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Saturday, Dec 03, 2016
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs defense will be focused on Jones-Drew

TAMPA - The focal point of the Buccaneers defense Sunday has been described by coach Raheem Morris as "a rolling ball of butcher knives.'' Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew, the NFL's leading rusher, has every intention of shopping at the gap when the Jaguars seek to extend Tampa Bay's losing streak to seven games. The Bucs rank 29th in rushing defense and gap control has been a chronic issue during a tailspin that has dropped Tampa Bay to 4-8. Stopping the run is a weekly priority, but never has that task taken on more importance than this week, against this 3-9 Jacksonville club.
"That guy, if we can stop him, we'll feel pretty good on defense,'' Bucs secondary coach Jimmy Lake said. "Maurice Jones-Drew is their team.'' Despite playing with a rookie quarterback, Blaine Gabbert, who completes less than half of his pass attempts, Jones-Drew has accounted for 46.9 percent of Jacksonville's offense, easily the top figure in the league. "He's short (5-foot-7), he's stout (208 pounds) and the guy's got great balance,'' Bucs defensive tackle Roy Miller said. "He's a complete back who bounces off guys and has great vision. He's definitely a guy you'd love to build your team around. Any old-school offense would be frothing at the mouth because Jones-Drew sets your passing game up so well.'' While leading the NFL in attempts (250) and rushing yards (1,137 yards), Jones-Drew is only one score behind Fred Taylor's franchise record (70) for career touchdowns. It was Taylor who served as a mentor in 2006 when Jones-Drew came out of UCLA as a second-round pick and quickly chose jersey No. 32 to mark the number of teams that bypassed him in the draft before the Jaguars called his name. "I feel like I was brought here for a reason,'' said Jones-Drew, who carried 10 times for 48 yards during a 24-23 triumph in Tampa in 2007. "Our fans still support us and there's not a lot of negativity. Our fans know we're going through some trying times right now.'' Only the winless Colts sport a worse AFC record than the Jags, who have a new head coach in Mel Tucker and new ownership. Jones-Drew represents continuity for a football community starved for a winner. "Everybody is a fan of his, the way Jones-Drew plays the game,'' Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said. "If we expect to come out of Jacksonville with a win, and we need one sorely, we've got to stop the run. Let them put it on their young quarterback and we feel like our chances are a lot better than if they just turn around and hand the ball off to No. 32 all day.'' Saddled with the league's least productive passing attack, the Jaguars continue to rely on Jones-Drew's ability to grind out the tough yards against defenses stacked against him. "I think we've seen more eight-man fronts than anyone in the league,'' Jones-Drew said. "We've just got to keep fighting, whether the score is 100-0 or if it's 14-13. That's what you can expect from us, and that's what we expect from ourselves.'' Tampa Bay players and coaches have spent all week thinking about ways to contain Jones-Drew. A battered defense that has yielded an average of 169 yards on the ground during a withering losing streak knows it must stay disciplined and maintain gap control. "He's just a great back,'' Bucs rookie middle linebacker Mason Foster said. "He may be small, but Maurice Jones-Drew packs a big punch.''

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