It's probably nothing new for a team to draw up a defensive game plan revolving around Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew. But Jets head coach Rex Ryan made it clear during today's news conference that "We're gunning for you, kid" as the Green & White head into their Week 10 matchup against Jacksonville.
Jones-Drew is listed directly in front of the Jets' Thomas Jones as the No. 3 back in the AFC in rushing yards — 737 to TJ's 704 in fourth — and MJD is right behind in carries per game — 18.1 compared to TJ's 18.9. The Jaguars will look to get the ball in the versatile back's hands early as they go up against the No. 2 defense in the NFL.
"That's really going to be a challenge to start off fast and gets some hits on him and take him out of the game," linebacker Calvin Pace said Wednesday. "Make somebody else beat us."
Of course it's no secret that No. 32 is a big part of Jacksonville's offense, but LB Bart Scott placed the back in another category.
"I put him on my 'Top 3 Most Trash Talking' list," Scott said on Week 10's installment of "Barking with Bart" on newyorkjets.com. "I've had some experience with him last year with Baltimore and in years previous, and he's a very competitive guy, I'll put it at that. He gives it, so I look forward to giving it back to him."
Jones-Drew had a chance to respond to that ranking by the "Madbacker".
"I'm a little upset that he said I'm the third-best trash talker in the league. That's a little upsetting. I thought I was the best," he told Jets reporters on a conference call Wednesday. "We're going to have to talk about that on the field."
Though the 5'7", 208-pounder is smaller than your average NFL back, his game is big enough to carry the NFL's sixth-ranked rushing offense as the featured back.
"He's short but he's not small," said LB David Harris, the Jets' leading tackler with 80 through eight games. "He has a very big lower body, he runs through tackles and he also has the speed to take it the distance."
The Jets defenders know it's going to take a group effort to diminish the fourth-year back's impact on the game.
"You have to get 11 heads to the ball," Harris said. "We watch film on him and you see him run over linebackers and DBs. He's a very strong runner inside and has the ability to get to the edge."
"I know people know of Maurice Jones-Drew, but I don't think that people know exactly the challenge that it is to stop him," said Pace. "For one, you can hardly see him. Two, against Kansas City he dragged the whole defense into the end zone. To be powerful, have good vision, and have breakaway speed — it doesn't get any better than that."
Ryan called him a "bowling ball" because of his ability to get low and knock over defenders.
"If everybody is working that hard to create space for me to run, I feel like I'm letting them down by letting the first guy tackle me and I really don't want to do that," said Jones-Drew. "These guys fight so hard throughout the week, week after week. My part is to make one guy miss and that's what I try to do."
Another part of the back's game is his ability to produce as a receiver out of the backfield. He led the league in receiving yards by a running back last season with 565, has 30 catches for 198 yards this season, and is second behind Philadelphia's Brian Westbrook from 2007 to present with 1,170 yards.
"You have a guy trying to cover him and he's so quick and fast and shifty, he's all over the place," said LB Bryan Thomas. "You think he's going this place and this place and next thing you know he's everywhere. We're going to definitely account for him in the passing game."
Jones-Drew is ready for the challenges at hand, knowing he'll be the center of attention come Sunday.
"Bart Scott is going to have those guys ready and fired up," he said. "We played against him last year in Baltimore, so I know he remembers some of those things."
Scott took things back to his college days while taking a few more shots to hype the matchup.
"It's been a long time since a UCLA guy has been on the map. It's going to be interesting. Let's see them UCLA boys come get some Salukis."
The saluki is the mascot of Southern Illinois, which is where the Madbacker played his college ball.