The popular refrain has been that roster depth is impossible in the salary cap era. "Can't have it," coaches have said.
Wrong! You must have it.
If the salary cap has taught us anything, it's that quantity is more important than quality. Star players will eat up your cap and, when they get hurt, you're dead.
Yes, a significant portion of the best teams are also the healthiest teams, but a lot of teams are fighting through injuries to remain in playoff contention, and the way they've done it is by finding adequate replacements for the stars they've lost.
The Baltimore Ravens are a perfect example. They lost their star running back, Jamal Lewis, and their starting right tackle, Leon Searcy, in the preseason. They've played without quarterback Elvis Grbac and they've recently lost for the season their Pro-Bowl defensive end Michael McCrary.
One position at which a team must develop depth is running back. Give the coaches and their personnel people credit for having identified that fact. Clearly, they have.
Look at the one-two punches at running back in the league: Ron Dayne and Tiki Barber, Jerome Bettis and Amos Zereoue, Ricky Williams and Deuce McAllister, Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow, Tyrone Wheatley and Charlie Garner, Curtis Martin and Lamont Jordan, etc. Would the Seahawks be a playoff contender if they hadn't had Shaun Alexander when Ricky Watters went down?
Depth has never been more important than it is in the salary cap era.
Now, here's "10 things" the Jaguars must do to beat the Ravens on Sunday.
- Check under the hood--A team playing without its star running back, not knowing from day to day whether its quarterback will be under center, and on the verge of elimination from playoff contention has to question its motivation. Play with the effort befitting a professional.
- Put the pressure on the Ravens--Baltimore is in danger of falling out of the playoff race. Take a page out of Cleveland's book by getting an early lead and letting the rope tighten around the Ravens' neck.
- Stop Brookins--In the Jaguars' 18-17 loss in Baltimore, it wasn't Ray Lewis and the Ravens defense that was the star. It was a little-known running back named Jason Brookins. Don't underestimate him.
- Learn from the last game--The Ravens are clearly struggling on offense. This may be the one game in which the Jaguars have the personnel to attack on defense.
- Back Brunell--If he plays.
- Rally around Quinn--If Brunell doesn't play.
- Don't be in awe of Lewis--Simply put, the Ravens' star middle linebacker hasn't been the player this season that he was last year. Cleveland blocked him on the goal line with Aaron Shea.
- Offer no respect--The Ravens are the most arrogant team in the league, but even they're questioning themselves after having lost twice to Cleveland. Their confidence is at a low point. Feed off it.
- Run the ball--Baltimore has fallen to third against the run, and nothing eats at their ego more than rushing yards. Test the Ravens' resolve.
- Say goodbye boldly--This will be the Jaguars' last-ever AFC Central home game. Go out with a statement.