Jaguars host streaking Ravens

Despite a strong start to the season, the Baltimore Ravens are not completely satisfied with their overall play.

The visiting Ravens have a chance to calm their concerns when they try for a fourth straight victory Monday night while looking to continue their recent dominance of a Jacksonville Jaguars team hoping to snap a five-game skid.

Most sports books monitored by SportsOptions have installed the Ravens as nine-point road favorites, with the total set at 40.

Baltimore (4-1) has outscored St. Louis, the New York Jets and Houston by a combined 100-38 during its winning streak. However, last Sunday’s 29-14 victory over the Texans showed the Ravens still have some wrinkles to iron out if they are to remain atop the AFC North.

They failed to score touchdowns on two of their four trips inside the red zone and converted three of 11 third-down chances. Joe Flacco was 20 of 33 for 305 yards but did not throw a TD pass and was intercepted once, sacked twice and hit another seven.

Flacco has been sacked 10 times while guiding an offense that ranks 28th in red zone touchdown efficiency at 36.8 percent.

“We can do better,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We’ve got to get better in the red zone and we don’t need Joe getting hit like that.”

Despite those deficiencies, Baltimore had reason to pat itself on the back after it scored 13 unanswered points and allowed 58 yards and three first downs in the fourth quarter last weekend.

“I think it was really encouraging to see how (we) responded to a tight game,” Harbaugh said. “You have to do it on both sides to be able to do that.”

Ray Rice ran 23 times for 101 yards – most of which came in the second half – and also caught five passes for 60 yards versus Houston. He ranks third in the NFL with an average of 140.0 scrimmage yards.

Though Rice has never faced the Jaguars during his four-year career, he has the chance for more success on the ground against a Jacksonville defense that allows 115.0 rushing yards per game.

In the teams’ last meeting on Dec. 28, 2008, Flacco went 17 of 23 for 297 yards as Baltimore beat Jacksonville for the seventh time in eight games, 27-7 at home.

The Ravens’ only defeat during that stretch came at Jacksonville, 30-3 on Nov. 13, 2005.

Baltimore could have an easier time avenging that loss with the Jaguars (1-5) trying to prevent their first six-game skid since their inaugural season in 1995.

After opening with a 16-14 home win over Tennessee, Jacksonville has scored more than 13 points once during the losing streak. The Jaguars fell 17-13 at Pittsburgh last Sunday, marking the third time in four games they had a chance to win in the final minute only to come up short.

“I told our guys we are not into moral victories, but I know one thing, if you let go of the rope you have no chance,” embattled coach Jack Del Rio said. “As a football team, we are doing the right things, preparing the right way, working our butts off.

“What’s it horseshoes and hand grenades? Being close is OK in those, but not in football.”

With his job security already in question, Del Rio ruffled more feathers after he decided to kick a 45-yard field goal instead of going for it on fourth-and-6 while trailing 17-10 with 4:22 remaining.

“Go ahead and question it all you want,” he said.

Del Rio has not looked totally bad for his decision to finally bench Luke McCown in favor of rookie Blaine Gabbert, who has thrown a TD pass in four straight games since taking over as the starter.

Gabbert was 12 of 26 for just 109 yards and got sacked five times against the Steelers, including four during a first half where the Jaguars were held to 68 yards and punted five times.

Maurice Jones-Drew rushed for 96 yards on 22 carries, and his 572 rushing yards rank third in the NFL behind Oakland’s Darren McFadden (610) and Buffalo’s Fred Jackson (601).

However, Jones-Drew has just two TDs on the ground. He did not score while totaling 78 yards on 23 carries against the Ravens in 2008.

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