get comfortable with the NFL, he has a 4.5 yard average. The Falcons offensive line is usually good at run blocking, although against the Panthers RG Joe Hawley and Will Svitek had problems. Still with the effective passing game plus the injuries and problems in the Jaguars defense, Michael Turner and co. could easily have a really good day.
The Jaguars offense will face tough challengers as well. Atlanta has a solid all around defense, they are really great against the run, but have issues defending the pass. Most likely Brent Grimes, there best CB will miss this game, and Dunta Robinson and Dominique Franks are capable a couple of mistakes in 1 game. If Grimes is out, there best corner might be backup William Moore, who has a great season so far. The best player of the secondary is without Grimes is FS Thomas DeCould, who leads the team with 3 interceptions. His partner SS William Moore is also reliable. Since the Jaguars are almost as banged up at WR like at CB, and they have production issuers all year long I wonder if could benefit from the shaky Falcons corners. Blaine Gabbert had on Sunday maybe the best game as a pro, but he and his available receivers (, Marcedes Lewis, Dillard, Osgood, West, and Taylor Price, who will debut as a Jaguar on Thursday night) must find the way to make plays. Because if they can’t do that, run the ball will be even much harder. No matter how good Maurice Jones Drew is, Atlanta’s front 7 is the building block of that defense. Their 3 starting linebackers Curtis Lofton, Stephen Nicholas and Sean Witherspoon who starting to become a top player at his position are just as good as the Jaguars had, and their first backup is Mike Peterson, who knows Maurice Jones-Drew really well. There defensive line is not much behind this unit either. Corey Peters and especially Johnathan Babineaux are great run stoppers, just as Ray Edwards at DE. Although the Falcons had not that much sack as in the previous years, but DE John Abraham(5.0 sacks) and Lawrence Sidbury(4.0) can still create trouble, and Sean Witherspoon(4.0) is often used to blitz as well. Overall, this defense is close to be among the best in the NFL, and against the tun they are great. If Jones-Drew and co (DuJuan Harris, Brock Bolen or somebody else) can manage around 100 rushing yrads against them, the will count as a huge achievement.
This game could be important because of he following reasons. This is a prime time game, so unless the 0-15 Colts don’t generate enough buzz, this will be the last time everybody will take a deep look at the ’11 Jaguars. 10 days ago that picture was not pretty, especially in the second half. If the Jaguars can play hard, and be competitive against a really good playoff contender team, away after just 4 days of preparation, that can send a signal to everybody including the Jaguars fan base, that this team could reach great things in the not so far future. Also this game is very important for Mel Tucker as well. If the Jaguars will still playing for the win very late in the 4 quarter, that is the best recommendation to stay the head coach of the Jaguars in’12. I go even further, if the Jaguars (somehow) beat the Falcons om Thursday night, only 2 really bad game (& loss) or a very high profile candidate can only prevent Mel Tucker to get the job for next season.
I know many things favors the Falcons. They are a really good team, who can easily go deep in the post season. With the all the injuries and issues the Jaguars has right now, if this will be a close game, they are archived more then expected.
Prediction: Falcons 30, Jaguars 20
P. S: I want to thank Zsombor Parrag for his insight about the Falcons