Ravens (4-1) @ Jaguars (1-5)
The Ravens make their first appearance on Monday Night Football in 2011 tonight, taking on the Jacksonville Jaguars in J’Ville for the first time since way back in 2005. They need a win to keep pace with New England and Pittsburgh as the AFC’s only 5-win teams through the season’s first seven weeks.
The Jaguars are but a shell of the contender they have been in the past under former Ravens linebackers Coach Jack Del Rio. Del Rio’s job is in quite a bit of peril as his team sits at a dismal 1-5, losers of five straight since somehow knocking off the Tennessee Titans 16-14 back in Week 1. Rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert has started the last 4 games, throwing 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions while completing 48.8 percent of his passes and taking 14 sacks. The Ravens, for as long as anyone can remember, thrive on making young quarterbacks uncomfortable on defense, and Chuck Pagano’s squad should be licking their chops heading into EverBank Field Monday Night.
Jacksonville’s only hope to take some pressure off their first-year signal-caller is running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who was Ray Rice before Ray Rice showed up in the NFL. The diminutive sixth-year runner out of UCLA has managed a hefty 4.8 yards per carry this season despite opposing defenses being pretty much able to focus their efforts on slowing him down. In the last meeting between these two, in Week 17 of 2008, the Ravens managed to hold “MJD” to 78 yards on 23 carries. They’ve been their typical stingy selves to running backs here in 2011, with defensive tackles Haloti Ngata, Terrence Cody, and Cory Redding all playing at high levels. No runner has managed more than 53 yards against B’More here in 2011.
Mike Thomas is the Jags’ leading receiver, with 27 catches for 301 yards, while Jason Hill is averaging 17.1 yards on 14 catches. They also resigned Mike Sims-Walker last week. Sims-Walker was the #1 in Jacksonville for the last two seasons before starting 2011 in St. Louis. The Ravens have the league’s 12-ranked pass defense despite playing much of the season with a depleted secondary. They may be starting to get healthy again though, as Chris Carr is listed as questionable for tonight and rookie Jimmy Smith as probable. The Ravens have racked up 15 sacks through five games.
Don’t be lulled into too much of a false sense of security by the Jaguars’ 1-5 record. Their defense is stout, ranked ninth in the league. Defensive end Matt Roth has three sacks, and the secondary has picked off opposing quarterbacks six times. They are 13th in the league, allowing 22.0 points per game.
For the Ravens to put Jacksonville away early, and avoid having to grind out a four-quarter victory, they’ll need to improve on their red zone efficiency. They have scored touchdowns on just 36.8% of their possessions inside the opponents’ 20-yard line, good for 29th out of 32 teams. They were 2/4 last week against Houston, but one of those was aided by several Texans’ penalties near the goal line. While this new big strike offense is a blast to watch, teams that go deep into the postseason need to be able to consistently put it in from goal-to-go situations as well.
Since John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco arrived in Baltimore in 2008, the team has lost just two games to teams that entered the game with a sub-.500 record. Both of those losses came in Week 2 of their respective seasons, to teams sports 0-1 marks. Recent history suggests nothing to indicate that the Ravens should have any problem disposing of the hapless Jags tonight. Rookie quarterback, bad team, run-focused attack – all of these things should play right into the good guys’ hands.
However, Del Rio, in addition to being in a fight for his job at this point, would love to stick it to his old team in front of a national audience. Expect the Jags to come out fired up, and maybe even take an early lead. I won’t be surprised if the crowd to is at least 30% Ravens fans though, and the team should be able to fight through any early Jacksonville success for a workmanlike road victory.
Ravens 23 Jaguars 14