Lost in all the drama surrounding Maurice Jones-Drew is how solid the Jacksonville Jaguars have looked without him thus far. Granted, preseason football is preseason football – but given the o-line woes that Blaine Gabbert has had to deal with up to this point, the offense's play has been really, really impressive.
Today, Gabbert and his Jags will take on a Baltimore Ravens defense that got absolutely embarrassed by the Detroit Lions last week. In theory, Jacksonville doesn’t have anyone to test the Baltimore secondary a la Calvin Johnson and Julio Jones, so, in theory, the Ravens should do okay. But given how its played through two games, nothing about the Ravens D would really shock us at this point.
With all that in mind, here are three things from each team to keep an eye on during tonight’s game:
1. How does the running game look? With MJD out for the foreseeable future, Jacksonville is going to have to count on Rashad Jennings and Montell Owens to carry most of the load. Jennings has proven himself to be a more than capable backup so far (62 yards on 11 carries last week), but, this is preseason. It’ll be interesting to see if he can maintain his effectiveness tonight and beyond.
2. Can Blaine Gabbert continue this great run? Gabbert was hated on early and often by Jaguars fans last year, and for good reason. Thus far in the preseason, though, he looks like a whole different quarterback. He’s taking care of the ball, he’s making good reads, he’s finding open targets and, most importantly, he hasn’t recorded a single interception. Oh, and did I mention he’s doing all this without having the team’s biggest offensive weapon by his side? Can he keep this run going? We’ll find out soon enough.
3. Can the offensive line protect their quarterback? Eugene Monroe and Will Rackley aren’t going to play tonight, so it’ll be interesting to see if the Ravens can do what the New Orleans Saints couldn’t last week – actually take advantage of the giant holes in Gabbert’s protection.
1. Who will be the No. 2 running back? This is going to be a big year for Joe Flacco, but he’s going to need a lot of support from the ground game. The Ravens have Ray Rice, obviously, but you can’t just count on one guy in today’s NFL. Bernard Price could step up and fill that hole for Baltimore, but he’s going to need to prove himself during the remaining preseason outings.
2. How will Courtney Upshaw look? A lot of people had Upshaw pegged as something of a steal after he fell all the way to Baltimore in this year’s draft, but a shoulder injury robbed him of some time in training camp, and that in turn clearly stunted his development. Last week, versus the Detroit Lions, he didn’t look right at all. It’ll be interesting to see if that was an aberration, or if it was an indication of where he’s going to be at to start the season.
3. Will the defense redeem itself? After getting absolutely lit up by Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson (111 yards, TD) last week, it’ll be interesting to see if the Baltimore defense comes out with some extra enthusiasm tonight. Jacksonville doesn’t have a legitimate aerial attack, obviously, so this could be a chance for the Ravens' secondary to get their confidence levels back where they should be.