There were plenty of questions about running back Maurice Jones-Drew heading into the 2011 season. Jones-Drew missed the final two games of the 2010 season with a knee injury and spent the offseason working to regain his Pro Bowl form.
If three games are any indication then Jones-Drew should have no problem carrying the load again.
Jones-Drew leads the Jaguars with 307 yards on 66 carries, the most rushes and yards of his career through three games and the second-most in franchise history. He needs 81 rushing yards on Sunday against New Orleans for the most in franchise history in the first four games of a season.
The 307 yards rank third in the NFL and he is tied with Houston's Ben Tate for the most rushes in the league. He also ranks among NFL leaders in yards from scrimmage (9th, 371), first downs (4th, 19), rushes of 10-plus yards (T-3rd, 10) and offensive touches (T-1st, 72).
Tough stretch ahead
Three of the Jaguars' next four games are against playoff teams from a year ago and each has a 2-1 record in 2011. Following Sunday's tilt with the Saints, the Jaguars will host Cincinnati then travel to Pittsburgh before a Monday night home game against Baltimore on October 24.
Offense and defense collide
The Jaguars enter Sunday's game with the fourth-ranked defense in the NFL, allowing only 280.0 yards per game, and are the only team to not allow 300 total yards in each of the first three games. The Saints, led by quarterback Drew Brees, counter with a high-powered offense that ranks second in the NFL at 437.7 yards per game and averaged 34.7 points in the first three games.
Keeping the big plays to a minimum
One of the keys for the Jaguars defense through the first three games has not been allowing the explosive play. The Jaguars ranked 29th in the NFL a year ago by allowing 72 plays of 20-plus yards. The Jaguars lead the NFL in 2011 with only seven plays of 20-plus yards by their opponents.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton entered last Sunday's game with an NFL-high 16 completions of 20-plus yards. He finished 18 of 34 passing for 158 yards against the Jaguars, with his longest completion 18 yards in the fourth quarter.
Defense gets off the field
The Jaguars defense leads the NFL by forcing 12 three-and-outs by the opposition on 35 total possessions. The defense has allowed only two drives of 10-plus plays which ranks as the second-fewest in the NFL. Opponents have a 33.3 third down conversion percentage, the sixth-lowest in the NFL.
Knighton and Alualu stuff the middle
The Jaguars own the NFL's fifth-best rushing defense through the first three games as they allowed only 83.7 yards on the ground. Part of the credit goes to the play of tackles Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton and Tyson Alualu.
Knighton, a third-round draft pick in 2009, leads all Jaguars defensive linemen with 19 tackles along with two tackles for loss and seven quarterback pressures. He posted 10 tackles in week two against the Jets and followed with seven stops and three quarterback pressures at Carolina.
Alualu has started all 19 games since joining the club as a first-round draft pick in 2010. He produced a career-high 11 tackles against the Panthers including two tackles for loss.
Offense controls the clock
The Jaguars have scored only 29 points through the first three games but the offense ranks among the NFL's best in several ball control categories. The Jaguars are tied for second in the NFL with six five-minute drives and tied for seventh with six drives of 10 or more plays. In addition, the Jaguars' 32:14 average time of possession is the eighth-highest in the league.
Thomas leads receiving corps
There is little doubt that third-year wide receiver Mike Thomas is the Jaguars' first option in the passing game. Thomas leads the club with 15 receptions for 139 yards and one touchdown and is one of only three Jaguars wide receivers to have a reception through three games.
Thomas is tied for seventh in the NFL with 30 passes thrown his way in 2011. New England's Wes Welker leads the NFL with 43.
Watch out for Mincey!
Fourth-year defensive end Jeremy Mincey has been a constant presence around the opposing quarterback, leading the team with 13 quarterback pressures. He led the club with four pressures in each of the first two games and recorded a team-high five last Sunday at Carolina. He has 13 tackles in three games including eight against the Panthers.
Two of the most decorated quarterbacks in Missouri history will be at EverBank Field on Sunday. As a true freshman in 2008, Jaguars 2011 first-round pick Blaine Gabbert served as the backup to current Saints quarterback Chase Daniel.
In three years as a starter at Missouri, Daniel threw for 12,515 yards with 101 touchdowns. Gabbert started for two seasons and passed for 6,822 yards and 40 touchdowns for a 132.59 passer efficiency rating which is topped only by Daniel in school history.
Did you know?
The Jaguars are 8-0 at home against teams from the NFC South.
Different look to Jaguars roster
The Jaguars and Saints have met four times with the series tied, 2-2. The Saints won the last meeting, 41-24, at the Superdome on November 4, 2007. There are just seven players on the Jaguars' current roster who played in the last game between the teams including four who started (Daryl Smith, Rashean Mathis, Marcedes Lewis, Brad Meester).
Sunday's game will be broadcast regionally on FOX, locally on WAWS (Ch. 30 cable). Sam Rosen will handle play-by-play duties with former NFL quarterback Chad Pennington providing analysis.
- Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio was a third-round draft pick (68th overall) by the Saints in 1985 and played two seasons for the club. He began his coaching career with the Saints in 1997 under Mike Ditka.
- Maurice Jones-Drew averaged 107.5 rushing yards in his last four home games with three 100-yard games. He has five rushing touchdowns during that four-game span including at least one in all four games. He has 100-plus rushing yards in his last three games against NFC opponents.
- Mike Thomas has three touchdowns in the last three games against NFC opponents.
- The Saints have three former Jaguars coaches on their staff in assistant special teams coach John Bonamego (1999-2002), coaching assistant Blake Williams (2008) and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (2008).