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NFL Preview - Jacksonville (2-2) at Buffalo (0-4)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - When they play host to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Bills will be playing their final game in Buffalo for more than a month.
The result of Sunday's contest, and the course that the team's 2010 season takes over the next four-plus weeks, could determine just how many folks show up when the Bills welcome the Lions to town on Nov. 14th.
As it stands now, there isn't much to recommend the show Chan Gailey's team is putting on.
Buffalo enters Week 5 as one of four remaining winless NFL teams, joining the 49ers, Lions and Panthers, and with one more loss will have posted their worst start since 1985. In '85, just prior to the team's resurgence under head coach Marv Levy and quarterback Jim Kelly, the Bills started 0-6 before careening to a halt at 2-14.
This season's grisly numbers suggest this Buffalo edition could flirt with a similar sort of history when all is said and done.
The Bills are last in the league in total offense (237.2 yards per game), passing offense (131.8 yards per game), scoring defense (31.2 points per game), rushing defense (174 yards per game), rushing touchdowns allowed (7), takeaways (1) and interceptions (0), among several other NFL statistical categories.
The offense, which was supposed to be Gailey's forte' when he was hired by the team in January, is unlikely to get much better after the team traded leading rusher Marshawn Lynch to the Seattle Seahawks in exchange for a a 2011 fourth- round pick and a 2012 conditional pick on Tuesday.
A defense that has transitioned to a 3-4 look has allowed 473 rushing yards in its last two games combined. including 273 in last week's 38-14 home thrashing at the hands of the AFC East rival New York Jets.
Against that backdrop, the 2-2 Jaguars must look like world-beaters as they attempt to win on the road for the first time in 2010.
Jacksonville comes off a 31-28 upset of the AFC South rival Indianapolis Colts last week, a game that saw Jack Del Rio put the brakes on talk that both he and quarterback David Garrard were on shaky ground.
Garrard (17-of-22, 163 yards, 2 TD, 44 rushing yards, 1 rushing TD) was outstanding, out-gunning Peyton Manning (33-of-46, 352 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT) and helping to erase the residue of back-to-back blowout losses at the hands of the Chargers (38-13) and Eagles (28-3). The much-maligned Jags defense was not great, as evidenced by Manning's passing numbers, but forced two turnovers that ended up being critical to winning the shootout.
Josh Scobee's 59-yard field goal, the third-longest game-winning field goal as the clock expired in NFL history, lifted the Jags into a second-place tie along with the Colts and Titans in the AFC South, one game back of the 3-1 Houston Texans.
The Bills lead the all-time regular season series with the Jaguars, 5-4, but were 18-15 road losers when the teams met last season, in what was Buffalo's first game after the firing of head coach Dick Jauron. The Bills won the previous meeting, taking a 20-16 decision in Jacksonville in Week 2 of the 2009 season. Buffalo also won the last meeting between the teams in Western New York, a 27-24 triumph in 2006. The Jags last won in Buffalo in 2004, when they prevailed in the season-opener on a last-second touchdown pass from Byron Leftwich to Ernest Wilford.
The Jaguars were 30-27 road victors in the only postseason tilt between the teams, which came in a 1996 AFC First-Round Playoff.
Del Rio is 3-3 against Buffalo in his career, while the Bills' Gailey will be meeting both Del Rio and the Jags for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE JAGUARS HAVE THE BALL
One of the big stories for Jacksonville in Week 5 has to do with the quarterback, but not the one that led the Jags to victory last week. Trent Edwards, who was released by the Bills after starting their first two games of the 2010 season, will be the No. 2 quarterback behind Garrard on Sunday. Edwards, who was 14-18 as a starter after being selected by Buffalo in the third round of the 2007 season, was signed as a free agent by the Jags after his release by the Bills. He won't get to play any time soon if Garrard (611 passing yards, 6 TD, 5 INT, 85 rushing yards, 1 TD) can be consistent and continue to show chemistry with the team's young receiving corps. Wideouts Tiquan Underwood (4 receptions) and Mike Thomas (17 receptions) combined for eight catches and 109 yards last week, though No. 1 receiver Mike Sims-Walker (12 receptions, 1 TD) was held without a catch for the second time this season. Tight end Marcedes Lewis (12 receptions, 3 TD) has been another integral part of the passing game this year. All of that said, running back Maurice Jones- Drew (322 rushing yards, 8 receptions, 2 TD) continues to serve as the team's No. 1 offensive option. Drew scored touchdowns via both ground and air against the Colts, also going over 100 rushing yards for the first time this season. Garrard has been sacked 10 times through the season's first four weeks.
