Thursday Night Football Preview: Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Baltimore Ravens
Welcome to week three of the NFL preseason. We are getting closer and closer to a much anticipated opening day, but for now, we will cherish each game of football we are able to see, even if the games do not count.
Jacksonville goes on the road for their second straight week to face a tough Baltimore Ravens team who has high expectations for 2012. The Jaguars are also coming off of very solid wins against the reigning Super Bowl Champion New York Giants, as well as the New Orleans Saints.
Baltimore is coming off of a loss at home to the powerful Lions offense, after having no problems with Matt Ryan and Atlanta the week before.
Here are five key things to watch out for in this preseason showdown between the AFC North and AFC South.
1. Maurice Jones-Who?
Everybody is still talking about Maurice Jones-Drew, despite the fact that he has yet to practice or suit up for the Jaguars.
While he is protesting his “super low” 4.5M salary he will make in 2012, Rashad Jennings is busy rushing for 5.1 yards per carry in the preseason and making fantasy owners drool, almost hoping that MJD does not report to the team.
Granted Jones-Drew will be back soon like all other holdouts do before Week 1, it’s important to see what Jennings can offer as he has the ability to be a RB2 in fantasy formats if he gets any starting opportunities.
2. Courtney Upshaw Stepping Up
Unfortunately, Courtney Upshaw is not stepping up, but I expect him to this week in order to secure his job. Rumor has it that he is being outplayed by second year undrafted linebacker Albert McClellan, which is not what the first round selection in April’s draft had in mind.
Upshaw’s motor is intense and he has the skills to be a top notch pass rusher in the NFL, but so far he has struggled getting off of blocks and showing an inside move, which will hurt him against left tackles that know how to deal with speed rushers.
3. The Battle to Back Up Ray Rice
There’s no doubt that Ray Rice is one of the best rushers in the league, and while he has had very few injury concerns, it’s important to have a back to spell him and back him up just in case of injury.
One of my favorite prospects from the 2012 NFL Draft was Bernard Pierce out of Temple who is seemingly the favorite to backup Rice, but Anthony Allen, Damien Berry and Bobby Rainey all want to have their say.
As of now the true competition will come from Allen, but Damien Berry is a very underrated runner who can make plays out of the backfield, as he has shown catching seven passes for 71 yards so far in the preseason.
4. Gabbert to Blackmon
Jaguars fans have been asking for legit wide receivers to emerge for their beloved team since the departure of Jimmy Smith.
Enter Justin Blackmon who was recently signed to a deal and saw his first playing time in Week 2 after catching four passes for 48 yards and a touchdown.
Last years first round pick for Jacksonville in Blaine Gabbert has had a surprisingly solid preseason throwing for 174 yards on 26 attempts having three touchdowns and most importantly, not throwing interceptions.
Look for these two to start developing some chemistry so that 2012 can be an offensive surprise for the fans in Jacksonville.
5. Wide Receiver Depth
Both clubs really lack true play makers at wide receiver outside of their #1 guys. Justin Blackmon and Torrey Smith are the best receivers for each team, and after that the talent seems to take a severe drop.
Jacksonville has had production from former Browns castoff Brian Robiskie as well as Mike Thomas. However, guys like Cecil Shorts, Laurent Robins and Chastin West are expected to step up.
Unfortunately for the Ravens, their preseason leaders in receptions both come out of the backfield with the aforementioned Damien Berry as well as Bobby Rainey who each have seven receptions.
We know Ray Rice will catch 60-70 passes from Joe Flacco, but aside from Torrey Smith, the production from Baltimore receivers is slim to none, even with Anquan Boldin still starting. Bolding has shown that he may be out of gas, while Tommy Streeter, Deonte Thompson and Tandon Doss will make the best of their time on the field in order to earn a 3rd spot on the WR corps.
*photo credit – komu.com