The Jaguars' defense starts with their two mammoth, mobile defensive tackles, the 6-7, 325-pound John Henderson and 6-6, 306-pound Marcus Stroud. They are regarded as among the best in the league, especially in stopping the run. The Jaguars have allowed just 59 rushing yards per game, third-best in the NFL.
"[Henderson and Stroud] are both real physical," associate head coach-offense Al Saunders said. "They're both good run-stoppers and real athletic. They're both first-round draft choices. They are as good as we'll face in the NFL.
Clinton Portis also senses the challenge ahead, but he has confidence in the Redskins' rushing attack, ranked fourth in the NFL. Portis got the Redskins' offense on track last Sunday, when he rushed for 86 yards and caught two passes for 78 yards. The ground game includes backups Ladell Betts, who rushed for 124 yards last week, and T.J. Duckett.
"We have had numerous big games against teams with great defenses," Portis said. "Playing Tampa last year--Tampa has one of the best defenses, just like Jacksonville. I think it is a preparation thing. We have to prepare to get Jacksonville's best, and we feel like they are going to bring their best. Both teams are going to slug it out."
The Jaguars' middle linebacker, Mike Peterson, is also active in the running game and versatile enough to drop back into coverage. Peterson, an eighth-year player, has a nose for tackles; he led the Jaguars with 190 last year.
Can Mark Brunell have similar success as he had last week against the Texans? Given the quality of the Jaguars' secondary, another week of short, safe passes could be in the offing. Jacksonville is ranked 12th in the NFL in pass defense.
Cornerback Rashean Mathis is a star on the rise, with three interceptions already this season. Opposite Mathis is Brian Williams, a fifth-year player formerly with the Minnesota Vikings.
Safeties Donovin Darius and Deon Grant present one of the hardest-hitting defensive back tandems in the NFL.
For the Redskins, the goal will be to get the ball in the hands of their playmakers--Portis, Ladell Betts, Santana Moss, Antwaan Randle, Brandon Lloyd and Chris Cooley, among others--and let them move the chains.
"You do what you think is effective on a given day," Saunders said. "We would like to throw the football down the field a lot more than we have in the last few games, but we haven't been able to do that successfully or as much as we would like.
"Last week, it was important that we establish the running game, and we did a good job of that. That will allow us to take advantage of versatility plays in games in the future. You would hope that a team would use an extra defender to defend against the run, and that should give you some opportunities one-on-one on the outside."
For the Jaguars' 16th-ranked offense, it all starts with 6-5, 242-pound quarterback Byron Leftwich, the Washington, D.C., native and fourth-year starter. He has completed 64.4 percent of his passes early this season, for 604 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions.
The Redskins' secondary intends to keep an eye on what they perceive to be Leftwich's awkward, slow-moving throwing motion. Carlos Rogers told reporters this week that it could allow defensive backs to get a quick read on where he's throwing the ball and a jump on a possible interception.
When the ball leaves Leftwich's hand, it has remarkable speed and velocity.
"He functions very well with the way [he throws]," assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said. "When quarterbacks come into the league, they have a lot of mechanics problems that they have practiced with their whole life. Sometimes you screw them up when you ask them to change. He has functioned at a high level. His completion percentage is high and their team has been winning."
Wide receivers Reggie Williams, Matt Jones and Ernest Wilford present impressive size--all three are taller than 6-4--but are young and still establishing themselves in the NFL. So far this season, they have combined for 37 receptions for 411 yards, but just one touchdown.
Tight end George Wrighster, who is 6-3 and 257 yards, complements the wide receivers with 10 catches for 75 yards.
The running game is led by ninth-year veteran Fred Taylor, a back familiar to Williams, who coaches against him twice a year when he was an assistant with the Tennessee Titans. Taylor, who has slimmed down this season, has rushed for 240 yards on 64 carries, a 3.8 yards-per-carry average, and one touchdown.
"Fred Taylor is one of those backs who has enough power to run on any short yardage play, but if he pops in the open, you better have your fastest guy have an angle on him to be able to run him down," Williams said. "He can take it the distance."
Added defensive tackle Joe Salave'a: "We have to minimize Fred Taylor. He's shed some pounds and he's finally healthy. We know that one missed tackle, and he's gone. We have to make sure our tackling is sound and that we're aggressive."
Taylor may be buoyed somewhat by the presence of rookie running back Maurice Jones-Drew, a speedster who has rushed for 115 yards and averaged 6.8 yards per carry. He presents a challenge as a change-of-pace back.
Williams said that his defense must match the physicality of the Jaguars' offense.
"I'm impressed with how physical they are on offense," Williams said. "Their offensive structure is real physical and they bring it to you on every single play. Even at times when you happen to know or have a pretty good guess on what they are going to do, they think they can out-execute you because they are going to out-physical you. Sunday's game is going to be a very physical matchup."
Jaguars' kicker Josh Scobee possesses a powerful leg--he led the AFC in touchbacks on kickoffs last season--but he has not always had great accuracy on his field goals.
So far this year, the third-year kicker has connected on 4-of-7 field goal attempts, with a long of 42. He has never had a kick blocked.
Punter Chris Hanson, a Pro Bowler in 2002, has established himself as one of the game's top punters. He is averaging 43.8 yards per punt, with six inside the 20. He has never had a punt blocked.
The Jaguars are ranked 31st in punt return with a 13.4 yards-per-return average. The unit yielded an 82-yard punt return to Terrence Wilkins of the Indianapolis Colts last week. The kick coverage units have fared better, averaging just 14.6 yards per kickoff return, second-best in the league.