1. Spread the field on early downs
Until last Sunday’s letdown against Pittsburgh, Jacksonville has been playing well against the run. The Jaguars’ front seven plays with discipline and excellent technique. Built in the mold of a Jack Del Rio defense, the Jaguars look to stop the run on early downs, and they play zone coverage on third down, looking to keep the big play contained.
The Ravens are a predominant run first team on first down. However, in this game, trying to establish the run on early downs might lead to more third-and-long conversions situations.
On the other hand, if the Ravens open up their sets, they might have the chance to catch Jacksonville in their base defense and create optimal mismatches.
Quarterback Joe Flacco seems much more comfortable operating from the gun. His release is quicker, and when he drops back from under center, he tends to be slow with his footwork and fails to climb the pocket quickly.
Against a Jacksonville defense that lacks a consistent pass-rush and doesn’t blitz a lot, Flacco should have the time to make plays.
2. Seam patterns
When the Ravens let safety Dawan Landry walk in free agency, they did so knowing that he could be beaten over-the-top. Landry now roams the backend for the Jaguars at the free safety spot. Given that Jacksonville will line up in a lot of Cover 2 shells, Landry is responsible for cutting off half the field.
If the Ravens spread their formations out, they should look to attack Landry and strong safety Dwight Lowery using their receivers. Specifically, seam routes that stretch the safeties vertically should be a big part of the game plan. And in certain situations, receiver Torrey Smith should run some inside posts and “9” routes right at Landry, testing his ability to turn and run. If Landry commits too far inside to cover the slot, the outside routes should open up.
3. Flex Ed Dickson
Dickson has been getting closer and closer to having a breakout performance. Monday Night Football might be the perfect stage for the second-year player to etch his name in lights.
Against Jimmy Graham, the Jaguars had a tough time matching up with the athletic pass-catcher when he flexed out. Graham scorched the Jacksonville defense, catching 10 passes for 132 yards and a score.
While Dickson is not having the season that Graham is having, he does have similar skills and the athleticism to take advantage of linebackers and safeties in coverage.
Dickson lined up wide quite often when he played at Oregon. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron should take a page from the Saints’ playbook and feature Dickson in space.
1. Take away the run on early downs
Without question, Maurice Jones-Drew (MJD) is the engine that powers Jacksonville’s offense. If he stalls, the Jaguars are hard-pressed to be a productive offense.
Jones-Drew has been able to finding running room despite playing in an offense that is trying to find its passing attack with rookie Blaine Gabbert at quarterback.
The Jacksonville line plays with power and drives defenders off the ball. In addition, Jones still has a quick burst and is shifty enough to make defenders miss in the hole.
Despite the success that Jones-Drew has had early in the season, the Baltimore front will have to corral him, especially on early downs.
MJD is at his best on inside runs. The front line and backers will need to fight through blocks and redirect Jones-Drew to the edges, where the defense has done a nice job all season of keeping contain.
It is especially crucial that MJD is not gaining significant yardage on first and second down. The goal of the defense should be to keep him contained to force Gabbert to throw on third down.
2. Delayed blitz
One of the best ways to frustrate a young QB is to bring late pressure in his face. Often times, rookie signal-callers are so worried about making sure they have their protection set up properly that they identify the pre-snap read, but fail to make the right adjustment post-snap.
The Ravens have gotten better at disguising their blitz, and over the years, linebacker Ray Lewis has developed into one of the top blitzers at his position. Lewis is even better when he attacks a split second or two after the offensive line declares its blocking assignments.
Against Gabbert, this could be the perfect chance for defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano to dial up a few delayed blitzes, showcasing Lewis and the other backers.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch
Marshall Yanda versus Tyson Alualu: When Jacksonville used a top-10 pick to draft Alualu, many draft experts were perplexed, calling the move “a reach.” Now in his second season, Alualu hardly looks like a reach. He is a quick and stout defender who can disrupt the pocket in a hurry. He is a better pass-rusher than he is a run defender. Yanda is entrenched at the right guard spot, and he’s been stellar as a run blocker. However, he’s had his lapses as a pass blocker, and he can’t afford any slipups against the emerging second-year defensive tackle.