JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser takes a final look at the Jaguars entering the team's Week 3 matchup against the Baltimore Ravens at EverBank Field in Jacksonville Sunday
TEST TIME FOR GIPSON
Tashaun Gipson knows what to expect Sunday.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco will throw deep. He will do so early. He will do so often.
Flacco has done this throughout his career, and with Mike Wallace now playing for the Ravens, Gipson said he doesn't expect Flacco to change.
"He won't waver," Gipson said of Flacco. "He doesn't care who's back there. He's confident."
That confidence is what has made Flacco one of the NFL's best deep passers in nine seasons as the Ravens' starting quarterback. That confidence, plus the addition of Wallace – long one of the NFL's best deep receivers – is what makes Gipson such an important piece of the Jaguars' defense Sunday.
Gipson, 2014 Pro Bowl selection with the Cleveland Browns, signed with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent this past offseason. The signing was designed to give the Jaguars a sideline-to-sideline, ball-hawking free safety the defense has lacked in three previous seasons under Head Coach Gus Bradley.
Instead, Gipson has been tested infrequently in the first two games of the season. Defensive coordinator Todd Wash said this week that Gipson played well in Week 1 against Green Bay, but that Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers rarely targeted the deep middle of the field last Sunday in a 38-14 Chargers victory in San Diego.
"He didn't have a lot opportunities," Wash said of Gipson against the Chargers. "They were going outside more than anything."
Neither Wash nor Gipson expect that to be the case Sunday, and Wash told Gipson as much Wednesday as the team began preparing for Sunday.
"He is going to be in the middle of the field," Wash said. "We all know Flacco is going to take those shots."
Flacco, who missed the final 10 games of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, has completed 47 of 78 passes for 560 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions this season. All three touchdowns have gone to Wallace, including two in a 25-20 come-from-behind victory over the Cleveland Browns last week.
Wallace is averaging 18.9 yards per reception this season, and only DeSean Jackson and Demaryius Thomas have more receptions of 25 yards or more in the NFL since 2009 than Wallace's 65. Wallace also has 11 touchdown receptions of 50 or more yards in that span.
Will Wallace test Gipson Sunday? That remains to be seen, but Gipson said he knows pretty much for certain that Sunday won't pass without a lot more opportunities than he had in Weeks 1 and 2.
"I think this is going to be the first time this year I'll be tested down the middle," Gipson said.
How he fares will be a critical storyline for the defense Sunday.
The Jaguars' offensive line could have a decidedly new look Sunday.
With left tackle Kelvin Beachum (concussion) having been ruled out, look for Luke Joeckel to possibly move from left guard to left tackle. Joeckel started at left tackle the past two seasons before moving to left guard the first two weeks of this season.
Center Brandon Linder (knee sprain) was listed as questionable on the Friday injury report. If he can't play, look for Tyler Shatley to start at center with Chris Reed starting at left guard. Shatley (2014 undrafted free agent) and Reed (2015 undrafted free agent) both would be making their first NFL starts.
Other areas affected by injuries include strong-side defensive end, where Jared Odrick was listed as questionable with a triceps injury. If Odrick can't play, Tyson Alualu will start with Abry Jones backing him up.
Running back Chris Ivory could return after missing the first two games of the regular season with a general medical issue. If Ivory plays he likely will share carries with T.J. Yeldon.
The Ravens have rushed for 163 yards on 54 carries this season. That's an average of 3.0 yards per carry, but Wash believes that number is deceiving.
He also considers the Ravens running game a challenge the Jaguars must meet.
"It was concerning to me how many yards we gave up rushing," Wash said of the Chargers 150 yards rushing Sunday. "I told the defense, 'Nobody should run the football on us. We should be able to stop the run.' They had 63 yards rushing on three plays. That kind of crap can't happen. We're going to have a good challenge this week with Baltimore and the first priority is we have to knock the run out, to make them one-dimensional.
"Take three plays away we were damned good against the run, but you can't take those three plays away. We just have to take the challenge to the offensive line: 'It's me against you and I have to be able to win that battle.'''