Taylor's return has Jags' offense roaring again

Back from leg injury, running back pitches in with 2 100-yard games

November 11, 1999|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

The Jacksonville Jaguars had scored under 20 points for three consecutive games. Critics said the offense had become too conservative with coach Tom Coughlin calling the plays instead of last season's coordinator, Chris Palmer, now coach of the Cleveland Browns.

Coughlin's answer to his critics was that he was running the same offense as last season.

And now that running back Fred Taylor is back in the lineup, people are starting to believe him.

Taylor had five carries in those three games after suffering a hamstring injury. With Taylor healthy the past two games, the offense has racked up 71 points while Taylor has rushed for back-to-back 100-yard games.

Now, the once-conservative offense looks as explosive as ever, granted the past two performances came against Cincinnati and Atlanta, teams with a combined two wins.

"Fred Taylor gives us the big play," Coughlin said. "He gives us the chance to turn a 1-yard run into a 75-yard run. A second-and-25 into a first down. He's just one of those type of players that has the ability, power, size and speed to make you miss."

Taylor originally hurt his hamstring in the second game of the season against Carolina. He came back two weeks later against Pittsburgh but strained it again after five carries. He returned for good two weeks ago at Cincinnati, where he rushed for 128 yards.

"Quite frankly he's just working his way back in now," Coughlin said. "He's not anywhere near where I would think he would be. Having him back has really giving us much more of an opportunity to keep the balance that we want to keep and to go back to the offense that we prepared during the off-season."

To back up what Coughlin is saying, the Jaguars have scored 41, 41 and 30 points in the games Taylor has started and not left early because of injury.

Not that backup James Stewart didn't do an adequate job in Taylor's absence. Stewart leads the team in rushing yards (507) and touchdowns (7). He was the starter last year until he went down with a knee injury in the third game of the season against the Ravens.

Taylor ended up rushing for 128 yards in that game and has been the starter ever since. In the second game later in the season against the Ravens, Taylor rushed for 87 and caught a 78-yard touchdown pass from Mark Brunell.

He will go against a Ravens defensive unit playing better than it was then. The Ravens' defense is ranked No. 2 in the league behind the Jaguars.

"I'll watch a little more game film and study the opponent that much harder," Taylor said. "I'll just go out and play. I'm not scared of any defense. They are very talented, though. But you can't be afraid. You just go out and play."

The Ravens have not allowed a 100-yard rushing performance this season, but face one of the biggest threats to that streak. Defensive tackle Larry Webster said the defense has faced good runners, including Eddie George, Marshall Faulk and Jerome Bettis, but none with quite the combination of speed and power that Taylor possesses.

"You have to wrap him up behind the line of scrimmage," defensive tackle Lional Dalton said. "We are going to try and keep him between the tackles. Ray [Lewis] and Jamie [Sharper] are good at filling holes. We'll try and keep him with no more than two or three yards a gain and away from our defensive backs."

Taylor rushed for 1,223 yards last season with six 100-yard games. He was the Jaguars' first pick in the 1998 draft out of Florida, where he had some off-the-field problems. Taylor was suspended twice in his four seasons at Florida, for possessing a stolen backpack and taking part in an incident where pizzas were charged to a stolen credit card.

He had a breakout, incident-free senior year, rushing for 1,292 yards, and was the ninth overall pick in the draft. He has since become one of the most explosive backs in the NFL.

That is not something the 6-foot-1, 229-pound Taylor is particularly comfortable with. He won't like getting mentioned in the same breath as Terrell Davis, George and Bettis until he has some more seasons like last year's.

Taylor won't say that the Jaguars' problems on offense earlier were because he was out, or that the offense is different with Coughlin calling the plays this season.

Instead he said the team is executing better and has stepped down a notch in competition the last two weeks.

"It hasn't been any different since I've been back," Taylor said. "We just haven't played as high a caliber teams as we did before. We weren't playing as solid football. Guys were making mistakes here and there."

Which could be the reason Coughlin scaled back the offense, prompting critics to call him too conservative.

"I think I know this team better than anybody, and I know what is necessary for us to win," Coughlin said. "Not a whole lot has changed. It has always been our offense. It is the offense that I brought here. The scheme, the playbook has always been our book.

"Our approach, because we do have the outstanding running backs, is to be balanced. I know Fred Taylor is an outstanding running back, and one of the things for us to be successful is to have him healthy."

Jags leave mark

Jacksonville team and individual records against the Ravens:

Most points, game: 45, on 11/1/98 at Baltimore

Most touchdowns, game: 6, on 11/1/98 at Baltimore

Most extra points: 6, on 11/1/98 at Baltimore

Most points in second quarter: 28, on 11/1/98 at Baltimore

Highest completion rate: Rob Johnson, 20-for-24, 83.3 percent, on 8/31/97 at Baltimore

Longest pass completions: 78 yards (TD), Mark Brunell to Fred Taylor, 11/1/98 at Baltimore

Most receiving touchdowns, game: Jimmy Smith is tied with seven other at two. He had two against Ravens on 8/31/97 in Baltimore.

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Jacksonville Jaguars

Site: ALLTEL Stadium, Jacksonville, Fla.

When: Sunday, 4: 05 p.m. TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Jaguars by 13

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