JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser takes a final look at the week around the Jaguars as they prepare to play the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York, Sunday
The Jaguars' defense faces a tough physical challenge Sunday.
That's because the Buffalo Bills are the best running team in the NFL, and running back LeSean McCoy and quarterback Tyrod Taylor are capable of scoring from anywhere, any time.
They're fast, elusive and tricky to tackle, but as difficult a matchup as the Bills physically, the most significant strain Buffalo places on a defense may be mental.
"Right now, there is not an NFL team that does exactly what they do," middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said as the Jaguars (2-8) prepared to play the Bills (5-5) Sunday at 1 p.m.
Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash said playing the Bills "is almost facing the look college guys give you," and indeed the Bills' offense' emphasis on the run is comparatively unique in NFL circles.
Taylor has averaged just over six carries a game this season, but he is a constant threat for whom defenses must account on every play. He has averaged 6.4 yards a carry this season. McCoy in his eighth NFL season remains one of the NFL's fastest, most elusive runners. He averages 5.3 yards per carry and has rushed for seven touchdowns this season.
"Both of those players are dynamic in space and they do a nice job schematically to get them in space," Wash said. "It's a definite challenge for us and tackling is going to be big."
The Bills not only lead the NFL in rushing, they entered Week 12 leading the NFL with 49 runs of 10 yards or more.
"What makes it even more of a challenge is it's hard to get a good look in practice," Posluszny said. "Say we want a play-action where it's the threat of a quarterback run but it's a play-action pass. Do we have [backup quarterback] Chad Henne do it or [former college quarterback/NFL running back] Denard Robinson do it? It's tough to get the proper looks you want, because teams aren't trained in that type of offense.
"Zone-read and option football – you have to be very disciplined and every guy has to be accounted for. If you're off a half of a fit, LeSean McCoy is going to take it the distance. The fact that they're able to do that makes it very difficult and they do it at so many different points."
The Jaguars will be without a few recent high-profile veterans Sunday.
Defensive end Jared Odrick (shoulder) and tight end Julius Thomas (back) were declared inactive Friday, as were linebacker Dan Skuta (back) and defensive end Chris Smith (eye).
Odrick's absence means Tyson Alualu will start for the fifth time this season at strong-side end, while Skuta's absence means rookie Myles Jack will get a second consecutive opportunity to play the entire game at the Otto position. Skuta and Jack had been sharing repetitions until last week.
Wide receivers Arrelious Benn and Aaron Colvin, who both worked limited in the concussion protocol this week, are listed as questionable entering the weekend. Defensive tackle Abry Jones (ankle) and running back T.J. Yeldon (ankle) are also listed as questionable, but Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley on Friday said the "arrow" was up on both Jones and Yeldon.
Quarterback Blake Bortles (shoulder), defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. (shoulder), wide receiver Bryan Walters (concussion) and left tackle Kelvin Beachum (knee) all are expected to play Sunday.
BIG LOSS ON THE LINE
The Jaguars have remained relatively healthy this season. That has started to change in recent weeks, particularly at the tight end position. With Thomas out Sunday and veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis being placed on injured reserve Tuesday with a calf injury, Ben Koyack and Neal Sterling enter the weekend as the Jaguars' lone available tight ends. Lewis had 18 receptions for 153 yards and a touchdown this season, but his ability as a run-blocker will be missed. That's particularly true given the emphasis on the running game since Nathaniel Hackett took over as offensive coordinator three weeks ago. "The things he's able to do, we count on him a lot – definitely in blocking and protection," Bortles said this week. "I think he's by far the best blocking tight end in the NFL, so when you lose a guy that everybody feels is that good at what he does, as well as catching balls and screens; he's been very effective. I think that's a loss that hurts."
"Marqise continues to show that he's an overall really good receiver. I think at first it was that he was kind of a speedy guy, then it was, 'Okay, maybe he's a specialty guy where you can give [end] arounds and reverses to and jet sweeps and all that.' Now, you're getting the chance to see his wide receiver ability and what he can do down the field with route running and his ability to go up and get the ball and the ability to track balls and go make plays. He really can do it all."
--Bortles on wide receiver Marqise Lee