The shaky Week 7 schedule hits its soft conclusion tonight when Baltimore visits Jacksonville for Monday Night Football (8:30 ET, ESPN). As a general rule I don’t like to do facile previews that say “if so-and-so shows up they’ll win.” This is the NFL and anything can happen, especially when the underdog is at home. But a lot has to go right if Jacksonville is going to win this game.
Baltimore’s run defense is stout, third in the league, and the Jaguars have to establish the run to have any chance. With a rookie quarterback in Blaine Gabbert, the hosts need a big night from Maurice Jones-Drew. And while the running back is certainly capable of that, doing it against the Ravens defense is another story altogether—especially when they can completely lock in on you. All things considered, Gabbert hasn’t been bad this year, but this is really a lot to ask.
Jacksonville’s own rush defense is on the soft side, and we can expect the Ravens to really muscle Ray Rice and get control of the line of scrimmage. If that happens, look for Joe Flacco to hook up with Anquan Boldin on some play-action and Baltimore to move the ball consistently.
The Jaguars’ path to victory has to be stopping Rice and forcing Baltimore to try and move the ball against their more effective pass defense. They need Flacco to then become impatient and force throws that become interceptions, and then for those turnovers to become points. If you do that, you can concentrate on the running game and perhaps Gabbert can make some throws against Raven corners that are the team weakness.
It’s all theoretically possible, and Jacksonville’s spot isn’t as hopeless as Indianapolis’ was in New Orleans last night (a game I made an exception to my facile preview rule and just said that if you watched, you really hated baseball, and the 62-7 Saints win doesn’t have me eating my words). Ultimately though if Baltimore is going to be beaten by a lesser team it’s going to be one that is more capable of exploiting them on the corners consistently. Jacksonville is not it. If you watch this game over Game 5 of the World Series, you may not hate baseball, but you’re a sign of the problems MLB has in attracting viewers.