Pre-snap read: Ravens-Jaguars

October 24, 2011|By Matt Vensel

We have had to wait an extra day for our Ravens fix, but knowing that they would be playing on "Monday Night Football" made Monday a little more tolerable. The national TV audience probably won't be as fired up for this lopsided matchup, but the 4-1 Ravens say the 1-5 Jacksonville Jaguars shouldn't be taken lightly.

The Jaguars have Maurice Jones-Drew, one of the NFL’s best backs, and Blaine Gabbert, a 2011 first-round pick. But given how the Ravens love to show off their swagger in these showcase games, a letdown is unlikely.   

Here are five storylines to watch as the Ravens look to handle their business again on Monday night:

1. Who will write a legacy? Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said last week that "whatever opportunity you want to leave, whatever legacy you want to leave, these are the nights you leave it.” I thought you left them in the playoffs, but I understand what the legendary linebacker is getting at: Players get really fired up for these games, including the ones who play for the Jaguars. Someone will step up in the spotlight like Josh Wilson did against the Texans last season and other Ravens have in the past. So who will it be? My money -- it’s not much; I’m a journalist -- is on Ray Rice, who wants to be known as the NFL’s best running back.

2. The return of Jimmy Smith: Given that he fully participated in practice this weekend and is feeling good, it looks like Smith will return to the lineup after injuring his ankle in Week 1. It will ultimately be coach John Harbaugh’s call. “You want to get a young guy out there playing,” Harbaugh said this week, another hint that Smith will suit up. He probably won’t start, but keep an eye on the rookie if and when he hits the field.

3. Heads up, Blaine Gabbert: The rookie quarterback out of Missouri has fared OK in his first few games, but he hasn’t earned a victory yet. Beating the Ravens on “Monday Night Football” would be a memorable way to finally get one, wouldn’t it? But expect the suffocating Ravens defense to have something to say about that. In the John Harbaugh era, the Ravens are 6-0 against first- or second-year starting quarterbacks.

4. Code Red inside the 20: The good news for the Ravens is that kicker Billy Cundiff is pretty much automatic when the Ravens get inside the 20-yard line. The bad news is that we know this because the Ravens are among the league’s bottom-feeders in touchdown percentage (36.8) inside the red zone. Maybe they would fare better if they utilized Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta more and kept Haloti Ngata out of the goal-line package.

5. The "rolling ball of butcher knives”: With due respect to Rice and Adrian Peterson, Jaguars back Maurice Jones-Drew may be the most complete back in the NFL. He ranks third in the NFL with 572 rushing yards. He can catch the ball out of the backfield (though he isn’t quite the pass-catcher that Rice is). He is a punishing blocker. And he was an excellent returner at UCLA. As Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano put it, Jones-Drew is like a “rolling ball of butcher knives.” Said Pagano, “He’s scary. He runs over linebackers, he knocks guys out, he puts people to sleep.” If anyone can carry the Jaguars to a win on Monday night, it’s this guy.

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