Bradley Handwerger / WWLTV.com Sports Reporter
METAIRIE, La. – One week ago, the Saints figured out how to slow down Houston’s vaunted rushing attack, keeping Ben Tate to fewer than 100 yards for the game on the ground.
The task could be much tougher Sunday when New Orleans (2-1) travels to play Jacksonville (1-2), which will throw a rookie quarterback onto the field making his second start.
Partly because of rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert, the Jaguars have focused on the run game this season. And in spite of the fact that teams know that Jacksonville will run the ball – the Jaguars lead the NFL with 108 rush attempts this season – it’s sixth in the NFL with 403 rushing yards.
And leading the way is Maurice Jones-Drew, who is third in the NFL with 307 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
“He’s probably the hardest guy to bring down in the league at any position,” Saints linebacker Jonathan Casillas said. “He has tremendous balance. He has a good burst. He knows how to set up his blockers up well. He’s an elite running back in this league.”
Jones-Drew, or MJD, isn’t just destroying the competition this season. In the past two seasons, he recorded two of the five best rushing seasons in Jaguars history, finishing with 1,641 yards in 2010 and 1,765 yards in 2009.
Additionally, he has 64 touchdowns since 2006, second-most in the NFL behind LaDainian Tomlinson’s 80.
“I’m very impressed of his style,” Saints running back Pierre Thomas said. “Everybody knows what he’s capable of doing and our defense is well-prepared for that. They know they’re going to have their hands full. He’s a strong runner, low to the ground. They know they’re going to have to get lower than him.
“We’re going to have to really get after him because he can make a difference.”
Yet, MJD isn’t alone in being a player the Saints need to focus on.
Tight end Marcedes Lewis, at 6-foot-6, 275 pounds, is precisely the type of player the Saints have had problems stopping – big, athletic guy who was a highly recruited basketball player before deciding to play football at UCLA.
“He’s a tall guy, a basketball-type player as in he knows how to use his body, how to box out people and fight for position to get the ball,” Casillas said. “We have to be able to find where he’s at and do a good job of matching his hand and matching the routes he’s running.”
Lewis‘ statistics have been increasingly better the longer he’s in the league. He caught only 13 passes for 126 yards his rookie season. By 2010, he caught 58 passes for 700 yards and finished by tying a team-record 10 touchdowns.