Don’t look now, Jacksonville fans, but the clouds may really be starting to part. With a last-second, drama-filled win over the Colts in the books and a matchup with the lowly – and 0-4 – Bills on the horizon, Jacksonville may actually have momentum AND a win streak in the works. Of course, it’s early, the team has been far from consistent, and complacency can be crippling (I can’t believe I’m actually mentioning complacency and the Jaguars in the same sentence), but it’s seriously funny what one win in this league can do for a team.
And while I will do my best to keep perspective in my analysis below, there’s no doubt that last Sunday’s win had a serious impact on Jacksonville’s overall disposition and positive mental makeup. Work is a lot more fun when it yields positive reinforcement and even head coach Jack Del Rio recently admitted as much: “There was something special about that win yesterday for us,” said the coach. “We’re excited to get back to work. There’s no question it was exhilarating to be a part of that. It was a lot of fun.”
The tilt with struggling Buffalo, then, couldn’t arrive at a better time, assuming Jacksonville takes nothing for granted. It may come as somewhat of a shock, but in sitting pretty at 2-2 and just one back of Houston in the AFC South, the Jags suddenly can feel OK about their current standing and future prospects.
But that’s precisely why this “gimme” of a game wears the cloak of letdown to near perfection. For all the reasons it should win this Sunday, Jacksonville will have as many opportunities to lack conviction, a reaction to success the team must avoid.
Then again, can the Jags really be complacent? After all, they’ve got two solid wins, sure, but also two 25-point losses. And the import of the moment can’t possibly be lost on Del Rio and starting quarterback David Garrard, two characters with prominent roles on the line.
Anyway, below I will try to make some sense of this relative uncertainty and take a closer look at the matchups Jacksonville will face when it travels to Buffalo this Sunday.
KEYS TO WEEK 5:
The last time the Jaguars beat the Colts at home was in 2006. They won that game 44-17, but went on to lose their next three games and miss the playoffs. Jacksonville’s only other previous home victory over Indy came in 2003, and it followed that win too with consecutive losses. See a pattern?
Still, a matchup with the 0-4 Bills couldn’t setup any better for the Jags. Buffalo compliments its mediocre pass defense with sieve-like run resistance and its proficiency through the air on offense is pitiful by league standards. Now for a more detailed take on how this all adds up:
Ball in Hand:
It wasn’t a secret prior to the 2010 season, and it’s still not a secret now: Jacksonville is at its best when rushing the football and leaves a lot to be desired in its lack of aerial proficiency. The Jags are more then fortunate, then, in drawing Buffalo, as the Bills defense is middle of the road against the pass, and literally the league’s worst against the run.
Though Buffalo cornerback Drayton Florence is more than reliable, the Bills secondary is far from risky to test; between their four starting defensive backs, not a single interception has been recorded this year. Still, with Mikes Sims-Walker struggling as much as ever, Jacksonville is hardly dynamic through the air (though it didn’t allow a single sack last week) and should unquestionably use its strength – the run game – to expose Buffalo’s major weakness – stopping the run.
Now, Del Rio may be no rocket scientist, and probably isn’t a very good NFL football coach either (which is far more relevant, for the record), but he and his assistants are smart enough to use their greatest weapon against what happens to be their opponents’ biggest vulnerability. As such, expect a large dose of Maurice Jones-Drew and, to a lesser extent, Rashad Jennings early, late and with great consistency on Sunday.
On the Defense:
Again, the Jags luck out here in the game of matchups, as their less-than-productive secondary should be out of harms way on Sunday when it faces the NFL’s 31st-ranked pass attack. Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has started his team’s last two games and has been both good and bad, tossing four touchdowns to go along with two interceptions. On the outside, though the Jags can’t be overly confident in how they matchup with anyone, a Buffalo receiving unit led by Lee Evans and Roscoe Parrish hardly inspires fear.
The Buffalo run game, on the other hand, must be respected, as Fred Jackson provides tough, physical yards inside the tackles while rookie C.J. Spiller is a home run threat both out of the backfield and on special teams.
Fortunately for Jacksonville, the Buffalo game plan on offense should play right into its strength. Jackson and Spiller can be dynamic, but if the Jags have found consistent success anywhere on the field this year its been in defending the run. Tyson Alualu, Terrance Knighton, Kirk Morrison and Daryl Smith have been extremely tough up the middle through four games and, if they can maintain that level of play this weekend, a win at Buffalo should be more than within JVille’s reach.
When it’s all Said and Done:
Sunday’s game takes place in Buffalo and the winless Bills will certainly be hungry for their first victory, no doubt viewing the Jaguars as vulnerable prey. Jacksonville, on the other hand, is coming on an emotional, last-second victory over the Colts and history would suggest is prime for a letdown.
I, however, have decided to turn a check to the aforementioned concerns, and instead have chosen to side with logic, talent and matchups. Simply put, the Jacksonville offense should more than have its way with a pitiful Buffalo run defense while the Jaguar D should at least manage to contain a below average Bills offense.
Jacksonville’s defense isn’t exactly dominant, so I expect Buffalo to manage at least some points at home, but the Jaguar ground attack should make things easier on its own defense while much harder for a Bills unit that has given up more points than any other D in the league. In a ball-control, run-dominated affair, I expect the Jags to prevail with some room to breathe.
Prediction: 27-17, Jacksonville
NEWS AND NOTES:
Though the team has made a few meaningless roster moves – signed DL C.J. Mosely, released QB Todd Bouman, and added QB Keith Null – it’s really been a rather slow week.
It is worth noting, however, that Josh Scobee was appropriately recognized for his 59-yard, game-winning field goal last Sunday when he was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week on Monday. The dramatic kick, which earned Scobee his fifth Player of the Week honor, was the third-longest game-ending field goal in NFL history. It was Scobee’s seventh career game-winning boot, and actually his third against the Colts.
BEATING THE SPREAD:
Just for kicks, each week I will pick against the spread in my three favorite games, using the opening lines from the USA Today Newspaper as my reference. Feel free to do the same; we can even compete, if you don’t mind losing (Zing!).
For the second consecutive week, I finished 2-1, and am now 7-5 on the year. Below, check out, and enjoy, my LOCKS for Week 5.
JACKSONVILLE at Buffalo, 0: The Jags are coming off a huge victory over the Colts and, as I have thoroughly detailed above, matchup very favorably with the Bills. Not having to give any points makes the Jags an easy pick.
GREEN BAY at Washington, -3: Maybe it’s for a reason and something is actually wrong (the loss of Ryan Grant certainly hasn’t helped), but the Packers have struggled over the last two weeks, losing by three at Chicago before narrowly escaping the Lions last Sunday, 28-26. Call me crazy, but I expect Aaron Rodgers and Company to promptly exit said funk and return to gracefully covering measly, three-point spreads.
DETROIT vs. St. Louis, -3: It may not be saying much, but Detroit is clearly the best winless team in the NFL and has already had chances late to beat the likes of Chicago, Philly, and Green Bay. The Lions will get their first win of the 2010 season at home this Sunday and will cover the three-point spread in doing so.
That’s unfortunately all the time I’ve got for today, but, of course, be sure to check back here on Sunday for a complete recap and analysis from Jacksonville’s 1:00 p.m. showdown with the Bills. Until then, be good and keep reading.
Janovitz can be reached at Scott.Janovitz@gmail.com
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Written by Scott Janovitz