The Jacksonville Jaguars, who may be making a playoff push at this point in the season, look to try their luck in the Georgia Dome in this week 15 matchup. Amidst a string of season where the Jaguars have fallen short of the playoffs, Mike Smith's former boss Jack Del Rio now finds himself in somewhat of a hot seat. However, with the Jags possibly a team still in transition, that final push for the playoffs may not be any easier this season.
Record: Went 8-8, missed playoffs
Last Meeting: September 16, 2007 (Falcons lost 13-7)
Notable Additions: OG Jason Spitz, LB Paul Posluszny, LB Clint Session, S Dawan Landry, QB Blaine Gabbert
Notable Losses: LB Kirk Morrison, LB Justin Durant, WR Mike Sims-Walker, S Sean Considine
The most notable change this season was the teams first-round pick Blaine Gabbert. Given his performance against the Falcons this preseason, however, I wouldn't be so sure he'll take the starting job away from Garrard this year, especially if the Jags find themselves in the playoff race.
What we do now, however, is that they've dearly missed having Mike Smith run the defense. Jacksonville ranked 28th against the pass and 28th overall on defense last season, posting a mere 26.0 sacks team-wide in the process. Hopefully the offensive line can recover from their sub-par preseason performance against that group this time around. The additions of Posluszny and Landry will improve the group an already stout run defense, but that secondary is still pretty suspect.
The other thing we know about the Jags is that they won't pass much, regardless of who's at QB. As they have in the past, the team will rely on the oft-used Maurice Jones-Drew and the ground game. The key for the Falcons, then, is shutting down the run and forcing Garrard/Gabbert to pass and play catch-up. With pass-catching weapons really limited to Mike Thomas and Marcedes Lewis, I think the defense can really lock in on Garrard and force mistakes.
While the Falcons will come in favored, we've seen this Jaguars team put up a tough fight in the past. With them likely playing for their playoff lives and the Falcons hopefully making a push for the NFC South crown, this will mark the de facto start of "playoff football" in 2011.