A pair of underwhelming teams will square off in Baltimore on Sunday as the Ravens will host the Jacksonville Jaguars.
While both teams are 2-6, Jacksonville is still in the thick of things in the lowly AFC South, just 1 1/2 games behind Indianapolis. A loss to Baltimore would surely put the Jaguars behind the 8-ball, but if their recent performances against Buffalo and the New York Jets are any indication, this is an improving team with a legitimate shot at leaving Baltimore with a victory.
Stuck in the middle of a disappointing season, the Ravens are clinging to the hope of running the table and squeaking into the postseason. The challenges on offense won’t get any easier with the loss of their biggest threat in Steve Smith Sr. to a torn Achilles. The bye week comes at a perfect time for Baltimore, which has won 11 of its last 13 games after the week off.
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Here are three keys to the game for both the Jaguars and Ravens.
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1. Make Forsett a forgotten man
Last week, the Jaguars run defense stepped up in a big way, holding Jets running back Chris Ivory to 26 yards on 23 carries. This week, they’ll need another strong performance against Baltimore’s Justin Forsett, who is averaging 4.2 yards per carry. Jacksonville has the NFL’s seventh-best run defense. If the Jaguars can take away the run, it will force the Ravens to rely on a passing attack that’s already without leading receiver Steve Smith, who is out for the year.
2. Spread the ball around
The Jaguars boast a pair of emerging stars in second-year receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, both of whom are on pace for more than 1,000 yards receiving. Baltimore has the NFL’s fourth-worst pass defense, giving up an average of 283.9 yards per game. The Jaguars are typically a pass-happy offense, and it should pay off this week. Sunday’s game might also provide a chance to get tight end Julius Thomas involved in the offense. The Pro Bowl tight end has yet to make an impact after signing as a free agent in March.
3. Cut down on the costly errors
Blake Bortles has made noticeable strides in his second season and threw for a career-high 381 yards last week, but the turnovers caused by poor decisions continue to be a problem. His fourth-quarter fumble against the Jets cost the Jaguars an opportunity to take the lead. Jacksonville has plenty of close losses this season, but if the team hopes to turn those into victories, they need better execution from Bortles, particularly late in games.
1. Get off the field on third down
The Ravens have allowed opponents to convert on 48 percent of third downs, the worst rate in the league. Their inability to get off the field is a big reason why they are 2-6. The secondary needs to do a better job in coverage and the pass rush needs to force the ball out of Bortles’ hands faster.
2. Will the real Jimmy Smith please stand up?
Smith is the 92nd-ranked corner in the league, according to Pro Football Focus, and he even drew criticism from defensive coordinator Dean Pees for his tentative play prior to the Week 8 win over San Diego. If Smith isn’t more aggressive against Robinson and Hurns, it could be another long day for the secondary.
3. Give it to Givens
Receiver Chris Givens, acquired last month from the Rams, has flashed some playmaking ability in a limited role, leading to more snaps as he learns the offense. With a bye week to get more comfortable and top wideout Steve Smith lost for the season, the Ravens need to feed Givens more to have any semblance of a passing game.