What to Watch: Jacksonville
Saturday, October 17, 2009

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

What to Watch: Jacksonville

1. Slow Mo Jo

Few running backs in the league pack more of a punch than Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew. One week after facing Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson, the Rams get no recourse this week in facing Jones-Drew.

The diminutive back runs with a superior combination of power and speed and he also has the ability to make plays in the passing game.

“He’s a great back with a low center of gravity and he’s a guy you need to bring the whole defense to tackle,” Rams defensive end Chris Long said. “We just played one like that so it was good practice. I think we will be up to the task. We just have to tackle low and tackle well.”

Jones-Drew is 10th in the league in yards from scrimmage though he hasn’t had as many touches as he’d like in recent weeks. Still, he’s excellent around the goal line and has scored five touchdowns, tied for fourth in the NFL.

As usual, it always starts with stopping the run for the Rams, an area in which the defense has greatly improved this season. To slow Jacksonville’s offense, slowing Jones-Drew is the first priority.

“We face a lot of great backs,” defensive end Leonard Little said. “He adds on to what we already saw so we have got to be disciplined in our run game and not get out of our gaps and stuff like that.”

2. Getting Garrard

Much like they have faced no shortage of talented backs, the Rams have also seen plenty of mobile quarterbacks with the ability to make plays with their legs as much as their arm.

Guys like Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre and Matt Hasselbeck have presented problems in their ability to make something happen out of the pocket when the play breaks down.

Jacksonville brings a player of similar caliber to the table in the form of David Garrard.

“He has been doing it there for a long time and they have a lot of confidence in him,” Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “They went with him a couple years ago. Dirk Koetter who is the offensive coordinator down there is outstanding and he is doing the things that fit Garrard’s capabilities as an athlete. He is tough; one tough cookie to bring down. He is real strong in the lower body. You see a lot of guys bounce off of him when he is in a sack situation. He extends the down like some other guys we have played and that makes it tough.”

This season, Garrard has thrown for 1,129 yards and five touchdowns with a rating of 86.6. Perhaps more important, he’s thrown just one interception and is one of the best in the league at taking care of the ball and managing the game.

Containing Garrard in the pocket is imperative and when the Rams get opportunities to get sacks (Jacksonville is young at tackle and has allowed 12 sacks this year), they must capitalize.

3. A Not so Big Game

There will be a lot of emotions on both sidelines Sunday when the Rams see old friend Torry Holt in Jacksonville’s black and teal for the first time.

Holt played 10 seasons in St. Louis and was one of the primary stars of the Greatest Show on Turf era, posting numbers that place him among the great Rams of all time.

Now, he’s serving as the leader and mentor to a young group of wideouts in Jacksonville and showing them the way.

“Torry’s been a great addition for us,” Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio said. “He’s a consummate pro. He’s obviously had a storied career. Had a lot of great catches and great moments there in St. Louis and has just been an outstanding to our football team. He’s a real pro at everything he does.”

And oh by the way, Holt can still play. He leads the team 22 catches for 306 yards. Although he has yet to reach pay dirt as a member of the Jaguars, Holt still runs excellent routes and catches most everything thrown his way.

Holt needs just 34 yards to become the third-fastest player in league history to reach 13,000 for his career. It’s up to familiar faces like Rams cornerback Ron Bartell to try to limit Holt’s productivity.

4. Turnover Turnaround

Nothing has plagued the Rams more this season than a penchant for giving the ball away. That was never more evident than last week against Minnesota when the Rams turned it over four times, including three inside the Vikings’ 10-yard line.

As it stands, the Rams 31st in the league in turnover differential at minus-7 with three interceptions and nine fumbles.
It’s not really cliché to say that the correlation of turning the ball over and results is strong.

“We can’t turn the ball over, and that’s been our Achilles heel now,” Spagnuolo said. “If we eliminate some of those things…you know when the ball slips out of you’re hand, when you miss a routine handoff, those are tough things to explain. But we’ll hone in on them, get better at them, and move on.”

The Jaguars have nine takeaways on the year and have been pretty solid in terms of not turning it over themselves.

It might be obvious but it doesn’t make it less true. For the Rams to have success against Jacksonville, they must do a better job of securing the ball.

5. To the Air

Marc Bulger will be back at quarterback for the Rams this week after he made a brief appearance in place of a shaken up Boller last week against Minnesota.

Bulger is almost fully recovered from a bruised right rotator cuff in his shoulder and showed signs of being healthy against the Vikings when he completed all seven of his attempts and threw a touchdown on his way to a perfect quarterback rating.

“Last week doesn’t impact this week and next week won’t impact the following week,” Bulger said. “What’s done is done.”

While that is probably true, it also doesn’t take away from the fact that the Rams have picked up a little offensive momentum in the past week or two. This week is the first time Bulger has had the full week of repetitions with the first team offense since injuring the shoulder and that should only help in terms of timing.

In addition, the offensive line had its best effort of the season against Minnesota and should provide more stability up front on Bulger’s return.

Jacksonville’s pass defense ranks 30th in the NFL, allowing 273 yards per game so there could be come opportunities for Bulger and Co. to get the passing game going.