WHAT: DETROIT LIONS (4-4) VS JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (5-3)
WHERE: ALTEL STADIUM, JACKSONVILLE, FL
WHEN: SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 1:00 PM EST
LAST MEETING: JACKSONVILLE 37 - DETROIT 22
NOTABLE: Jamie Martin hit Keenan McCardell from 61-yards out to give Jacksonville the winning margin. Charlie Batch connected with Germane Crowell for a 27-yard TD, but Crowell dropped a pass in the Jaguars endzone, killing a potential Lions rally.
(ALLEN PARK) - After posting a 3-1 start including winning their first two games on the road, the Detroit Lions came home and promptly laid an egg. The Lions lost three of their four home games and now sit at 4-4.
Lions fans watched in stunned disbelief as the team that looked so effective on TV, stumbled and fumbled in front of the home crowd. Boos rained down from the Ford Field stands in Detroit's disappointing 17-10 loss to the previously 2-5 Washington Redskins.
Some Lions' players have said that all the emphasis the team put into snapping the NFL record 24-game road losing streak they built up over the last three years has made the team more focused when they go on the road.
That theory will be put to the test when Detroit -- 3-1 on the road -- faces one of the league's top teams, the Jacksonville Jaguars without their franchise quarterback Byron Leftwich.
Leftwich was injured in the late stages of a loss to the Houston Texans and was relieved by backup David Garrard. The former Marshall standout announced his intentions to try to play over the torn ACL but was overruled by Jacksonville's medical staff.
"We've invested a lot of time in our offense, in David, and running the offense through the preseason as a back-up, and preparing each week during the season," said head coach Jack Del Rio. "He continues to prepare in the event that he'd have to play and now his preparation just increases and intensifies. We'll get Quinn Gray a back-up share of work. We expect him to go in and help us play well enough to help us win."
For Detroit, they want to solve their offensive woes. Teams have gone back to crowding the line of scrimmage against the Lions and Washington defensive coordinator Gregg Williams added an extra wrinkle - man-free coverage - against Lions wide receiver Roy Williams. The scheme allowed the 'Skins to have safety Shawn Taylor shadow Williams solely when he ran longer routes past the responsibility of the corner.
Williams was open only one time, an overthrow by quarterback Joey Harrington. Other teams who's personnel allows will likely pick up the scheme to try to stop the rangy 6-foot-2 star from Texas from making big plays against their defense.
Detroit needs to get their anemic running attack going in the worst way. Some observers blame Lions head coach Steve Mariucci's conservative play calling for the team's offensive woes. Mariucci has decided to make two notable changes.
First, he's inserting big 6-foot-7 guard Matt Joyce into the starting lineup for journeyman Dave Loverne who has been unable to sustain a push in the run game. The presence of the bigger more physical Joyce may help spring the left side of the line for Detroit's backs.
The offensive line did a few extra drills in practice to try to settle in on the new lineup.
"What we did a little bit there was have almost a walkthrough situation where these young backs can see the blocks developing - making sure they understand our schemes," explained Mariucci.
"They need to see that over and over again so that they get a feel for where that hole is going to be or what the alternatives are. We're giving them more of that and it will help. The more they see it, the better that we're going to be. We've got to get on a fast track and get it done quickly."
Second, he's settled on rookie first round pick Kevin Jones as the team's feature back. Jones, who has been outspoken with his desire to get more than 10 carries per game, will get the bulk of the load said Mariucci.
"Running backs like 'flows and feels,' believe me. They want touches. There is some truth to that though. To run the ball seven times in a game, it's hard to get a feel. You don't get a chance to repeat plays. So he'll have probably more touches and more catches - that touchdown catch of his was the first of his life. So he'll get more and more as we go," said Mariucci.
Lions quarterback Joey Harrington said whether it's Jones as the "bellcow" or a "running-back-by-committee" situation, he just wants to get the run game jump started.
"If [Jones] runs well [he should get more carries]. I don't think there is one magical formula that works for every team. If the guy is running well, then give him the ball. If a couple of guys are running the ball well, then split it up. As long as we're effective and efficient in our runs then I don't care who carries it."
WHEN JACKSONVILLE HAS THE BALL
The Lions are likely to get a big dose of Fred Taylor (124 carries for 510 yards), the AFC's 11th leading rusher. Taylor is coming off a hip-pointer, but had the bye week to rest up. If he is less than 100%, the Jaguars have fourth round pick from LSU LaBrandon Toefield and second round pick Greg Jones from Florida State.
