ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Yes, the Jacksonville Jaguars sport a touchdown-challenged offense – the Jaguars have scored just five this season – and, yes, they enter Sunday’s game against the Broncos as one of the biggest underdogs in decades.
But any sliver of hope of an upset will entail plenty of Broncos turnovers, a special-teams gaffe or two by Denver and the Jaguars’ ability to play keep-away on offense. And Jacksonville’s ability to keep the ball away from Peyton Manning and the rest of the Broncos' high-powered offense will hinge on how much room they can make for running back Maurice Jones-Drew against a Broncos base defense that will have backup middle linebacker Paris Lenon in it.
Lenon is expected to be in the lineup for the injured Wesley Woodyard, who did not practice this week because of a neck injury.
The Jaguars are one of a smattering of teams that actually carries a fullback on the roster, and they play out of a two-back set plenty. And despite the fact they have trailed so often this season, often by multiple touchdowns, they have continued to try to get the ball in Jones-Drew’s hands. He’s tied for 12th in the league in carries at 74, but hasn't seen much success with many of those.
The Jaguars, who lost left tackle Luke Joeckel for the rest of the season last Sunday, have struggled up front, and Jones-Drew is averaging just 2.3 yards per carry.
Opposing offenses, especially in the preseason, have moved the ball in the run game against the Broncos' base 4-3 look. It’s just that the Broncos haven’t let teams settle into much of a run-game rhythm because of the way they put up points on offense. That has forced opponents to spend much of the time in catch-up mode, trying to throw their way out of trouble.
But if the Jaguars can tip the tempo at least a little, it will be because the Broncos don’t keep Jones-Drew in check.
“He’s pretty special,’’ said Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, the Jaguars' former head coach. “ … He’s had a tremendous career. I’m so proud of him.’’
Lenon was a late signing by the Broncos -- Aug. 20 -- and the savvy 35-year-old settled into the Broncos' defense quickly. He knows offense and is reliable in reading his keys. Lenon can’t quite close to the ball as quickly as the fleet Woodyard can, but the Broncos are comfortable enough with Lenon’s play that they won’t have to dial back anything they’d like to do.