If rather than a product of reality Jacksonville’s 2010 season was merely a fictional one on Playstation, it is right about now that each one of us would hit the restart button. Am I right? Unfortunately, that’s one of the many differences between video game and real life sports, and the result is nine more games on Jacksonville’s schedule (and these ones MUST be played). This coming Sunday, the 3-4 Jags will get their crack at a Dallas team struggling to an extent I don’t think anyone thought possible; a pre-season Super Bowl favorite and perceived as one of the league’s most talented teams, Dallas is just 1-5 on the year and has now lost three games in a row (and two of those losses came at home).
Jacksonville is no doubt happy to have starting quarterback David Garrard back and healthy, though his replacement, Todd Bouman, played more than admirably last weekend at Kansas City. But the road hasn’t been too kind to the Jags in 2010 – the team is 1-2 away from home and, outside of its win at Buffalo, has been outscored 80-33 in the two losses – and Dallas is certainly better than its record would indicate. While on the field not much about the Cowboys has resembled that of a winning team, Jacksonville has no reason to expect anything less than dogfight from a wounded, desperate underachiever this Sunday. With that said, and as usual, let’s take a look at how the two teams match up on the football field.
KEYS TO WEEK 8:
Jacksonville may not trail by much in the AFC South (it trails Houston and Indy by 1.5 games and Tennessee by 2), but they trail everyone, making a win, even this early, an absolute must. And though they have to leave the friendly confines of EverBank Field, the Jags conveniently draw a vulnerable group of Cowboys.
As alluded to above, there is no questioning which team of the two is more talented; Dallas looks to have an all-star roster compared to most, but especially when side-by-side with Jacksonville’s. But sitting at 1-5, it’s also clear that something is seriously wrong in Dallas, there’s a disconnect somewhere, and it’s keeping the Cowboys from winning football games. The question is, then, can Jacksonville, like some many other teams already have, take advantage?
Ball in Hand:
Despite all its losing, Dallas probably isn’t as horrid defensively as one might think. In fact, the Cowboys actually feature one of the league’s stingiest defenses when it comes to limiting opposing quarterbacks, ranking seventh overall and giving up just 200 yards per game through the air. But, as has been well established throughout the year, that’s pretty OK with the Jags, as they accepted their passing inefficiencies long ago.
Thankfully, the Cowboys defense is particularly weak against the run, which is no doubt music to Jacksonville’s collective ears. Case in point, all three teams Jacksonville has defeated this year – Indianapolis, Buffalo and Denver – rank in the bottom seven in the league in rush defense, while Kansas City, San Diego, and Tennessee rank in the top 10, and Philadelphia is 18th. Of course, the latter group of teams made relative ease out of disposing of Jacksonville. It’s clear, then, that weak run defenses give the Jags their best chance at victory and Dallas definitely meets said qualification.
As is so often the case with the Jags, Maurice Jones-Drew and Company – which refers to Rashad Jennings, Deji Karim and Garrard scrambles – must carry the load offensively, but their success can also go a long way in slowing down the Cowboy offense, mostly by keeping it off the field. If Jacksonville can run the football with success and consistency, it will have a reasonable chance of getting a W this Sunday.
On the Defense:
Ordinarily, this would be a dreadful matchup for Jacksonville. Though they actually played their best last week against the Chiefs, the Jaguar defensive backs are about as unreliable as they come, and Tony Romo and Company – this refers to the dynamic receiving threesome that includes Miles Austin, rookie Dez Bryant (if you haven’t seen him play, and you like good football, you sure are in for a treat this Sunday) and Roy Williams – are electric through the air, especially when they aren’t shooting themselves in the feet.
I say ordinarily, though, because Romo will be out for the foreseeable future with a broken collarbone, which should at least lighten the Jacksonville secondary’s load.
Things won’t be entirely easy, however, as all three Dallas wideouts are healthy and active while John Kitna – Romo’s backup – happens to be a very capable understudy. Though now 38, Kitna has had some incredible seasons as a starting quarterback in the NFL, including two in which he threw for more than 4,000 yards.
In fact, Stopping Kitna and the Dallas passing attack will be particularly important this Sunday, as the Cowboy rushing attack has been surprisingly inept this year, averaging just 86 yards per game on the ground. Marion Barber and Felix Jones are both quality NFL running backs, but Dallas has failed miserably when it has come to committing to the run. And, outside of last week’s Kansas City meltdown, the Jaguar front seven has handled opposing rushing attacks rather well this season. I fully expect this weekend to be no different.
When it’s all Said and Done:
Both Jacksonville and Dallas need wins in a big way this Sunday, and they both probably like what they see in their opponent. Even with Kitna dropping back, Dallas will surely look to expose the Jacksonville secondary, and getting pressure from the Jaguar defensive ends, especially Aaron Kampan, would go a long way in keeping Jacksonville in the game.
On the opposite side of the ball, the Jaguars will look to take advantage of a more-than-generous Cowboy run defense, and they absolutely need to find success here to win the game.
In the end, I have absolute confidence that both teams will use their strengths to exploit the other team’s weakness, but I believe the Dallas pass attack will be simply too much for Jacksonville’s run game to keep up with. Through the air, the Cowboys will outscore the Jags this Sunday.
Prediction: 34-27, Dallas
NEWS AND NOTES:
As far as off-the-field news goes, it has been a rather slow week for Jacksonville. On Tuesday, however, the team did make a somewhat meaningful roster move, placing second-year offensive tackle Eben Britton on injured reserve. Britton suffered a shoulder injury in the first half of last Sunday’s game against the Chiefs.
As a result, the Jags signed fifth-year offensive tackle Erik Pears. The 6-8, 305-pound Pears has played in 44 games, making 30 starts since entering the NFL as an undrafted rookie with Denver in 2005.
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!).
If you’ve been following along, you can probably guess about how well I did last week. And, if you went with 2-1, you’d be exactly right. It represents the fifth frustrating week in a row now that I’ve been one game less than perfect.
I am wholly resilient, though, and so, with this in mind, present my absolute LOCKS for Week 8:
NEW ENGLAND vs. Minnesota, -4.5: I’m still one of the few who think Minnesota can be one of the league’s top teams. They are not last year’s Vikings, though, and the ankle injury to Brett Favre is an absolute killer, whether he plays this Sunday or not. The hometown Patriots, on the other hand, are playing great football at the moment and will be sure to take advantage of Minnesota’s uncertainty at quarterback. I’d rather give 2.5 points, but am willing to settle donating 4.5.
NEW ORLEANS vs. Pittsburgh, Straight Up: I actually believe Pittsburgh is slightly the better team, but in addition to playing at home, New Orleans is coming off a brutal loss in its own building to Cleveland and no doubt wants a win this weekend in the worst kind of way. With the added motivation of playing perhaps the AFC’s best team, I’ll take the Super Bowl champs at home, especially when I don’t have to give a single point.
MIAMI at Cincinnati, +1: For whatever reason, and it isn’t talent, the Bengals just aren’t any good this year. And last week’s loss against the Falcons was mostly ugly. The AFC is better than the NFC, and Miami is better than Cincy. The Dolphins are also looking for redemption after the refs gave Pittsburgh a 23-22 win in Miami last Sunday. Oh, and I’m actually getting a point here with the better ‘Phins.
I’m out of time for today, but of course will be here and back in action on Sunday, recapping and analyzing Jacksonville’s 1:00 p.m. showdown with Dallas as soon as it concludes. Until then, remember to be good and keep reading.
Janovitz can be reach at Scott.Janovitz@gmai.com
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Written by Scott Janovitz