Lions, Jags seeking more from ground games

MARK LONG

, Last Updated: 2:46 PM ET

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Detroit's receivers are hurting. Jacksonville's quarterback is making his second career start.

It should be a good time to rely on the running game, right?

Not for these two teams.

The Lions (4-4) and Jaguars (5-3) are two of the worst rushing teams in the league. They have defied conventional NFL logic and won despite meager ground attacks, but they also have recognized it as their biggest weakness.

They would like to turn it around Sunday in Jacksonville. It might even be imperative because of key injuries.

"The desire to have a good strong running game has never really left, but the attempts to getting it done and turning it out has not been all that it needs to be," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said. "We have refocused ourselves in that direction."

Especially now. Quarterback Byron Leftwich is probably out two games with a sprained left knee, leaving inexperienced backup David Garrard to make his first start in nearly two years.

Garrard has played in seven games over three seasons, most of it in mop-up duty. In his only significant playing time -- three quarters of relief and one start in 2002 -- Garrard threw two interceptions, fumbled once and was sacked three times. He also ran 18 times for 115 yards and two scores. Nonetheless, Jacksonville lost both games.

Fred Taylor wasn't much help, running for a combined 132 yards.

The Jags expect more from him this time .

"Fred's going to be the workhorse for us," Garrard said.

Taylor has just one 100-game this season, against Indianapolis three weeks ago, and the Jaguars rank next-to-last in AFC rushing at 91.4 yards a game. He had similar numbers last season, but turned it around over the final eight games and finished with a career-high 1,572 yards rushing.

Can he do it again?

"I'm always up for a challenge," Taylor said. "Last year would make you think that that's just how I am, but I don't know. I would love for it to happen this year and I'm sure the team would. It betters our chances of winning."

The Lions have won half their games despite their running woes.

They haven't had a 100-yard rusher all season, and after managing just 103 yards rushing the last two weeks combined, dropped to last in the league.

Coach Steve Mariucci spent much of the week defending his team's running attack.

"There are a lot of thoughts in our discussion," he said. "Do we simplify and get better at a few things? Do we expand and get creative and run some reverses and some different kinds of things that might fool somebody? Do we spread them out and run the football against six and seven in the box or even five in the box with our three and four-wide receiver sets? Do we change personnel? Do we just throw the ball early to loosen them up? Do we just say, 'We're going to be stubborn and we're going to run what we do and do it better and do it better?'

"There are a lot of different alternatives. What I would suggest is that you just see where this goes because we do have to find a way to make it better."

Even more so now with receivers Roy Williams and Az-Zahir Hakim nursing injuries.

Williams has been slowed by the ankle he sprained last month against Atlanta. Hakim missed one game with a sprained ankle and practiced little this week because of several bumps and bruises resulting from the hits he took last week against Washington.

Both intend to play Sunday, but there's little they can do to help the running game. That will fall to rookie Kevin Jones, who is expected to shoulder more of the workload after sharing time with Artose Pinner and Shawn Bryson during the first half of the season.

Will it help?

"I don't think there is one magical formula that works for every team," quarterback Joey Harrington said. "If the guy is running well, then give him the ball. If a couple of guys are running the ball well, then split it up. As long as we're effective and efficient in our runs then I don't care who carries it."


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