Record wise, it would seem the Detroit Lions have finally caught a break on the schedule. After playing tough teams for weeks, now, the Lions head to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars,who are banged up, desperate and disconsolate at 1-6. Yet, with two notable exceptions (a 41-3 loss to the Chicago Bears and a 27-7 loss to Houston) the Jaguars have been in every game. Despite their shortcomings and injuries, the Lions still must prepare for a road fight.
Here's what Detroit has to do in order to pull their record back to an even .500 amongst plenty of empty seats.
Jaguars Offensive Difference Maker: Cecil Shorts, WR. Obviously, under normal circumstances, Maurice Jones-Drew would be the guy to watch when Jacksonville had the ball, but a foot injury has slowed the physical running back down. Expect him to miss another week, giving Detroit's front seven a bit of a rest. Shorts, however, has come into his own this year as a receiver. He's already got three touchdowns in 2012, and has become a solid target for Blaine Gabbert. Jacksonville will have to try and get either him or Justin Blackmon free against a dinged up Lions' secondary and hope for the best. If they're able to get into a shootout with the Lions, a major reason will have to be the play of the receivers
Jaguars Defensive Difference Maker: Russell Allen, LB. Allen has been a tackling machine in 2012, and is perhaps Jacksonville's best defender on a depleted defense. He's your typical, steady eddy linebacker, designed to stuff the run and cut off short passes over the middle and to the edges. Don't expect his stats to be flashy, but if the Lions try to establish the run against one of the worst run defenses in the league, Allen will be around to clean up the mess.
Jaguars Major Problem: Defense and passing. As a whole, Jacksonville has plenty of problems, namely untimely turnovers, not scoring enough and injuries. Most crushing, however, has been their defense's inability to contain nearly anybody on the schedule. They rank 20th in total defense, and have given up at least 20 points to every team they've played this season with the exception of one. With a young quarterback that struggles to come from behind with the 32nd ranked areal offense in the league, that won't help you win many games. Such is the case with the young Jaguars. Their problems at large are best personified by the name of their offensive tackle Guy Whimper. If there's a more fitting player to play in Jacksonville, please notify me.
Jaguars Major Strength: Rushing. Until Jones-Drew went down, this could be identified as a major strength. Still, last week against Green Bay, Rashad Jennings rushed for 59 yards which was respectable on the road. Detroit has to be mindful of this, and not allow anybody to get going in the backfield. If they're able to contain the running game, it could become an ugly day for Gabbert and his receivers, regardless of how nicked up the Lions' secondary might be.
Biggest Intangible: Lazy environment against a bad team. The Lions need to come in with a businesslike mindset this week. That means they can't mess around against Jacksonville regardless of how bad the Jaguars are. Playing in EverBank Field can be compared to playing in a morgue. There's not a ton of noise, few fans and little going on in the stands as the game plays out. Detroit will have to manufacture their own emotion and fire for this one, and bury the Jaguars fast. They don't want to get into a close game late or look past Jacksonville. If they did, they might find themselves on the wrong end of a season depleting loss.
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