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Ravens' line is the difference

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It's a game that invites an interesting study. Last April, when these two teams consummated a blockbuster first-round, draft-day trade, the idea was that the Jaguars were doing a deal that would make them a Super Bowl contender this year, while the Ravens were making a trade that would provide for their future.

So how did it turn out? Well, the Jaguars will take a 5-10 record and thoughts of offseason rebuilding to Baltimore this weekend, while the Ravens are focused on a win that would put them into the playoffs.

Go figure.

When the Ravens traded the eighth overall pick to the Jaguars for the 26th pick, two third-round picks and one in the fourth round, opinion was split on the trade. Some thought the Jaguars got the pass-rusher that would put them over the top. Others thought the Ravens got the quarterback of their future.

It could turn out that Derrick Harvey will some day put the Jaguars over the top, but it won't be this year because the Jaguars weren't one player away. Looking back on the deal, that's what we know now that we didn't know on draft day.

In the Ravens' case, no one could've possibly thought Joe Flacco could make this much of a difference in just his rookie season. Yeah, we all knew he would be complemented by a great defense, but quarterbacks out of Delaware just don't burst onto the scene as dramatically as Flacco has, right?

Well, upon closer inspection of Flacco's rookie performance, it bears little resemblance to that of Ben Roethlisberger in 2004 or to Dan Marino in 1983. Roethlisberger had a 98.1 passer rating in his rookie season and was a difference-maker in half a dozen victories. Marino had a 96.0 passer rating, threw 20 touchdown passes and only six interceptions, and immediately reversed the team's fortunes upon taking over for David Woodley.

Truth be known, Flacco's impact this season isn't nearly as great as advertised. He has a very pedestrian 78.2 passer rating and has been somewhat of a fumble machine, as you would expect of a rookie. You could make the point that Flacco has no more put the Ravens over the top than Harvey has the Jaguars.

The difference between these two teams that will face-off in a game at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday that will end one's season and possibly springboard the other's is not that draft-day trade or that one team has Ray Lewis and the other one doesn't. The reason the Ravens are playing for the playoffs and the Jaguars aren't, in this reporter's opinion, is the result of the young, promising offensive line the Ravens have very quietly assembled.

The Ravens will present the Jaguars with two young tackles (Adam Terry and Jake Gaither), two young guards (Ben Grubbs and Chris Chester), and a young center (Jason Brown), none of whom is older than 26. The five of them, along with Flacco, represent the future of the Ravens.

Yeah, the Ravens have a great defense, but that defense has some age on it and it's going to require replacements in the next year or so. Their offensive line, however, is built to last.

Baltimore is number two in the league in rushing and doesn't even have a 900-yard rusher. What if they had a big-time back?

The Jaguars are in the opposite situation and that's one of the major reasons this season has not met expectations. Heading into the season, the Jaguars knew they had depth problems on their offensive line, then lost both starting guards before halftime of the season-opener.

Heading into the season finale in Baltimore, the Jaguars' starting left tackle and center are each headed for free agency, and it can't be denied that addressing the offensive line will be the Jaguars' number one offseason priority.

Was Harvey worth the trade? Will Flacco, in fact, develop into a star quarterback? We'll find out in the years to come, but if you wanna know the big-picture difference between these two teams, watch the Ravens' offensive line on Sunday. It starts up front. Always has; probably always will.

Here are 10 things the Jaguars have to do to beat the Ravens.

  1. Play tough, play hard—Ray Lewis and that defense require it.
  1. Stop the run—The Ravens beat you the old-fashioned way.
  1. Chip away—A field goal here and a big play there.
  1. Protect the QB—The Ravens will send pass-rushers from every position and every angle.
  1. Win the battle of field position—They become very conservative and tentative when Joe Flacco is deep in his own territory.
  1. Strip the ball—Flacco has been a fumble machine at times.
  1. Make no excuses—Temperatures are expected to be in the 60's.
  1. Block and tackle—The Ravens demand it of their opponents.
  1. Be forceful—Ravens leading rusher Le'Ron McClain is the most powerful runner the Jaguars will have faced this season.
  1. Finish—This is it. This is the final call. This will be the last memory of the 2008 Jaguars.
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