Setting the table: Jaguars-Ravens
Senior writer John Oehser examines key players, matchups and storylines as the Jaguars prepare to play the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank in Baltimore, Maryland, Sunday
JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines key players, matchups and storylines as the Jaguars prepare to play the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank in Baltimore, Maryland, Sunday
The Jaguars aren't out of the AFC South race.
That was true before yet another late-game loss this past Sunday, and it remains true as they prepare to visit the equally-struggling Baltimore Ravens.
The Jaguars, despite struggling through much of the first half of the season, entered this past weekend a half-game out of first place; a 28-23 loss to the New York Jets coupled with an Indianapolis victory over the Denver Broncos left the Jaguars a game and a half behind the division-leading Colts.
The Colts are now 4-5; the Jaguars are 2-6.
Still, the Jaguars this week figure to talk less about the playoffs – not that they talked much about them last week – and more about avoiding key mistakes and making critical plays at critical times. They have lost five games this season in which they led or trailed by less than a score in the fourth quarter.
The Jaguars continue to show dramatic statistical improvement, ranking 16th in the NFL in total offense with quarterback Blake Bortles on pace to throw for 4,394 yards and a franchise-record 34 touchdowns. Wide receivers Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson also are on pace to be the team's first 1,000-yard receivers in a decade.
The defense ranks seventh in the NFL against the run, and the Jaguars rank 18th in the NFL in total defense.
The Ravens are in an uncharacteristic position at the season's midway point.
Long one of the NFL's most-stable, most-consistent franchises, the Ravens are 2-6 and in last place in the AFC North.
The Ravens have sustained a slew of injuries at wide receiver – including the loss for the season of veteran Steve Smith Jr. (Achilles) and the absence of rookie first-round selection Breshad Perriman due to a knee injury sustained on the first day of training camp.
The Ravens also lost defensive end Terrell Suggs to an Achilles injury in the regular-season opener. They have allowed the 11th-most points in the NFL and have forced just four turnovers in eight games.
Matchups to watch
*Jaguars wide receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns versus Ravens cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith.Robinson and Hurns in their second seasons have become a tough matchup for any corner tandem. The entire Ravens secondary has struggled to force turnovers, though Smith has two interceptions. He has two passes defensed and has allowed four touchdowns while Webb has allowed three touchdowns with three passes defensed and no interceptions.
*Jaguars offensive tackles Luke Joeckel and Jermey Parnell versus Ravens outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil.The Ravens have been hurt by the loss of Suggs, but Dumervil in his ninth season remains an effective pass rusher with 22 hurries and eight quarterback hits to go with 2.5 sacks. He flips sides, so he will go against Joeckel and Parnell at times. Parnell appeared to struggle at times against a Jets defense that registered six sacks, and while Joeckel has improved in recent weeks, he also allowed pressure at times against the Jets.
*Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny versus Ravens running back Justin Forsett.The Jaguars' defense was dominant Sunday, holding Jets running back Chris Ivory to 26 yards on 23 carries. Forsett, who spent nine games with the Jaguars in 2013, is a quicker and more-elusive back than Ivory. After rushing for 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns last season, he has rushed for 562 yards and two touchdowns through eight games this season.
Jaguars to watch
*Blake Bortles, quarterback. While Bortles committed three turnovers against the Jets, he has been good more far more often than bad this season, throwing for 17 touchdowns and 2,193 yards with 10 interceptions through eight games. He and the Jaguars' offense have given the team a chance in most games.
*Julius Thomas, tight end.Thomas, the Jaguars' top offseason free-agent signee, caught three passes for 17 yards against the Jets. He missed the first four games of the season with a hand injury and has yet to find a groove with Bortles, catching 13 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown in four games.
*Safety Johnathan Cyprien.The 2013 second-round draft selection had one of the better games of his NFL career Sunday, registering 13 tackles and missing none. The Jaguars have been waiting for Cyprien to improve consistency, and it appears that may be happening.
Keep an eye on …
*Starting left guard Zane Beadles played through a knee injury sustained Sunday after starting the game with a foot injury. He will be evaluated this week. …
*Starting wide receiver Allen Hurns wore a boot Monday after spraining his left foot on the final offensive play Sunday. He said Monday X-Rays and an MRI revealed no serious damage. …
*Defensive tackle Michael Bennett (hamstring) will be evaluated this week after being injured in the first half and not returning against the Jets. He has played a reserve, rotational role this season. …
*Starting Otto linebacker Dan Skuta (groin) will be evaluated this week after being injured in the second half and not returning Sunday. Rookie Thurston Armbrister played the end of the game in Skuta's place. …
*Cornerback Peyton Thompson was being evaluated for concussion symptoms Monday. …
*Wide receiver Marqise Lee (hamstring) is expected to increase his practice workload this week after missing the last five games. He practiced limited Friday, his first practice since Week 3. …
*Safety James Sample (shoulder) is expected to increase his practice workload after missing the last four games. …