"I just took a straight shot to the hip," explained Taylor after he left the Houston loss for good. "I tried to come back in the game, but it was too stiff and unbearable. I told the coaches to leave Brandon Toefield in the game because I felt that he would be more effective."
Del Rio says he expects Taylor to be ready for Sunday's contest.
"He's doing great. He's completely healthy. He got a little hip pointer two weeks ago and he shows no signs of that being a factor. I think he's poised to have a good second half run for us."
The Jaguars, though, believe that Garrard can throw the ball well enough that they won't become one-dimensional.
Garrard says Detroit's front seven is a lod to deal with. "They've got a great front seven. They get a good push in the pass game. They've got a bunch of studs on their front line. They're lead by Shaun Rogers, No. 92. He's going to be a beast for us, but I know we're going to bring our 'A game,' just like they are. Their secondary definitely poses a threat. We're going to have to get our guys going and get the ball to their hands, get them a chance to move with the ball, make some plays and go out and compete."
Del Rio agrees with Gararrd assessment of Detroit's front seven. "I know we're going to see outstanding defensive tackle play in our game. I think both of their guys (Shaun Rogers and Dan Wilkinson) are playing outstanding, both of our guys are playing outstanding (Marcus Stroud and John Henderson). I think some of the better defensive tackles in the game are going up against each other this week."
"My second NFL start is going to be a lot of fun. I just want to be able to go out and help my team out in the way that I can - just playing David Garrard football. The number one thing that I want to come away from this with is a victory. I want to help my team to a win so that we can keep going and make a push for the playoffs."
In veteran wide receiver Jimmie Smith (rank #1 in the AFC with 703 yards receiving), the Jags believe they can stretch the field.
Smith had his eight 100-yard receiving game in the loss to Houston, so Jacksonville isn't likely to give up on the conference's best deep threat. Detroit must play the run better than they did a week ago against Washington. Washington's Clinton Portis became the first back of the year to rush for over 100 yards (147) against Detroit all season.
The Lions must solidify their run defense because Garrard can pull it down and run with it. Detroit is buoyed by the second consecutive start of both of their top corners Dre' Bly and Fernando Bryant, a former Jag.
WHEN DETROIT HAS THE FOOTBALL
Detroit is going to run the football more than they have in previous outings. With Jones and Artose Pinner getting extra practice work this week, the emphasis will be on establishing the run so that their play-action passing game will be more of a threat.
Detroit is aware that teams are assigning a safety to roll with Roy Williams and they want to eliminate that by running the ball efficiently forcing that safety to become more involved in run support.
Jacksonville had every intention of drafting Williams in the first round in April's NFL draft, but the Lions traded down and nabbed Williams instead.
"He's shown he has some big time ability. He can make the highlight catch. I really liked him coming out of college," admitted Del Rio. "It's not surprising at all to me to see him having success and being a guy that commands some attention in the secondary."
If Detroit can get Jones off to a good start, it give Joey Harrington some lattitude in attacking the Jaguars secondary. "We've played well on the road. I'm happy that we've done that as a team because that's usually the toughest thing to do. I trust that we'll go out and play well again," said Harrington.
Detroit also needs to get tight end Stephen Alexander more involved in the offense. Alexander has blocked well in the run game, but hasn't gotten the ball as much as the Lions anticipated going into this week.
Alexander being active in the passing game makes the entire Lions offense that much more effective
The kicking game and special teams are always important. Detroit has made a iving this season on winning the takeaway-giveway battle. They have a definite advantage in this one since Jacksonville is dead even in the statistic.
"We've been much better at protecting the ball, not quite as good as Detroit which leads the league with only six giveaways, but we've reduced our number in half from where we were last year. Protecting the football has been big and will remain an emphasis for us," stated Del Rio.
Detroit's experienced corners will likely try to bait the young Gararrd into making some bad decisions with the football. Meanwhile, Joey Harrington has been among the league's best quarterback in protecting the football.
The Lions are breaking in a new long snapper in rookie Don Muhlbach. Detroit believes he will handle the job well, but anytime a rookie is placed in a high-pressure position, unexpected results often ensue. The Lions will worry about this one until Muhlbach gets off his first punt or field goal snap.
PICK: Without Leftwich, the Jaguars are vulnerable. They can talk all they want about how capable Gararrd is, but he's got to prove it. I know Byron Leftwich, and David Gararrd is no Byron Leftwich.
DETROIT 23 JAGUARS 13