Jaguars' hopes rest with worn RB
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Running back Maurice Jones-Drew has nicks, cuts and bruises all over his body. He has aches, pains and a sore knee. He has sat out just about every midweek practice this season and makes weekly visits to a massage therapist.
He's finding out just how difficult it is to be a featured back.
Jones-Drew has 1,136 yards rushing and a league-leading 14 touchdowns, but the past four weeks have been far from normal for this 5-foot-7, 208-pound wrecking ball. He's averaged 69 yards on the ground and 3.4 yards per carry the past month -- a huge concern for the Jacksonville Jaguars (7-6) heading into what looks like their biggest game of the season.
Although the Indianapolis Colts (13-0) are getting all the attention because of their perfect record, their 22-game winning streak in the regular season and their decision to play or rest some starters tonight at Jacksonville, the Jaguars are more concerned with getting Jones-Drew back on track.
Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio feels as though it has to happen if his team is going to upset the Colts and maintain control of the final AFC wild-card spot.
"He's the guy that we're built around," Del Rio said. "Everybody knows that, and when they overload to limit his ability to be effective, we've got to be able to strike through the air. We haven't done it well enough lately. Over probably the last month, we've been pretty stagnant in that area.
"We need to get him going. We need to create more room, more opportunity, so we look to do that."
Jones-Drew has 668 yards rushing and six touchdowns in seven games against the perennial AFC South Division champions from Indianapolis.
He looked to be on a roll midway through this season, running for 530 yards and seven touchdowns in a four-game stretch that included three wins. But he hasn't been the same since, and neither have the Jaguars.
Could he be wearing down in his first season as the team's offensive centerpiece? Is his sore knee worse than anyone is letting on? Are teams really just stacking the line of scrimmage and forcing quarterback David Garrard to beat them?
"It's a respect issue," Jones-Drew said. "A lot of people respect our rushing attack so they're going to load the box and do everything they can, but it hasn't hurt us before. We slowed down a little bit. That happens. It's not a late-in-the-season issue."
Jacksonville believes it knows how to beat Indianapolis: Run the ball effectively, control the clock and keep Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and the rest of the team's potent offense off the field. Even then, it might not be enough.
Miami ran for 239 yards and held the ball for more than 45 minutes against the Colts in September, but Manning directed two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter to lead Indy to a come-from-behind victory.
The Jaguars might get some help keeping Manning & Co. on the sideline.
Having already locked up the AFC South title, a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, Colts coach Jim Caldwell might rest several key players down the stretch. Caldwell has declined to divulge his plans, saying "healthy" starters will play.
First Published December 17, 2009 12:00 am