This Sunday's home-opener against the Denver Broncos will provide a subplot that may be as intriguing as the final score. Will the Jaguars keep their string of holding backs under 100 yards intact?
That streak is at 16 games. The last running back to rush for 100 yards against the Jaguars is Carolina's Stephen Davis, who gained 111 yards (78 yards in the second half) in the Panthers' come-from-behind win in last year's season-opener.
Since then, the Jaguars have held a distinguished list of running backs under a hundred yards. Edgerrin James, LaDainian Tomlinson, Ricky Williams, Jamal Lewis, Curtis Martin, Deuce McAllister and Travis Henry all fell short.
Wow! That's a really impressive list of star rushers. You'd think that at least a couple of them would've cracked the 100-yard mark, but not so.
Well, this Sunday the Jaguars face what may be their stiffest challenge. Yeah, Lewis and the Ravens were number one in the league when the Jaguars stopped them cold last season, but the Broncos' reputation for rushing success dates back to 1995 and now they have the new hot back in the league, diminutive Quentin Griffin.
The Broncos' penchant for running the ball is captivating. They trade Clinton Portis for Champ Bailey, and they get the cornerback they need for a running back they can replace.
Who haven't they replaced? Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson and now Portis have all been eased out with a minimum of setback. They lost Gary in free agency to Buffalo, who took one look at what they signed and then traded him to Detroit. Has anyone heard of him since?
It's about the system in Denver? You get the feeling anybody could gain a thousand yards in the Denver system. Maybe anybody could.
But now the Broncos face a Jaguars defense that also boasts of a system. Remember, the Jaguars soared to number two in the run-defense rankings last year with largely the same personnel that finished 25th in the league in 2002.
When Jack Del Rio became head coach last season, he promised "We WILL stop the run," and the Jaguars did. How did they do it? With a system Del Rio brought with him from Carolina and Baltimore that stresses "gap integrity," which is another way of saying everyone has to do their job.
All right, so which system is better? The Broncos' system for running the ball, or the Jaguars' system for stopping the run?
That's Sunday's subplot. Good stuff.
Now, here's 10 things the Jaguars have to do to beat the Broncos.
1. Stop the run—You probably already figured this would be number one. It's what Denver does; run the ball. If you don't stop it, they won't stop doing it. Got it?
2. Run the ball—The Jaguars have a strong running game of their own, and if there's a weakness on the Broncos, it's their run-defense.
3. Give it to Fred—After a preseason of inactivity, Taylor wasn't ready to carry the load in the season-opener. He better be ready to shoulder the burden this Sunday because against playoff-caliber competition, this team will only go as far as Taylor takes it.
4. No turnovers—This is high on every team's list, but it's especially so for the Jaguars, who are struggling to score points and must avoid scoring points for their opponents.
5. Make 'em play your game—That means "ugly" football; low-scoring, defensive, opportunistic. Keep it close then make the big play when the game is on the line. That's how this team will have to win until its offense is ready to roll.
6. Press your advantage—Let's see, we have a team coming out of cool, dry, light air and into the soggy, steamy sauna bath that is Florida in hurricane season. OK, so take the tempo up a notch.
7. Rush the passer—Jake Plummer has always been prone to making mistakes. He's not a throw-the-ball-away kind of quarterback. Plummer will force the ball, but only if he's pressured. He must be pressured.
8. Win special teams—It's a major part of the Jaguars' formula for winning. Win the battle of field position. Make the Broncos play with a long field. And convert field goal attempts.
9. Take a look ahead—That's right, just for a moment look at the schedule and take careful notice of the next game: at Tennessee. Use it as motivation. What could be better than taking 2-0 to Tennessee?
10. Help Byron—Leftwich is a quarterback under siege from the fans, and his teammates have to be especially supportive in countering any dissent their quarterback might experience in his home stadium.