The edge here has to go to Jay Cutler and the Broncos, though if the Broncos aren't careful David Garrard can do alot of damage. Garrard is a big, strong quarterback who doesn't make many mistakes. He plays off the Jags ability to run the ball, however, and has struggled this season when the Jags running game has slowed down. The Broncos need to be careful about pressuring Garrard because he is prone to pull the ball down and run for first downs. Gap discipline will be a huge key in the game.
For Cutler, it's simple. When he takes care of the football, the Broncos win. This game should be no different. The Jags are likely to employ the same type of defense Cutler has seen in recent weeks, with teams forcing the Broncos offense to check the ball down to under-neath receivers. I would love to see the Broncos recognize this and employ a similar gameplan to the one they utilized against San Diego. Keep Brandon Marshall in short routes and force the Jaguars defense to have to tackle him all day.
Has the Broncos run defense really improved?? We're going to find out with Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor coming to town. Even with a banged up offensive line, the Jags run offense is still very dangerous, especially to the Broncos who have shown a tendency to fall into defensive funks. How the Broncos fare early in the game will be key. Larry Johnson got off with a big run on the Chiefs first possession and the Broncos never seemed to recover. Running Backs like to get into a groove and momentum is huge. If the Broncos can make it tough for the Jags to run early on, they may abandon it. Allow Jones-Drew or Talyor to get going and it could be a long day.
For the Broncos, Michael Pittman will likely see an increased role with Selvin Young already ruled out of the game. Pittman has looked strong the past couple of weeks, and in a game like this the Broncos need to give the ball to the more physical back. Pittman will scrap with a physical Jags front 7 and that attitude is just what the Broncos need. Andre Hall will get some touches as well and will need to make a positive contribution when called upon.
The Jags like to bring pressure so blitz pickup will be key for whichever running back is in the game.
The Broncos have a big advantage at Receiver, even if Eddie Royal misses the game. For the Jags, it is simple. Use the passing game only if absolutely necessary. While David Garrard is completing over 65% of his passes, his average per attempt is only 6.6, so while the Jags do complete a high percentage, they don't get much yardage. Matt Jones leads the way with 23 receptions after an off-season that saw him arrested on a drug charge. The Jags big free agent acquisition, former Raider Jerry Porter, has been hampered by injuries and has made 1 catch for 6 yards this season.
For the Broncos, Royal is still a question mark. He was limited in practice on Friday, which is usually an indication that a guy isn't going to play, but we'll have to wait until game time. Even if Royal can't go, the Broncos will have a highly effective 3-headed monster in Marshall, Brandon Stokley and Darrell Jackson, who should see his first action since Week 1. No matter how you slice it, the Broncos have more weapons and more talent.
The Broncos are stronger up front, if only by default. The Jaguars offensive line is a mess right now due to injuries and tragedy. The near-fatal shooting of Richard Collier, a backup at Left Tackle for the Jags, was the beginning of a downward spiral for a team that needs to run the ball to be ultra effective. C Brad MEester is out, and G Chris Naeole is highly doubtful. This could bode well for the Broncos. Injuries are unfortunate, but there is no shame in taking advantage of the situation.
The Broncos O-Line will get, in my opinion, their biggest test to date. The Jags defensive line is as good as it gets, even if no one knows about them. Ask Ben Roethlisberger about the Jags D-Line. The Broncos are likely to have a bit of trouble getting things going on the ground, and keeping Cutler upright, as well as his passing lanes clear, will be critical. The Broncos O-line has been up to the challenge every game this year and tomorrow should be no exception.
The Broncos showed a huge improvement up front last week against the Bucs, but I want to see it one more time before I start to take the group seriously. The Jags have some problems of their own with DT Rob Meier listed as doubtful for the game with a knee injury. The Jags are still formidable up front, with John Henderson on the inside, along with Paul Spicer and former Bronco Reggie Hayward at end. The Jags also have first round pick Derrick Harvey, a former teammate of Bronco D-End Jarvis Moss.
For the Broncos, I will be interested to see if they go with the same group as last week, with both Moss and fellow 2007draft pick Tim Crowder inactive. While disappointing to see young guys unable to get on the field, the Broncos cannot afford to have these guys learn on the job, especially with the team winning. The Jags do have the advantage up front, but I'll be looking for the Broncos to have the better game due to the problems Jacksonville has on the O-Line.
