The Jaguars built a strong reputation for run-defense last season. Under rookie head coach Jack Del Rio, the Jaguars became the new tough guy in the league.
Well, tough guy, say hello to the Denver Broncos, renown for offensive linemen who cut-block and an impressive streak of thousand-yard rushers.
This Sunday, the two forces will clash at Alltel Stadium. The 1-0 Jaguars will host the 1-0 Broncos in Jacksonville's home-opener and more will be at stake than an undefeated start to the season.
"They're a running team, we're a good run-defense, so this is a big challenge," Jaguars defensive end Paul Spicer said.
This is a king-of-the-hill game. Who's bigger and tougher? The Broncos' rush-offense, ranked second in the league last year and currently tied for second after having steamrolled the Kansas City Chiefs in week one? Or the Jaguars run-defense, second in the league last season and currently tied for 13th?
"I wasn't satisfied," coach Jack Del Rio said of the Jaguars' performance against Buffalo's Travis Henry and company. "I think we were solid and effective. We can be better. We can play better."
The Bills gained 95 net yards rushing against the Jaguars. At times, the Bills' running game appeared to win the battle, but Henry finished with 75 yards rushing, which means the Jaguars have gone 16 games since an opposing running back has hit the 100-yard mark. The last to have done so is Carolina's Stephen Davis in the 2003 season-opener.
Denver's newest rushing star is second-year running back Quentin Griffin, who gained 156 yards against the Chiefs. At 5-7, Griffin hides behind offensive linemen a foot taller, searching for a hole through which he might break into the secondary.
It is the Denver system: stretch right, stretch left. Linemen occupy defenders, allowing the back to read the flow. The intent is to get defenders running sideways, which allows the back to cut back against the grain. Cut-blocking is the other Denver trademark.
"If you run sideways with them, it's going to be a long day for you," Spicer said. "It doesn't matter who's back there. If they stick to what Mike Shanahan does, they can be successful."
And what coach Mike Shanahan's system does is "Let his backs find the hole. If we do our job, there won't be any holes," Spicer added.
In defensing the Broncos, Del Rio is challenging his players to stay on their feet.
"What I expect is for our guys to stay on their feet. Every week has its own challenge. This week it's stay on your feet," Del Rio said.
Spicer says the counter technique is "Putting your hands down, pressing the lineman to the ground. If you do get cut, get back up. The ground is on fire. If we're getting cut and running side to side, it's going to be a long day," Spicer added.
Penetration is another counter tactic. The Jaguars will be attempting to get to Griffin before his linemen are able to engage their blocks.
"We'll get a severe test this week. This is a team that knows how to run the football," Del Rio said. "Being able to stop the run is important. I've made that very clear."
This is the definitive stop-the-run game. You don't beat the Broncos if you don't stop the run.