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Buffalo Bills vs. Jacksonville Jaguars Gameday Preview

JAGUARS OVERVIEW (2009 RANKINGS)

After Jacksonville limped to a 5-11 finish in 2008, more than a few observers wondered if this year would be Jack Del Rio’s last as head coach. But even though they’re starting four rookies including both offensive tackles the Jags have already matched last season’s win total and are still very much in play for a wild-card slot.

OFFENSE (#10 total yardage, #6 rushing, #16 passing, #22 scoring):

Two preseasons ago, David Garrard claimed the Jaguars’ quarterback job based in part on his game-management skills, and repaid Del Rio’s faith in him by turning the ball over just five times in almost 350 dropbacks during the team’s 2007 playoff run. But as the line in front of him has deteriorated, so have those numbers; midway through the current season, he’s already responsible for 10 of Jacksonville’s turnovers (5 interceptions, 5 fumbles).

On the other hand, while Garrard isn’t normally mentioned among the league’s best quarterbacks, he does have a winning record as a starter and two more 300-yard games this season than anyone the Bills have put under center. In addition, he’s a threat to scramble, leading all AFC quarterbacks in rushing yardage.

He also has Maurice Jones-Drew, now the unchallenged lead back following the offseason release of longtime running mate Fred Taylor. The diminutive Jones-Drew has proven his ability to deal with the increased workload, averaging over five yards per attempt even though he’s on track for over 300 carries this season, and leads the NFL with 12 rushing touchdowns.

After trading for Troy Williamson last year, Jacksonville finally gave up on first-round busts Reggie Williams and Matt Jones. But Williamson is gone for the year and free-agent addition Torry Holt has been ineffective, leaving Mike Sims-Walker (39 receptions-603 yards, five touchdowns) as the only wideout with a touchdown catch. Rookie Mike Thomas started the year as the slot receiver, but may have already supplanted Holt as Garrard’s second option. Tight end Marcedes Lewis will also see his share of passes.

The injury-riddled offensive line was a major part of the problem last year, allowing Garrard to take twice as many sacks (42) as he had in 2007. General manager Gene Smith knew the front five badly needed restocking, so he used the team’s top two draft picks on a pair of tackles, Eugene Monroe (Virginia) and Eben Britton (Arizona). Left guard Vince Manuwai returns after missing almost the entire 2008 season. Uche Nwaneri, who took his place last year, flips to the right side, with veteran center Brad Meester anchoring the line.

DEFENSE (#23 total yardage, #22 rushing, #27 passing, #27 scoring):

Gregg Williams moved on to New Orleans after one season in Jacksonville, with former Browns coordinator Mel Tucker brought in to replace him. The team’s veteran line took a pair of sizable blows in September, losing both Rob Meier and Reggie Hayward for the season. Third-round pick Terrance Knighton starts at tackle next to Marcus Stroud’s old running mate John Henderson, with 2008 first-rounder Derrick Harvey at one end and Bryan Smith taking over for the underperforming Quentin Groves across from him. The Jags have been unable to muster much of a pass rush, managing just eight sacks in the first nine games.

Outside linebacker Daryl Smith leads the team with 1.5 of those takedowns; Clint Ingram starts on the other side, but middle ‘backer Justin Durant is likely to miss this game with a concussion.

Cornerback Rashean Mathis, who has three of Jacksonville’s seven interceptions, has also been ruled out, leaving the Jaguars scrambling to replace him. Free safety Reggie Nelson shifted to corner last week and may do so again versus the Bills, with rookie Derek Cox manning the other starting spot. Strong safety Gerald Alexander is also listed as questionable, so Ryan Fitzpatrick might see Sean Considine and Anthony Smith or a pair of players yet to be determined lining up at the back of the Jacksonville defense.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Josh Scobee, now in his sixth year as the Jags’ kicker, is 7-for-7 on field goal attempts inside 40 yards, but just 3-for-9 from beyond. Punter Adam Podlesh, who played high school football just down the street from Bills training camp at Pittsford Sutherland, is back for his third season after missing the end of last season with a knee injury. His gross-yards average isn’t great, but help from a cover squad allowing a league-low 3.3 yards per return makes his net numbers look a lot better. Brian Witherspoon is still listed as the lead returner, but rookie Mike Thomas is cutting into those duties.

OUTLOOK:

For a while this evening, I actually contemplated picking Buffalo to win this game. Certainly wouldn’t be the first time an in-season coaching change has had such an effect, whether it’s because the players approve of the move or perhaps because some of them suddenly realize their own jobs are in jeopardy.

And then I remembered that Marcus Stroud is out, Bryan Scott is now apparently one of the three best linebackers on the team, and the Jaguars still have the league’s fifth-leading rusher in their backfield ... and my next move was to check to see if my fantasy-league team was playing against Jones-Drew. Luckily for me, they’re not. If only the Bills were so fortunate.

LINKS

Jaguars depth chart | 2009 regular-season stats
Bills depth chart | 2009 regular-season stats

Welcome to the Blogosphere:
ESPN AFC East (Tim Graham) | AFC South (Paul Kuharsky)
Ultimate Jaguars (Florida Times-Union)

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