Ravens-Jaguars: Five predictions for Monday night

October 23, 2011 | Luke Jones

Playing for the sixth time on Monday Night Football in the John Harbaugh era, the Ravens look to improve to 5-1 for just the second time in team history as they take on the Jacksonville Jaguars in their first meeting since 2008.

Needless to say, this one is a mismatch on paper with the Jaguars having lost five straight after a surprising season-opening win over the Titans. Rookie Blaine Gabbert will make his fifth straight start while leading the NFL’s 32nd-ranked passing offense — and total offense — against a Baltimore defense ranked third in the league.

However, Jacksonville’s defense is ranked eighth overall, and the Jaguars have only been blown out once this season, a 32-3 stomping by the Jets in Week 2. Barring a turnover-heavy performance by the Ravens offense, it’s hard to envision anything but a Baltimore victory, but that’s why the games are played.

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Here’s what to expect when the Ravens play in Jacksonville for the first time since 2005 …

1. Jimmy Smith will be active and will receive a limited number of plays in his first action since suffering a high ankle sprain early in the season opener. The rookie cornerback wasn’t expected to be ready for Monday’s game after only getting back on the practice field this week, but the Ravens’ sheer injury numbers — four have already been ruled out and Tom Zbikowski and Chris Carr are unlikely to play — suggest Smith will be active for the first time since Sept. 11. He’ll likely be used on a very limited basis, perhaps for a defensive series or two in the second half, but Harbaugh implied on Saturday that the Ravens want to get Smith back on the field as soon as possible to re-adjust to the speed of the NFL after the long layoff. A looming rematch in Pittsburgh — against the speedy Mike Wallace — in two weeks probably factors into that desire as well.

2. Maurice Jones-Drew will have more rushing yards against the Ravens than any other back has produced so far this season. The diminutive running back has rushed for 84 or more yards against each of the Jaguars’ six opponents this season, including top defenses in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh the last two weeks. The highest rushing total produced by a running back against the Ravens this season was Cadillac Williams’ 75 yards after Baltimore had built an early 21-0 lead over St. Louis in Week 3. Jones-Drew will hit the 80-yard mark if the Jaguars are able to stay in the game into the second half, which their defense should allow them to do. However, the Ravens will be keying on him since the Jaguars’ passing attack doesn’t strike fear in anyone’s heart.

3. The Baltimore defense will make rookie Blaine Gabbert look like the 31st-ranked passer in the NFL. Jacksonville’s first-round pick entered the weekend with a 71.1 quarterback ranking, better than only Rex Grossman and Kerry Collins among qualified quarterbacks. Coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens have said all the right things about Gabbert and his promising future, but the defense has to be licking its chops against a passing unit with few weapons. Gabbert has had opportunities to impress, including the last two weeks when he had a chance to beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh and when he couldn’t protect a late lead at home against Cincinnati. Jacksonville’s defense will prevent this game from getting out of hand, but Gabbert will have a critical turnover in the second half to set up a Baltimore touchdown to make it a two-possession game.

4. Rookie Torrey Smith will get behind the Jacksonville secondary for his first touchdown since the St. Louis game. Cincinnati rookie A.J. Green and Pittsburgh wideout Mike Wallace have caught long touchdowns against the Jaguars in their last two games. Jacksonville defensive coordinator Mel Tucker likes to play man coverage, and the Ravens’ second-round pick is becoming more confident with his role in the passing offense, recognizing coverages more easily and playing “faster” in the words of quarterback Joe Flacco. With Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis likely matching up against Anquan Boldin as much as possible, the returning Derek Cox — out since Week 3 with a groin injury — will likely match up with Smith quite a bit, a challenging task physically for someone coming off a layoff. Flacco and Smith will connect for a long touchdown for the first time since Smith’s three-touchdown first quarter against the Rams on Sept. 25.

5. The Ravens will take care of business against an inferior opponent in a 24-10 victory. A road game in primetime is never a sure thing, but the Jaguars’ main strength is running the football while Baltimore’s biggest strength is stopping the run. That alone doesn’t add up to a great chance of Jacksonville pulling off the upset. Jack Del Rio’s job may be in jeopardy, but the Jaguars have been competitive in their games this season. The Baltimore defense will erase any lingering doubt in the second half when it takes advantage of Gabbert’s inexperience and puts the Ravens in position to create a comfortable lead. The Ravens will win their eighth in their last nine meetings against the Jaguars after the franchise lost its first eight in a row to Jacksonville from 1996 through 1999.