Garrard missing key portions of O-Line (NFL.com)
It's a good thing Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback David Garrard is mobile. He, like his entire team, will be doing a lot of scrambling on Sunday as they play their home opener against the Buffalo Bills.
The Jaguars dropped their season opener for the second straight season to the Tennessee Titans, a 17-10 loss that was devastating to more than just their early-season record. Jacksonville lost its most dominant run blocker - left guard Vince Manuwai - and stellar right guard Maurice Williams to season-ending injuries. Center Brad Meester is already hurt, meaning that the Jaguars will be taking on the Bills with three reserves in the middle of their offensive line. The team was scrambling early in the week, signing street free agents including Chad Slaughter, Milford Brown and Todd Wade to help fill the void inside.
Despite the losses, the Jaguars will still be a dangerous offense on Sunday. Why? Precisely because they're in scramble mode.
Game plans should change
You can bet that, hell-bent on getting off to a quick start, the Bills have been game-planning for the Jaguars for a number of months now. A certain percentage of that game plan, however, likely goes out the window simply because the Bills are about to play a different Jags team than they expected to play, specifically offensively.
Jacksonville will likely concentrate less on running the ball up the middle due to their injuries, instead utilizing their backs' cutting ability to exploit the edges of Buffalo's defense. They will likely have to alter their pass protection schemes to handle the Bills' stunting and blitz packages, and there's a very good chance that they'll utilize Garrard's mobility on bootlegs and moving behind slide protections. Literally, Garrard will be scrambling more so that he has time to deliver the ball.
There's a point where talent overwhelms, however, and Buffalo's depth along the defensive line - as well as their ability to blitz with linebackers Kawika Mitchell and Paul Posluszny, as well as cornerback Ashton Youboty and safety Donte Whitner - should do just that to the revamped Jaguars front. Still, Buffalo's back seven should be challenged by the accurate Garrard, especially when he's on the move.
Jags getting healthy in areas, too
One area where the Jaguars look to improve on Sunday is in the wide receiver corps. Jerry Porter, the team's biggest free agent acquisition this off-season, missed the season opener in Tennessee, but it's likely he'll make his Jaguars debut against the Bills. Porter, while flawed, is a playmaker - something Jacksonville's offense sorely lacked last week. To boot, receiver Matt Jones - busted for cocaine possession earlier this off-season - has re-emerged in the offense, boosting the Jags' depth in their big, physical receiving corps.
Garrard completed 23 of 35 passes in Tennessee, but only one receiver - Jones (6 catches, 80 yards) - averaged over 10 yards per reception. Garrard was throwing intermediate routes in most cases; he'll likely be doing that again on Sunday with the Jags' offensive line in flux. The Jaguars will, however, continue to take shots downfield, especially with Porter and speedster Troy Williamson in the lineup. They have to; otherwise, the Bills will stack the box against Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones Drew (who are still quite dangerous, and containing this duo is an absolute must), and the Jags could be staring another 10-point outing in the face.
How the Bills can do enough to win
You can put a lot of bank on the fact that barring unforeseen circumstances, Marcus Stroud is going to have a big day. The Jags will do all they can to take Stroud out of the equation, but after seeing him dominate the Seahawks, I don't think the big man can be denied. Look for the Bills to spy Garrard's movement with Mitchell, Posluszny, Whitner or Youboty; all four have the ability to keep Garrard's rushing in check and make plays coming forward, a necessity to slowing down the Jags' attack.
As the Bills proved in their win over Seattle, the easiest way to win football games is to have all three phases involved and making plays. The Bills will try to follow the formula that helped them beat Seattle (and for the record, it's the best way to win a football game handily) - grab an early lead, stop the run, and tee off once the Jags are one-dimensional. But this is a big game, and you can bet the Jags will be prepared. Avoiding the big play is an absolute must if the Bills want to stay competitive; big plays (along with turnovers) killed the team's chances at pulling off an upset in Jacksonville in 2007, and they'll need to reverse that trend this Sunday.
The Bills might be able to pull it off - and if they do, the Jags will be scrambling once again.