Jaguars' tough tackle tandem


Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Marcus Stroud realizes his impact on a game cannot be measured statistically. But for the sake of his personal rivalry/friendship with teammate and fellow tackle John Henderson, numbers are the only tangible criteria to determine who is playing better.

With those two, the personal battle they share goes in hand with team goals and is no less important.

"We use that competition amongst ourselves to push each other so we can be two of the best in the league," Stroud said. "Right now John is winning, and I'm playing catch-up."

Both players are coming off Pro Bowl seasons and are considered the primary reason the Jaguars are sixth in the league in total defense, giving up an average of 288.9 yards a game.

As it stands heading into Sunday's game against the Ravens, Henderson's 50 tackles lead all Jaguars defensive linemen and is 17 better than Stroud. He also has four tackles for losses, compared with Stroud's one.

The caveat, though, is Stroud's bothersome ankle, which limited him to about half the defensive snaps last week against Houston. Even a hobbling Stroud has given Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio perhaps the most feared interior line duo in the league.

For Del Rio, who as linebackers coach with the Ravens helped cultivate the dominance of tackles Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa in the team's glory years (1999-2001), the similarities between the teams are striking.

"Those guys were special in Baltimore the couple of years that we had together, and certainly Big Sam and Goose were integral to that success," Del Rio said. "Down here now we've got two guys that are young, athletic and powerful. Much like we were able to do in Baltimore, they help us control the line of scrimmage by being so big and strong on the inside."

As difficult as it is to move Stroud, 6 feet 6 and 312 pounds, and Henderson, 6-7 and 328, the Jaguars' defense is somewhat of an anomaly. Unlike the Ravens of Del Rio's tenure, teams can run on Jacksonville.

Three rushers have gained more than 100 yards, including 179 by St. Louis' Steven Jackson. The defense is 24th in the league against the run, giving up a good portion of yardage when runners bounce outside.

In an uneven season where Jamal Lewis was stonewalled by both the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals - teams he usually runs roughshod over - a breakout game would almost seem fitting.

"They've got big guys in the middle but we have to scheme to try and handle that," Lewis said. "If you call it, I'll haul it."

Lewis may have to carry the ball more to keep quarterback Kyle Boller from getting knocked out of the game. Stroud and Henderson are equally adept at collapsing the pocket and rushing the passer.

The two have combined for 25 pressures this season. They face a Ravens interior offensive line that has spent its fair share of time, along with Lewis, stumbling around in the backfield.

"That's as good a combination inside as there is in the game today," Ravens coach Brian Billick said of Stroud and Henderson. "They're physical, and it's one thing to be big and physical, but to also give you the inside pass rush, which is a tough combination. They're the best in the league."

And making each other better. Both players had the advantage of playing next to equally dominant tackles in college (Stroud at Georgia with New England Patriots' Pro Bowl nose guard Richard Seymour and Henderson at Tennessee with the Tennessee Titans' Albert Haynesworth). Stroud said Seymour helped cultivate his need to compete on the inside.

"It's kind of natural," Del Rio said. "I think [Stroud and Henderson] really are good friends that have a natural competition or have a natural rivalry. I don't have to do anything to try to encourage that."

Ravens@Jaguars Sunday, 1 p.m., Ch. 13, 1300 AM, 102.7 FM Line: Jaguars by 7

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