Go Long or Go Home; Jaguars Know More Big Plays Are Needed to Reach the Playoffs

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Byline: VITO STELLINO

After the debate over the squib kick finally wound down earlier this week, coach Jack Del Rio zeroed in on the Jaguars' real problem against the Buffalo Bills.

"I think they made more plays than we did," he said. "Ultimately, that's what determines which teams are going to win the game."

The Bills made three big plays during their 27-24 victory -- J.P. Losman's 30-yard pass to set up the game-winning field goal, Willis McGahee's 30-yard touchdown run and Roscoe Parrish's 82-yard punt return for a score. The Jaguars, by contrast, didn't have an offensive play of 30 yards or more, although rookie Maurice Drew had a 50-yard kickoff return.

So as the Jaguars (6-5) prepare to visit the Miami Dolphins (5-6) on Sunday as two-point underdogs, they know it would be easier to pull off an upset -- not to mention reach the playoffs -- with some big plays.

The Jaguars have only 12 plays of 30 yards or more this season, and just two by David Garrard since he became the starting quarterback five games ago -- a 36-yard pass to running back Fred Taylor and a 49-yard pass to wide receiver Matt Jones.

By contrast, Byron Leftwich had eight 30-yard-plus plays in the first six games before giving way to Garrard.

According to Del Rio, the Jaguars are putting an emphasis on improving their vertical game.

"You have to stretch the defenses," he said. "You can't just pack in it. We'll continue to look for shots.''

However, Del Rio didn't want to go into specifics about why the big plays have dropped off in recent games.

"I guess I don't really want to get into analyzing right now about specific plays, how they're called, how they're designed, how they're being operated," he said. "We're continuing to work to be an explosive offense. We just want to be a better football team week to week. It comes down to doing whatever we can do to win games."

Extenuating circumstances have come into play, however. In Garrard's first start of the season Oct. 29, the Jaguars practically played in a wind tunnel in Philadelphia, and it was difficult for either team to throw deep. And in Buffalo last weekend, the Bills dropped their secondary deep to take away the Jaguars' long throws.

"We tried a couple of times [to go long], and they [defenders] were 90 miles deep," Garrard said. "That just allows their pass rush to get upfield because you're waiting for something to happen downfield."

In Miami, the Jaguars will face a defense that ranks statistically better than the Bills. The Dolphins are 12th overall in the NFL in defense and 12th against the pass. The Bills are 21st and 16th, respectively, in those two categories, and the Jaguars concentrated on rushing against Buffalo's run defense, which is tied for 26th in the league.

However, the Dolphins' style might leave them vulnerable to deep passes. They play press coverage and blitz, boasting one of the NFL's best pass rushers, Jason Taylor, who has nine sacks this season.

If the Jaguars can block Taylor and pick up the blitzes, Garrard figures they can find one-on-one coverage downfield and hit some big plays.

"We should be able to make plays down the field," Garrard said. "We're going to take our chances, take our shots."

But pulling that off on the field might not be easy. The Dolphins have won four games in a row, giving up 13, 10, 20 and 10 points against the Chicago Bears, Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions, respectively. …