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NFL Preview - Jacksonville (3-3) at Kansas City (3-2)
By Scott Garbarini, Associate NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - A lopsided home loss in their last outing did more than just land a blow to the Jacksonville Jaguars' psyche; it left the team in a rather precarious spot at the game's most important position.
With their top two quarterbacks likely unavailable, the wounded Jaguars will try to rebound from this past Monday's setback in a Week 7 clash against a Kansas City Chiefs squad that returns to Arrowhead Stadium seeking to bounce back from a disappointing result of its own.
Jacksonville's first primetime appearance in nearly two years turned to be an utter disaster. Not only were the Jaguars dealt their worst home loss in franchise history in a sobering 30-3 defeat to division-rival Tennessee, but starting signal-caller David Garrard was knocked out of the game in the second quarter with a concussion. Backup Trent Edwards took over for the remainder of the night, but sustained a sprain of his right thumb.
Garrard is almost certain to be ruled out for this week's matchup, while Edwards' status is highly in question as well. That means Jacksonville will likely be pinning its hopes on well-traveled veteran Todd Bouman, who hasn't attempted a regular-season pass in nearly five years, with fellow journeyman Patrick Ramsey serving as the backup.
Neither player was even with the Jaguars during Monday's rout. Bouman, who spent some time on Jacksonville's roster earlier this season before being released shortly after the team claimed Edwards off waivers from Buffalo in late September, was re-signed on Wednesday. Ramsey, cut loose by New Orleans in the preseason, was brought in off the street the same day.
Bouman has made six starts in a nomadic 13-year career with six teams, with his most recent game action coming with the Saints on Jan. 1, 2006. The now 38-year-old threw for 265 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions in a 27-13 loss at Tampa Bay.
Jacksonville had won two in a row prior to Monday's debacle and entered last week's play locked in a four-way tie for first place in the tightly-bunched AFC South. However, with Houston and Indianapolis each winning their Week 6 tilts, the Jaguars now stand a game back of the Titans, Texans and Colts in the standings.
The Chiefs remain atop their division at the moment, despite losing back-to- back games following a surprising 3-0 start to the season. Both defeats came against AFC South inhabitants, and the club was either tied or leading in the fourth quarter in each of those bouts.
Kansas City surrendered 21 fourth-quarter points to suffer a stinging 35-31 loss at Houston this past weekend, with the Texans scoring the go-ahead touchdown with just 28 seconds left to play with the aid of a controversial pass interference call on Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers. That outcome followed a 19-9 verdict at Indianapolis in which the defending AFC champion Colts scored 10 unanswered points in the final period to prevail.
The Chiefs have come out on top in each of their first two home games of 2010, however, and can match their entire win total of last season with a victory on Sunday.
Jacksonville owns a 6-2 lead in its all-time series with Kansas City and has prevailed in two of its three lifetime trips to Arrowhead Stadium, the most recent being a 17-7 triumph in 2007. The Jaguars also topped the Chiefs by a 24-21 count in Jacksonville during Week 9 of last season. Kansas City's last win over the Jaguars took place at home in the final game of the 2006 regular season.
Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio is 3-1 against the Chiefs, for whom he played as a linebacker from 1987-88, while Kansas City's Todd Haley is 0-1 versus both Jacksonville and Del Rio.
WHEN THE JAGUARS HAVE THE BALL
With the Jaguars in an obvious pickle at quarterback, there's little doubt that the team will try to get the ball in the hands of standout running back Maurice Jones-Drew (463 rushing yards, 12 receptions, 2 TD) as much as possible come Sunday. That's usually the plan anyway, and opponents have taken notice, as the 2009 All-Pro selection is averaging a modest 3.9 yards per rush for the season and has surpassed 100 yards just once through the first six weeks. Even with Garrard running the show, Jacksonville ranked only 26th in the league in both passing offense (183.0 ypg) and quarterback rating (77.6), so it's conceivable that Bouman could actually be a upgrade if he's able to shake off the extensive rust. Diminutive sophomore Mike Thomas (29 receptions) has been the Jags' most reliable receiver and tight end Marcedes Lewis (20 receptions) is a force within the red zone, ranking second among players at his position with five touchdown catches in addition to being an accomplished blocker and a key part of the NFL's sixth-best rushing offense (135.0 ypg).
