5 keys for the Ravens against the Jaguars

5 keys to the game <P> 1. Remember the Titans. <P> Running the football with reckless abandon remains the Baltimore Ravens' modus operandi. Despite the statistical story that suggests the Jacksonville Jaguars could be stingy against the run today, this shapes up as another ideal situation for NFL rushing leader Jamal Lewis.

Jacksonville essentially folded its cards during an 11-minute drive in a loss to Tennessee last weekend where Titans running back Eddie George carried the football 13 times on a 17-play drive that led to a field goal. Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio noticed some troubling signs of possible malingering, freelancing and incompetence. He normally has a stalwart run-stopping defense that allows only 3.2 yards a carry. Yet, Lewis hasn't been stopped in six consecutive 100-yard games and is 33 yards shy of eclipsing 1,000 yards.

Baltimore can do itself a favor by avoiding massive defensive tackles John Henderson and Marcus Stroud with counters and sweeps. The Ravens have much more of a pronounced advantage on running plays with offensive tackles Jonathan Ogden and Orlando Brown against undersized Jaguars ends Hugh Douglas and Tony Brackens than inside.

2. Exploit rookie quarterback Byron Leftwich.

For the first time this season, the Ravens have been presented with a prime opportunity to take advantage of another football team's youthful inexperience. Instead of having a dominant rushing attack to lean upon like Ravens rookie Kyle Boller, Jacksonville Jaguars rookie quarterback Byron Leftwich has merely a solid ground attack to complement his passing. He has been prone to errors, having thrown nine interceptions and fumbling twice in his four starts since taking over for injured veteran Mark Brunell. By generating a pass rush with outisde linebackers Peter Boulware and Terrell Suggs while also confusing Leftwich with fake blitzes and disguised zone coverages, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan could make this game's final result academic.

3. Contain Jimmy Smith and Fred Taylor.

Although cornerback Chris McAlister has used his physical style to slow him down recently, Smith sports an excellent track record against Baltimore. In 13 games, he has 88 receptions for 1,407 yards and 10 touchdowns. Taylor rushed for 151 yards in last year's 17-10 loss. The Ravens will want to have linebacker Ray Lewis shadow Taylor out of the backfield more than Ed Hartwell.

The Ravens will have free safety Gary Baxter shift to cornerback in place of injured veteran Corey Fuller. Strong safety Ed Reed's presence becomes even more important this week.

4. Avoid turnovers and don't take the Jaguars lightly.

Rookie quarterback Kyle Boller hasn't thrown an interception in 44 passes, and has made sound decisions with the football. This series has produced five consecutive wins for Baltimore. Yet, the average margin of victory is only 3.8 points. The Ravens can't afford to regress with the chance to go 5-3 heading into tough games at St. Louis and Miami. Jacksonville is 1-6 for several reasons, but has a few formidable weapons.

5 Prove something.

Boller is aware that Byron Leftwich was the Ravens' first choice at quarterback before a botched trade on draft day. He should be extra motivated today and have a chance to go downfield to Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap against two relatively slow safeties.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.


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