Monday Night Football: Baltimore Ravens vs. Jacksonville …

The 7th installment of this year’s NFL Monday Night Football gets set to kick off in Jacksonville, Florida tonight as the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-5) will try to improve from a rough start to the 2011 season but will face an uphill battle to do so against the visiting Baltimore Ravens (4-1). While the Jaguars come into tonight’s game looking to snap a 5-game losing streak and prevent their first six-game losing streak since becoming a franchise in 1995, Baltimore has its sights set on securing a 4th straight victory on the season while at the same time continuing their dominance over Jacksonville who they’ve beaten 7 out of the last 8 meetings.

Though the Ravens have been solid throughout the first third of the season, and come into this match-up as the clear favorite to win against a Jaguars team lacking in depth and talent, there’s plenty of room for improvement, especially in the Baltimore passing game led by quarterback Joe Flacco. Flacco has been wildly inconsistent this season, with only a 51.4 percent completion rate to go with 7 touchdown passes to 4 interceptions. Although coming off of a 305 yard passing performance last weekend in a 29-14 victory against Houston, Flacco hasn’t thrown a TD pass in the last two weeks, and hasn’t strung together back-to-back quality games this season. However, one area that Flacco has certainly benefitted from is the outstanding double-threat presence of running back Ray Rice, who while being the leader in the backfield has also racked up 21 catches for 302 yards (2nd on the Ravens). Nonetheless, while the Ravens can be confident of having a more talented offense across the board than the Jaguars in this match-up, they’ll certainly be searching for better balance down the road starting tonight, especially with their top receiver Anquan Boldin having just 1 touchdown under his belt, and few other offensive weapons being main contributors aside from Ray Rice.

The Jacksonville Jaguars on the other hand actually don’t look so bad on paper this season, at least on the defensive side of the ball. Ranking 14th against the rush allowing 115 yards/game and 9th against the pass, head coach Jack Del Rio’s focus really has been on finding a way to get his offense producing, while dealing with the growing pains of inputting a first-year quarterback into the mix. While Maurice Jones-Drew continues to be the offensive leader and has the Jags 11th in the league in rushing at 122.7 yards/game, the lack of any credible passing offense (dead last in the league at just 137.7 yards) has made scoring with the running game in the red zone very difficult, as opposing defenses simply stack the box and hold the middle whenever the Jags get close to a touchdown. The 118 carries and 572 yards (3rd in the league) certainly shows that Jones-Drew is capable as always, but the 2 touchdowns he’s generated screams at a blatant lack of balance that hopefully will be improving as rookie QB Blaine Gabbert continues to get more reps in big games like these.

Looking to some of the keys to the game for both teams, it’s plainly obvious that Baltimore will put most of its defensive stake into stopping Maurice Jones-Drew. While Jacksonville does have at least one talented receiver in Mike Thomas, he’s been pretty much a non-factor this season without a legit #1 quarterback throwing the ball to him, and hasn’t had more than 5 catches or more than 73 yards receiving in a game this season. Adding to the offensive misery for the Jaguars, in the 6 games played this season, Jacksonville has had just 4 passing TDs, and just 6 TDs overall, putting their average points second to last in the league at just 12 a game. Against a top-rated defense like Baltimore’s led by Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, and up against a Ravens offense that hasn’t always clicked on all cylinders but still manages 29.6 points per contest (4th in the league), the Jacksonville Jaguars might just need some Monday Night magic to give them any chance at pulling through with a win tonight at home on the national stage.

Betting Lines for Jacksonville vs. Baltimore

Intertops.eu Sportsbook is our best online sportsbook of choice for tonight’s Monday Night Football showdown, and as expected we find the visiting Ravens as a huge favorite for the game, getting -550 odds to win while the underdog Jaguars are at +410 odds to prevail for only the second time in 10 years against Baltimore. The Ravens also give up 10 points on the spread for this contest at -115 odds, while the Jags get 10 points at -105 odds. The over/under on this contest is exceptionally low with the lack of offense provided by the Jaguars combined with the Ravens’ defense on the field, but given that Baltimore should be featuring plenty of Ray Rice in both the passing and rushing games tonight, and the Ravens have put up almost 30 points a game this season, taking advantage of a low over/under could be worth the money considering the other betting options available on this lopsided match-up.

Our Pick to Win:

This Monday Night Football match-up may well be one of the most unbalanced games on the Monday schedule this season, but nonetheless anytime teams are on a national stage like this, expect some fight out of the underdog, especially when that dog is at home. Though the Jags haven’t been able to score, they’ve still hung around in games late because of solid defense, losing 3 of their last 4 games in the final minute of play…that said, they are still losing those games. The Baltimore Ravens simply have too much offense, and are too talented on defense for a rebuilding Jacksonville team to overcome. However, expect Jacksonville to stay scrappy on national TV tonight, and keep themselves within the points spread set at 10, dropping their sixth game in a row, 24-20.

Players to Watch, Baltimore:

Ray Rice, RB – It’s astonishing that a running back this good has only gotten 2 touchdowns on the ground this season, but that might change tonight as Rice is likely to be featured for 20 or more carries, and should have the similar success that Pittsburgh’s Rashard Mendenhall did last week against the Jags (23 carries, 146 yards, 1 TD). I like Rice for 120 on the ground, 60 in the air for a standout performance in tonight’s game.

Ray Lewis, LB – The Ravens are first in total defense allowing just 14.2 points per game, and the veteran Lewis is the anchor for that squad. Leading the team with 42 tackles including 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and one interception, the 36 year-old simply doesn’t stop performing, and will be highlighted plenty of times tonight against a struggling Jags offense.

Players to Watch, Jacksonville:

Blaine Gabbert, QB – All eyes will be on the rookie starting quarterback on Monday Night, and Jack Del Rio certainly will be hoping he can show some signs of up and coming brilliance considering his job is on the line this season. While Gabbert has shown promising moments, throwing a TD pass in 4 straight games, his awful consistency (48.8 percent completion rate) has to improve quickly if the Jaguars are to win any games going forward. It would help if the Jags offensive line could keep the pressure off him as well (he was sacked 5 times against Pittsburgh, 4 in the first half alone last week).

Maurice Jones-Drew, RB – With likely little going on in the passing game tonight with few threats against the tough Baltimore secondary, MJD once again will be the featured offensive producer, albeit one the Ravens will be fully prepared for. Expect 20-25 carries for Jones-Drew, and a pedestrian 80-90 yards in total as he’ll work for yardage but see relatively little paydirt for the pounding he’s going to take.

 

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