The Jaguars 23 spot rankings disparity between their running and passing game (26th passing, 3rd rushing) is one of the largest disparities in the entire league, and with a quarterback who will be making his first career start, it is more than likely that the Jaguars will employ a conservative, hand-off filled game plan, in which the team will try to control field position and the clock.
Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio talked about what he expects out of Quinn Gray– "I think really we just want Quinn to focus on the process of being as good as he can be, preparing himself to make the reads and distribute the ball, preparing himself to make checks at the line that we're going to ask him to make, and they'll be reduced some. We're going to ask him to do his role. We don't need him to shoulder a large part of this, to put the burden on his shoulders and carry this team. We want him to fill a role and do his job and understand what that is and direct things for us, manage the process of playing quarterback. People talk about being a game manager, part of that is there is a lot involved with playing quarterback and just like a manager has a lot of responsibilities; I think the quarterback has a lot of responsibilities. So sometimes that can be talked about in negative terms. But having somebody that can control the game and control the offense and gets you in and out of bad plays into good plays, those are important things to have."
The real question is how much running will the 21st ranked Tampa Bay defense (against the run) allow the Jaguars to do? Tampa Bay is keenly aware of what the Jaguars like to do on offense, and the explosive weapons that enable them to do so.
Star linebacker Derrick Brooks commented on the Jaguars offense– We have to stop their running attack. Obviously, what Fred Taylor and Maurice [Jones-Drew] have done so far this year has really made the offense and given the quarterback position a lot of balance because they have been able to run the ball, get into some play action situations and hit teams with big plays. [They are] very physical, similar to Tennessee. We have had the fortune of playing them every preseason here for 10 years, and it is no different with the physical aspect of their ball-game. Their running backs are probably playing at a high level; probably the highest level two running backs can play right now."
Defensive tackle Jovan Haye added–
"Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, they're a handful, everyone knows that and we're going to have our work cut out for us this weekend, but I think we will be alright.
We don't know what to expect, but we're definitely going to get a good dose of the running game, definitely. We better be ready, buckle down and be sound in the running game."
Tampa Bay middle linebacker and leading tackler Barrett Ruud gave his thoughts on the Jaguars offense and game plan– "Like they do against most teams, they are going to try and run the ball because they have two great backs, not just good backs, great backs and a good o-line too. That is what we have to stop first like always, stop the run and then we have to try and get pressure on the quarterback."
After listening to what the Tampa Bay defense is saying about the Jaguars offense, it is extremely likely that Monte Kiffin's group will try and take away Jacksonville's potent running game and force Quinn Gray to beat them through the air. The big question is– can Quinn Gray beat an NFL team that's had a week to prepare for him with his arm? If you look at his past, the immediate answer is a resounding...maybe? In Gray's first two regular season appearances, he completed 21 of 36 passes for 266 yards, while throwing for two touchdowns and running for another two. Gray's passer rating was 100.9 during those two appearances.
Now let's look beyond the numbers. Gray's first regular season appearance came in the 2005 season finale against Tennessee. The Jaguars had already locked up a playoff spot and the outcome of the game was pretty much meaningless. Gray played the second half and lit up a Tennessee team that was playing without many of it's defensive starters. In Gray's second appearance, he was inserted into the lineup in the third quarter immediately after quarterback David Garrard threw an interception. The Jaguars were down 21-3 when Gray entered, and he sparked them to two consecutive touchdown drives, and the team nearly came all the way back, losing 35-30. Kansas City's secondary probably wasn't playing as tight in the second half as they were in the first half, and Gray picked them apart.
It is likely that Gray's play in his first two appearances wasn't as good as the numbers he produced, but his play on Monday night against the defending Super Bowl champs certainly wasn't as bad as the numbers say. On Sunday, Gray was forced to throw the football against an Indianapolis team that loves to rush the passer and force opposing offenses to make mistakes. Although Gray didn't play anywhere in the vicinity of well, he did come into the game cold and was really put in a no win situation.
Jack Del Rio described how this week would be different for Quinn Gray– "We have a week to put a plan together that will emphasize the things he's most comfortable with, emphasize some of the strengths that he brings. He'll have a week to go through the process and prepare himself to be the guy. So new challenges for him, new challenges for our staff, and you add that to a few of the challenges that we see already in front of us. We're faced right now with a little adversity and that's just the reality of it. A short work week, got our backup quarterback going into a team that has been very good at home, playing good defense. It's going to be a challenge but we're going to gear up and rally around him and go compete."
If the Jaguars can throw just enough to loosen up the Tampa defense, they should have success running the football. In the past and in preseason, Gray proved that he can throw the football well. Gray proved it well enough for the team to retain his on a tender that pays him nearly $1.3 million for this season. They also felt confident enough in Gray's skill set to release Byron Leftwich prior to the season knowing that Gray would be forced to play if starting quarterback David Garrard went down. That time is here and now is the time for Quinn to earn his paycheck.
Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of Jagnation.com, and a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports.com, Sirius NFL Radio, and Sportsillustated.com. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and is a columnist for the New Smyrna Observer.
Gray: Game Manager or More
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