Given the defense's recent struggles against the run, it is integral that Buffalo gets Jones-Drew on the ground consistently if it wants to win this contest. Possibly assisting in that effort will be defensive lineman and ex- Jaguar Marcus Stroud (13 tackles), who has a chance to play after missing last Sunday's loss to the Jets with an ankle injury. Nose tackle Kyle Williams (19 tackles, 1 sack) and linebackers Paul Posluzsny (20 tackles, 1 sack) and another former Jag, Akin Ayodele (16 tackles), must also help stop the bleeding. When Garrard throws it, a depleted pass-defending crew will have to be on its game. Cornerback Terrence McGee (knee) and pass rusher Arthur Moats (elbow) are both expected to miss Sunday's contest. On the back end, corners Drayton Florence (20 tackles) and Leodis McKelvin (17 tackles) will attempt to protect against the big play, while safeties Jairus Byrd (18 tackles) and Donte Whitner (34 tackles) seek to restore the team's former playmaking image. The Buffalo pass rush has been a joke, with only four sacks on the year and not one of them coming from a starting outside linebacker. Chris Kelsay (24 tackles), who just signed a rich contract extension with the team, will be among those attempting to get to Garrard.
WHEN THE BILLS HAVE THE BALL
Throw out what looks like a 30-point, 374-yard aberration against the Patriots in Week 3 and the Bills have scored a total of 31 points and have averaged 191.7 yards and 11.7 first downs per game. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (375 passing yards, 4 TD, 2 INT), who sparked Buffalo to a competitive loss in New England, looked like the journeyman he was in completing just 12-of-27 passes for 128 yards and two inconsequential touchdowns against the Jets. No. 1 wideout Lee Evans (10 receptions) posted just one catch for six yards, and that came in garbage time. Roscoe Parrish (10 receptions, 1 TD) and Steve Johnson (12 receptions, 2 TD) have been the team's most reliable receivers, which isn't saying much. The running game, which was supposed to be a strength, saw Lynch, Fred Jackson (87 rushing yards, 1 TD) and C.J. Spiller (49 rushing yards, 12 receptions, 2 TD) combine for just 40 yards on nine collective carries last week. Jackson is expected to start this week, with the first-round rookie Spiller in line for a larger role. A young Bills o-line has surrendered 11 sacks thus far.
Though Buffalo's defense is the one that has endured bigger struggles this year, a Jacksonville group that is tied for last in the league in touchdowns allowed (15) along with the Bills does deserve some negative mention as well. After allowing 337 yards and 28 points to Manning and the Colts last week, the Jags are now 30th in the league in both yards and points allowed. The team will continue to rely on big plays, after major turnover returns from safeties Gerald Alexander (6 tackles) and Anthony Smith (11 tackles, 1 INT) were an underrated element in the Jacksonville win a week ago. Top pass rusher Aaron Kampman (9 tackles, 1.5 sacks) and No. 1 cornerback Rashean Mathis (12 tackles) will be other central parts of Sunday's effort to slow Fitzpatrick and company. The Jags have been better against the run than the pass, ranking 12th in the league in that category thanks largely to the efforts of first-round rookie tackle Tyson Alualu (9 tackles, 1.5 sacks) and linebackers Kirk Morrison (25 tackles) and Daryl Smith (23 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT). Morrison and Smith rank 1-2 on the team in stops as Week 5 begins.
Not a great deal of fantasy greatness to be had in this game, though there are at least three worthwhile rushing options. On the Buffalo side, Jackson's elevation to the No. 1 running back spot and Spiller's expanded role make both intriguing. Spiller only has 14 carries on the year but has shown himself to be a pretty good kickoff returner, something to note if your league values that type of yardage. For the Jagars, Jones-Drew remains a high-level fantasy option but no one else on the roster can be counted on for consistency.
The Bills are a terrible football team, but they're not 0-16 terrible, and a pre-bye week effort against a similarly young and beatable Jaguars team should bring out the best in Gailey's group. Buffalo should be able to move the ball a bit on a Jacksonville defense that has been mediocre at best, and the defense shouldn't be overwhelmed by a Jags attack that has few high-level playmakers apart from Jones-Drew. Some will use last week's win over the Colts as evidence that the Jaguars have turned the corner, but a franchise that has lost four straight on the road does not seem likely to follow up that emotional division victory with a similar effort on Sunday.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bills 20, Jaguars 18
10/07 12:29:01 ET