Fred Taylor has missed 37 games due to injury in his career as a running back for the Jacksonville Jaguars – the approximate length of time most backs get to be a part of the league – but Taylor is still going strong in his 11th season for the Jaguars. Should he gain 19 yards in this Sunday’s game against the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium he will surpass the 11,000-yard mark for his career.
His are arguably the quietest 11,000 yards in NFL history. The Bengals are determined to make sure Taylor and the Jaguars don’t make much noise this weekend as they attempt to break the 8-game losing streak that has ensnared them to start the season. They will have their work cut out for them against a Jacksonville team looking to rebound from a 23-17 loss at home against Cleveland in which the Browns stifled the Jaguars’ running game.
Taylor and running mate Maurice Jones-Drew were held to a combined 53 yards on 20 carries against the Browns as the Jaguars, a pre-season favorite among many prognosticators to be a serious Super Bowl contender, dropped to 3-4 on the season.
The Bengals enter the game ranked 28th in the league against the run on defense, allowing an average of 146.9 yards per game on more than 34 carries per game.
“We see that every week. It doesn’t change,” said defensive tackle John Thornton. “Teams try to get a lead on us and then run the ball on us. I think we’ve doing a good job in the first half against the run – against Pittsburgh we held them to something like 40 yards in the first half and then last week (against Houston) it was 27 – but once the game gets out of hand or we get down a score or two teams are running on us.”
The stats back up Thornton’s statement. The Bengals have had decent success against the run in the first half of games this season; while they have given up an average of 87.6 yards in the first half of games on 15.4 carries those numbers have been skewed by one very poor outing (at Dallas) and a couple of big runs (42 yards by Baltimore’s Mark Clayton and 51 yards by Tennessee’s Chris Johnson). In the last three weeks the Bengals have held the New York Jets, Pittsburgh and Houston to an average of 13 carries in the first half for 41 yards.
But in the second half of games teams have been able to take advantage of the run. In six of Cincinnati’s eight games opponents have had more rushing attempts in the second half than in the first two quarters. That will happen when you have held the lead for less than 44 minutes out of a possible 480 minutes played this season.
“Until we get up and get a lead on someone that’s the way it’s going to be,” said Thornton. “That’s our goal, to come out and try to reverse that. It’s not fun to always be playing from behind.”
Jacksonville is ranked 14th in the league in rushing, averaging 116 yards per game.
“That is definitely our M.O. and we definitely have to get our run game going,” said Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard. “It’s something that helps keep this offense clicking and it helps the whole team out because we stay on the field longer. When you’re able to run the ball on a defense it really takes something out of them. That is definitely something we want make sure we get back to.”
While Jones-Drew is the team’s leading rusher this season, having scored five touchdowns and averaging 4.3 yards per rush, Taylor is still a vital part of the Jacksonville offense.
“He was always a guy who could take it the distance on any run and he’s still that way,” said Thornton. “He’s got a lot of quickness; he’s a good cut-back runner who can start and stop real fast. He’s probably the best running back in the league as far as stopping and starting and getting to full speed in a few steps.”
Taylor has played against the Bengals seven times in his career and has topped 100 yards four times, including rushing for 132 yards on 24 carries the last time the teams met, a 23-20 Jaguars win in Jacksonville in 2005. Injuries cost Taylor three other chances to play against Cincinnati.
Despite all of the time missed in his career due to injuries Taylor still ranks 18th on the NFL’s all-time rushing list. He missed all but two games in 2001 because of a groin injury and he’s only played in all 16 games of a season twice in his career but he’s missed just two games over the last three seasons.
“He takes great care of his body, that's the only way you're able to sustain the excellence,” said Jacksonville head coach Jack Del Rio, who played linebacker in the NFL for 11 seasons with four different teams. “Running backs, it's a tough job. You get 11 guys coming after you every play. Not many guys are able to have good, long productive careers like he has. He’s a great guy. He's looking for some opportunities. We'd like to give him more room. Obviously the relationship he and Maurice have, working together, and being a very potent one-two punch for us has been very beneficial to us over the years."