Jacksonville has little to play for other than trying to spoil Baltimore’s playoff hopes, which will certainly be a tall task. The Ravens have given up the third-fewest points in the NFL (15.8 ppg. allowed), and their defense is ranked second overall. The Ravens physical identity extends to their offense as they have three pounding running backs in Le’Ron McClain, Willis McGahee, and Ray Rice who have Baltimore ranked second in the NFL in rushing.
“Yeah, they’re a physical team,” Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio said. “They really run the ball offensively and play great defense, and that’s a proven formula for winning in this league. The one thing that you hope to add to that, which they’ve addressed, is that you hope to have a quarterback that can make plays for you because in order to advance to the playoffs and consistently get to the playoffs, you need a quarterback making plays. And so when you add that, and they’ve got a young guy they like a lot, then you have a good team.”
In Saturday night’s game against the Dallas Cowboys, the Ravens became the first team in NFL history to rip off consecutive runs of better than 75 yards in the fourth quarter. Willis McGahee went 77 yards up the middle seemingly untouched against a Cowboys defense geared up to stop the run, and on the following possession, Le’Ron McClain went outside and dodged tacklers for an 82-yard scamper.
“Offensively, if you watch the end of the Dallas game they had, they’re a big, physical team and you talk about executing the four-minute drill running the ball, they ran it and won the game going away with their running game,” Del Rio said.
The Jaguars will likely play more of their younger guys on Sunday, almost as if it was a late August preseason game. Jacksonville has been auditioning defensive ends in the hopes that they can maybe catch lightning in a bottle and finally get someone who can rush the passer. They have also been trying out some different guys in the backfield as starter Fred Taylor was sent to the injured reserve a few weeks ago.
“We’ve got some young players that have been playing a lot and we’ll continue to get an evaluation of them,” Del Rio said. “It’s a good opportunity for them to play. I think you see a certain level of excitement that they bring, and we’ll look forward to getting more of that. I know Chauncey Washington’s been playing and he’ll play more. Brian Witherspoon, who I pointed out last week, will continue to get time. (Jeremy) Mincey is back getting some time, and he and MK (Mkristo Bruce) have shared time at defensive end. So there are a bunch of younger guys that are getting an opportunity right now due to injuries, circumstances, whatever it may, that’s valuable time. They get an opportunity they might not otherwise have had.”
The Jaguars also made a somewhat interesting move Tuesday as they signed rookie quarterback Paul Smith from their practice squad. With one final opportunity for regular season action, it is conceivable that Smith could actually receive some snaps against the Ravens aggressive, physical defense.
The Jaguars must figure out which of the many changes are necessary to get the team back to Super Bowl contention and out of last place. A major change was made Tuesday as Vice President of Player Personnel James “Shack” Harris resigned.
“Shack, I already said that’s an ownership decision,” Del Rio explained. “And decisions that we make going forward with our roster will be made, as I said, after we’ve evaluated. I think the one thing you can be assured of is that we’re never going to settle. We’re all here to get ourselves to the playoffs and compete for a championship. That’s what we’re here for, so everything that we do is going to be with that end result in mind.”
As much as the Jaguars would like to pull an upset in Baltimore on Sunday, it’s certainly not a life or death situation. A victory would likely cost the team valuable spots in the draft and although the front office would never admit it, at this point in the year, looking at younger players is likely much more important than potentially finishing with a 6-10 record.