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Jags-Steelers, Part II


If you liked the Jaguars game in Pittsburgh, you should love this Sunday's game against Baltimore. All indications are it could be the same game.

The Ravens are coming to Jacksonville this weekend with a team that is troubled at the quarterback position, which will probably cause the Ravens to lean hard on their defense and running game. Sound familiar?

"We expect a real physical football game, much like playing the Steelers," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said. "There's a certain mentality you have to carry into a game like this; talented guys who play with a physical edge to them, so there should be some good hitting going on here Sunday at Alltel. We're looking forward to the challenge."

A month ago, the Jaguars went to Pittsburgh facing a similar challenge. The Steelers were without starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and star wide receiver Hines Ward, leaving little doubt the Steelers would put the game's outcome in the hands of their running game and defense.

The Jaguars won, of course, because they were able to stop the Steelers' running game and force backup quarterback Tommy Maddox into several critical turnovers. Logic would suggest the Jaguars will employ the same strategy for this Sunday's contest.

Kyle Boller will be making his first start since the season-opener. Boller will be attempting to overcome the rust that goes with two months of inactivity and the pressure of being an under-achieving first-round draft pick.

The Ravens, of course, will counter with their second-ranked defense, which is missing stars Ray Lewis and Ed Reed but remains one of the league's most powerful units. If only the Ravens' running game was up to its usual standards, coach Brian Billick's team wouldn't be out of playoff contention at midseason.

"Jamal (Lewis) is a good back. He's a great back and we've got to get him cranked up. We have to give him some rhythm and you only do that by giving him the ball," Billick said.

Lewis has been harshly criticized for his performance this season. He's averaging just 3.0 yards per carry and critics have suggested Lewis has run timidly to protect himself against injury while seeking a new contract.

Whatever chance the 2-6 Ravens have of upsetting the Jaguars would seem to rest with a Lewis re-birth. The Ravens need for Lewis to become the dominant runner he was two years ago when he topped the 2,000-yard mark.

"I've never been in this situation. I've never been with a team that at the midway point or even the three-quarter point had such a remote chance for the playoffs. So this is a new challenge for me. It's not a lot of fun and it gets tough. I'm anxious to see how this team handles it," Billick said.

His defense is the rock on which the Ravens are built. Defense remains the Ravens' calling card. Regardless of the circumstances, the Ravens always play good defense.

"When I joined Brian Billick on his staff in 1999, we set out to build a strong, dominating defense and I think they've been able to continue that, despite guys like Ed Reed and Ray Lewis having been out the last few weeks," Del Rio said.

It's expected that defense will "show up" on Sunday against the Jaguars. Will Jamal Lewis? Can the Jaguars stop him as they stopped the Steelers?

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