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NFL Preview - Kansas City (1-6) at Jacksonville (3-4)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - It's not a total loss. But it's not far off.
Though the Jacksonville Jaguars at times have resembled the league's worst team through seven games of the 2009 NFL schedule, they nonetheless find themselves just two games shy of the existing wild-card lead in the AFC with half a season left to right the ship.
This week yields a golden opportunity.
Rather than the reigning Indianapolis juggernaut in their own division, or one of the conference's other powerhouses from Foxboro, Denver or Pittsburgh, the Jags are instead faced with a representative clearly bogged down on the other side of the spectrum - the one-win Kansas City Chiefs.
Then again, such a tonic proved useless last week.
Matched up against the previously winless Tennessee Titans and within 60 minutes of bettering the .500 mark, Jacksonville regressed into second-half ugliness on a road trip to Nashville, dropping a 30-13 decision that spoiled a record-setting day by mighty mite running back Maurice Jones-Drew.
The 5-foot-7, 208-pound touchdown machine bowled for a career-best 177 yards and became just the third player in league history to score on runs of 75 or more yards twice in the same game - joining Barry Sanders and Frank Gore in doing so.
Jones-Drew has scored 50 TDs in 53 career games, including nine on the ground in his last five.
And ominously for Chiefs fans, he aims for a third straight game with a score against Kansas City.
The UCLA product's workload was the source of discussion following the Tennessee loss, with coach Jack Del Rio saying that he'll be working with quarterback David Garrard to make sure fewer audibles are used on plays designed for Jones-Drew to get the ball.
"We took that privilege away or that ability away (from Garrard) and said, 'Look, just hand it to him and let him run the ball,'" Del Rio said. "He was getting 22 yards a carry. If we could have gotten him a few more carries, that would have been good for us. I like the times Maurice had the ball in his hands. I think he's an exciting player. We needed to have more times with the ball in our hands."
Meanwhile, the Chiefs are having some running back issues of their own.
Workhorse Larry Johnson will not play this week while serving out the second game of a two-week suspension from coach Todd Haley for conduct detrimental to the team.
According to reports, Johnson called Haley out in a Twitter post before using a pair of gay slurs on his Twitter profile, and, a day later, to a group of reporters.
The penalty is costing Johnson nearly $330,000 in salary.
The Chiefs were on a bye last week after losing, 37-7, against visiting San Diego in Week 7.
The organization is preaching unity in Johnson's absence, with a sign alongside the team's locker room reading: "Losers assemble in small groups and complain about the coaches and other players. Winners assemble as a team and find ways to win."
Historically, Kansas City is 12-8 following bye weeks.
Jacksonville holds a 5-2 lead in its all-time series with Kansas City, including a 17-7 road win when the teams last met, in 2007. The Chiefs won the previous meeting, claiming a 35-30 home victory to help propel them into the playoffs in 2006. The Jags were 22-16 winners when the clubs last met in Jacksonville, in 2004, and the Chiefs' only win in Jacksonville in their four trips there came in 2001.
Del Rio is 2-1 against the Chiefs, for whom he played in 1987-88, while the Chiefs' Haley will be meeting both Del Rio and Jacksonville for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE CHIEFS HAVE THE BALL
It's a homecoming of sorts for Haley, who graduated from the nearby University of North Florida. He again puts the reins in the hands of Matt Cassel, who's 7-3 in 10 career road starts and has completed 30-of-49 passes for two touchdowns and a 90.2 passer rating in two road games this season. With Johnson in exile, he'll turn largely to running back Jamaal Charles, who's averaged five yards per carry over 23 attempts in spot duty this season and returned kicks for a career-best 147 yards last week. Among Cassel's aerial options are wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, who has a TD catch in two of the last three games and caught four passes for 70 yards in his last matchup with the Jaguars. Also, tight end Sean Ryan has already established personal season-bests in receptions (14), yards (135) and touchdowns (2) through seven games.
Defensively, Jacksonville did little to get the team over .500 last week while being gashed for 228 yards on 24 carries by Tennessee back Chris Johnson, who scored a pair of second-half touchdowns on runs of 52 and 89 yards. The Jaguars gave up an obscene 305 yards on the ground and 430 total, swelling their overall averages in those categories to 128.3 and 370.7 per week, respectively. They've been outscored in three of four quarters and by 44 points overall while generating just five sacks and five interceptions in 28 quarters, plus an overtime period. Cornerback Rashean Mathis is the franchise's all-time leader with 27 interceptions and shares the team lead this season with two. That lead is split with rookie corner Derek Cox, who's tied for second among the league's rookies.
WHEN THE JAGUARS HAVE THE BALL
In his last start against Kansas City, Garrard was anything but a liability, completing 20-of-27 passes for 218 yards, a touchdown and a sterling 109.8 passer rating. He has five TDs against three interceptions at home this season and the team is 12-4 when he throws for at least two scores in a game. Also, he's second in the NFL and first in the conference among quarterbacks with 162 rushing yards. The aforementioned Jones-Drew is the primary ground weapon, while veteran wideout Torry Holt has moved within two catches of becoming the 10th player in league history with 900 in a career. Mike Sims-Walker leads the team through seven games with 30 catches for 207 yards and three touchdowns. And speaking of numbers, tight end Mercedes Lewis is a TD away from surpassing a career-best of two that he's established in both 2007 and 2008.
The dissension with Johnson has helped mask issues with the defense, which has allowed 383.1 yards per week and has been particularly vulnerable at the starts of games - being outscored 45-6 in the first quarter over seven outings. Linebacker Tamba Hali has three of the team's nine sacks, while defensive end Wallace Gilberry, an Alabama product, is second on the team with two. Linebacker Demorrio Williams leads the team with 44 tackles - 37 solo - including nine against the Chargers. In the backfield, cornerback Brandon Flowers has two of the unit's three interceptions and needs one more to surpass the career-high he set in 2008.
Given the Jaguars' recent issues defensively, Cassel, Bowe and even Charles may get rare nods as starters for owners with other key players on bye weeks. For Jacksonville, Jones-Drew is a no-brainer and Sims-Walker is a strong consideration given KC's habit of surrendering big numbers to wide receivers. Mean time, neither defense is worthy of owning, let alone playing.
Jacksonville is often either tantalizingly close to success or clearly abysmal. A 40-point loss to Seattle and the second-half collapse against the winless Titans are clear illustrations. The Chiefs may be a grade or two down from those foes, however, which provides little excuse for Del Rio - especially at home - to rally his charges for a long overdue dominant 60 minutes.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Jaguars 30, Chiefs 14
11/05 14:17:17 ET
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