JACKSONVILLE – Here are 10 things the Jaguars must do to beat the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2013 regular-season opener at EverBank Field Sunday . . .
1. Protect the quarterback.The offensive line is supposed to be better. That's why Luke Joeckel was drafted No. 2 overall to play right tackle, and it's why the Jaguars left Eugene Monroe at left tackle. The Chiefs' edge rushers, Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, will be a difficult matchup, but first-round tackles are supposed to handle difficult matchups. The Jaguars' offensive line hasn't kept defenses off the quarterback well enough in recent seasons. It has to do it this season, and considering it enters the season healthy and at full strength, it needs to start immediately.
*2. Get Maurice Jones-Drew going. *This isn't to say the Jaguars have to be all-Mojo, all the time. Those days are probably past, and should be. But the three-time Pro Bowl selection can get four or five yards where it seems at first there might be only two or three. That's one element around which to build a balanced offense. He says he's ready and able to handle a full load. He may get one.
3. Rush the passer.This is area of concern coming out of the preseason. It may come from blitzing. It may come from effort. It may come from stunts up front. Whatever. Doesn't matter how. Doesn't matter who. Doesn't matter where the rushers come from. You just have to get there. It has been too long since the Jaguars did that well.
4. Get Cecil Shorts III involved.Do it early and often. The third-year veteran developed late last season, and got better during the offseason. A calf injury slowed him a bit late in training camp, but he said he feels ready. He may or may not be the Jaguars' best offensive player, but he's the most likely to score from anywhere. He has turned into a weapon, and without Justin Blackmon for the first four games, you have to use him.
5. Be quick.There's not much danger of the Jaguars not being this. They're significantly quicker and faster than a year ago simply because of the presence of Ace Sanders and Denard Robinson. Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch showed hints in the preseason of how he'll use those players, but he didn't reveal the whole approach. As involved as Sanders and Robinson were in preseason, look for that — and more.
6. "Do your job."Well, we had to say it – this once.
7. Win the "surprise" game.The opening game of the season is always the toughest to project. More upsets happens, and more weirdness goes along with it, in Week 1 than in any other week. The reason is that teams have no real game film with which to study their opponent. That means crafty, creative game-planning – and the accompanying surprises – typically has a bigger influence in Week 1 than any other week of the season. There will be tricks and there will be unforeseen plays. Win that matchup.
8. Stop Jamaal Charles.The Chiefs' running back was a Pro Bowl selection last season, and outside of Chris Johnson of Tennessee, there may not be a better breakaway back in the NFL. He had three touchdown rushes of more than 80 yards last season. The Jaguars' front-line defense for the most part stopped the run well in the preseason. They'll need to do it every play Sunday, because Charles can turn a mistake into points.
9. Bother Alex Smith.The Chiefs' quarterback has been one of the best in the NFL in recent seasons not making mistakes. He is a smart player who plays within the scheme, and usually doesn't get his teams beat. That's how he helped the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game in 2011. But this is a new team and a different offense, and Smith doesn't have the experience in this scheme – or the same dominant, control-the-clock offense around him – as he did in San Francisco. There's no reason to think Smith won't eventually be good in Kansas City. Head Coach Andy Reid thinks he will be very good. But the first game for a player in a new situation is weird. Pressure Smith and make weird things happen.
10. Feed off the crowd. There's energy in this fan base, and though most fans grasp that there will be tough times in this rebuild, this is the first official, real-live, regular-season game of the Gus Bradley era. The crowd will be up. These fans are ready. Feed off of that feeling.