The Chiefs' focus will be on stopping the run and rendering the Jaguars a one- trick pony, and they just might have the horses to do it. Kansas City comes in ranked fifth overall in rushing defense (90.8 ypg) and is holding the enemy to a respectable 3.7 yards per carry. The charge has been led by two former first-round picks that have finally begun to live up to their advance billing, with inside linebacker Derrick Johnson (43 tackles) emerging as a rangy playmaker who's been an asset as both a stopper and in coverage and third-year end Glenn Dorsey (20 tackles, 0.5 sacks) anchoring the team's 3-4 look up front. The Chiefs also have a developing star at cornerback in Flowers (21 tackles, 2 INT, 8 PD) and a top-notch pass rusher in outside linebacker Tamba Hali (14 tackles, 4.5 sacks), who's accounted for nearly half of the unit's total of 10 sacks. Kansas City can be thrown on, as the Texans proved in last week's comeback effort, and needs to make more big plays, having recorded a meager five takeaways thus far.
WHEN THE CHIEFS HAVE THE BALL
While the Chiefs don't force many turnovers on defense, they're one of the best at holding on to the ball when they've got it. Kansas City has just four giveaways during its 3-2 start and has been able to mix in quarterback Matt Cassel's sound decision making with a devastating running game that features arguably the league's best running back tandem in Jamaal Charles (418 rushing yards, 1 TD, 12 receptions) and veteran Thomas Jones (336 rushing yards, 2 TD, 3 receptions). The pair combined for 193 yards and a touchdown on 35 carries last week, with Jones notching his first 100-yard game of the year. The 32- year-old is the interior bruiser of Kansas City's top-rated rushing offense (164.6 ypg), with the fleet-footed Charles a dangerous home-run hitter who's averaging over seven yards per touch. Cassel (851 passing yards, 7 TD, 3 INT) has been unspectacular but efficient at the controls of coordinator Charlie Weis' attack, though the ex-Patriot is coming off a banner game against the defensively-challenged Texans in which he hit on 20-of-29 throws for 201 yards and three scores, two of which landed in the inconsistent hands of wide receiver Dwayne Bowe (15 receptions, 3 TD). Rookie tight end Tony Moeaki (18 receptions, 2 TD) has become Cassel's preferred target for much of the year, though the third-round find's primary role is still providing holes for Jones and Charles as a blocker.
One week after shredding the league's worst pass defense, Cassel will have a chance to bomb away at a Jacksonville secondary that's surrendering an unhealthy 263.7 yards per game (27th overall) through the air and has permitted 14 passing touchdowns. Opponents have routinely been able to get deep on the Jags, who've allowed a league-high 33 pass plays of 20 yards or more, and that's a clear indictment of safeties Courtney Greene (20 tackles, 1 INT) and Gerald Alexander (16 tackles, 3 PD). The pass rush, headed up by veteran end Aaron Kampman (16 tackles, 3 sacks), has been spotty as well, while the troubled group was gashed for 153 rushing yards by the Titans in Monday's forgettable loss. Linebackers Kirk Morrison (36 tackles) and Daryl Smith (33 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) combined for 13 tackles against Tennessee, and the run-heavy Chiefs figure to keep the duo busy once again on Sunday. For the year, Jacksonville is tied for 19th in the league in rushing yards allowed (111.2 ypg).
If Charles and Jones' numbers were immersed into one player, the Chiefs would have a fantasy superstar in their hands. As it stands, the timeshare makes both backs good but not great starting options, as both usually get enough touches to justify a spot in lineups. Bowe is coming off a monster game and could be in line for another one against the Jaguars' shaky pass defense, but Kansas City still doesn't throw it enough to make Cassel a recommended play. No other Chiefs receiver merits strong consideration, but give the defense a look in a probable matchup with a third-string quarterback who was out of the league just last week. The Jaguars' offensive situation appears to be a mess right now, therefore steer clear of any Jacksonville player other than Jones- Drew and possibly kicker Josh Scobee, who's 11-for-11 on field goals this year and has made nine from beyond 40 yards.
The combination of a short week, a trip to a notoriously tough venue and the likelihood of being forced to start a quarterback who hasn't seen the field in nearly five years all seems to add up for a gloomy Sunday for a Jaguars team that would have trouble besting the vastly-improved Chiefs even at full strength. While Kansas City isn't equipped to blow opponents out, it should be able to come away with a sound and methodical victory by running the football with authority and taking advantage of Jacksonville's limitations across both lines of scrimmage.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Chiefs 24, Jaguars 10
10/21 18:32:07 ET