This was very close to being even because I have a lot of respect for the group of linebackers the Jags line up with. Mike Peterson is as good as it gets in the middle though he doesn't get much press. Daryl Smith is solid, if unspectacular, as well. The Jags linebackers tackle well and don;t make many mistakes. If the offense makes one, however, this group will make you pay.
The Broncos get the advantage mainly based on quantity. The Broncos have shown a 4 linebacker look, and all 4 have the ability to run and hawk the ball. Nate Webster continues to have an on-again, off-again season. If the trend continues, Webster is due for an off game tomorrow so I am hoping he bucks the trend. With the running game the Jags possess, the Broncos linebackers, coming off their best game of the season last week, will need to play even better. I think they are up to the task.
Like much of the Jaguars roster, the secondary has been riddles with injuries. The team did get some good news, with corners Drayton Florence and Brian Williams looking good to go. Unfortunately for the Jags, however, 2nd year safety Reggie Nelson has been ruled out of the game with a knee injury. The Jags do possess on of the game's best in Rashean Mathis, but he has been battling some injuries as well and has struggled at times. He showed last week against the Steelers, however, that if you allow him to make a play he can do it. His pick-6 early in the game gave the Jags alot of momentum, though his struggles late in the game allowed the Steelers to come back and win the game. Brandon Marshall, if lined up against Mathis, should be able to win that battle, similar to the way he dominated Antonio Cromartie.
For the Broncos, it's a combination of talent, along with the Jags lack of real explosive weapons outside. Look for Champ Bailey to play close to the line of scrimmage, as he did last week, to help against the run/short passing game. The Broncos will need a strong game from their safeties as well, especially in run support.
We'll get the easy part out of the way first. Both kickers are excellent. Josh Scobee probably has a leg to equal Matt Prater, but has the experience to go with it. He has already kicked a long field goal(in Indianapolis) to win a game and it will be key for the Broncos NOT to give Scobee the chance to make it two. Both teams are solid in the punting game, but where this game could be won or lost is in the return game.
Maurice Jones Drew might be more dangerous as a kickoff returner than a running back, and the Broncos have had their struggles with good returners. Jones-Drew can do everything Darren Sproles is capable of, and the Broncos have to have a good day covering kicks. The Broncos really don't have a retun threat, especially if Eddie Royal is unable to go. A real concern of mine going into the game, and the one area that can equalize things in a hurry.
Jack Del Rio is a fine coach, but the jags are really missing Mike Smith, who ran their defense before heading over to Atlanta to be the Head Coach of the Falcons. Since Smith has departed, and Greg Williams replaced him, the Jags have appeared to lose a bit of that toughness. Of course, injuries, along with personnel changes(Marcus Stroud to Buffalo) may have something to do with that.
Perhaps Bob Slowik and his defensive unit turned a corner last week. I'll go out on a limb and say they have. The funny thing about football is things can look horrible, then all of a sudden the light goes on. The Giants defense allowed 40+ points per game the first 2 games of 2007. Things turned out pretty well for that group, and they haven't looked back.
The Broncos showed us a little something last week, beating a tough Tampa Bay team after not showing up in Kansas City. More importantly, the Broncos were able to win a tough, defensive football game. That's good, because this game against the Jags will likely be a similar type of game. Each week Jay Cutler learns a little bit more about what it takes to be a winning quarterback in the NFL. After 26 starts, Cutler is 13-13. Is this the week he gets above .500?
I have personally had this game circled on the calendar since the schedule came out. I have a feeling Mike Shanahan has as well. The Broncos were physically dominated by the Jags last year, in Denver, something that should never happen. The Broncos haven't let it happen so far in 2008, and at 3-0 seem to have their Mile High Swagger back. This game will be the true test. Even undermanned, the Jags are a formidable opponent, and even worse, they are desperate. The Broncos are going to get their best shot, but this Broncos team is better than the 2007 version. They will be ready.
FINAL PREDICTION: Denver Broncos 23 - Jacksonville Jaguars 13.
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