JACKSONVILLE – This one is as big as the last one. Maybe bigger.
This does not mean the Jaguars’ game against the Houston Texans Sunday at EverBank Stadium is as high-profile as the last one. The last one was against the Super Bowl champions, and that's some serious profile.
But Sunday's game against the Texans matters just as much as last Sunday's.
That's because while it would have been cool for the Jaguars to beat the Kansas City Chiefs last Sunday for prestige and possible playoff seeding, Sunday's game against the Texans is very important when it comes to the AFC South. That makes it really important, period.
The Jaguars have won a franchise-record four consecutive games in the division. A victory Sunday would make them the lone team with 2-0 record in the South through three games. The Texans are 0-2, a young team with a rookie quarterback and an offensive line playing mostly backups.
It's the sort of early-season game division favorites win if they're going establish themselves as division powers. It's the sort of game the Jaguars need to win to put themselves in position to contend this season.
Here are 10 things they must do to do to get that victory:
- Put the past in the past. The Jaguars were frustrated, disappointed and "ticked" after a 17-9 loss to the Chiefs last Sunday. They didn't feel they played well and lost a big game they could have won. Losses happen in the NFL, even frustrating ones. Good teams respond.
- And relax. Offensive players and coaches talked after the loss to the Chiefs of a unit-wide feeling that they were pressing. The focus this week: Let the offense come to them, don't push so hard to make a big play. This offense has enough talent where points will come if they play within the scheme.
- Finish drives. The Jaguars struggled at times offensively against the Chiefs. Even with those struggles, they could have scored in the mid-20s – and possibly won – had they converted red-zone opportunities. The Jaguars scored two field goals on three possessions inside the 20. That was an area where the Jaguars struggled early last season before improving. They must improve again.
- Get the front blocked … The Jaguars offensive line has been inconsistent in two games. That seems to have affected quarterback Trevor Lawrence's timing and comfort in the pocket. This team has skill talent. Lawrence needs time to get that talent involved.
- … particularly Will Anderson Jr. Anderson, the No. 3 overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft, has special traits and is the player around whom Texans Head Coach DeMeco Ryans' defense will be built. If the Jaguars' offense is to have its "bounce-back" game, it can't let a rookie with two games experience wreck the game.
- Pressure Stroud. Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud in two games has looked like a future franchise quarterback, and the Houston passing game has been correspondingly effective. But the Texans' injured line has been vulnerable, and the Jaguars must exploit the matchup. Stroud hasn't thrown an interception in two games. The odds are against a rookie quarterback extending that streak to three games. Which leads to …
- Take. It. Away. The Jaguars have forced six takeaways in two games. That's a lot, but this defense has excelled in this area over the last two seasons. An aggressive defense that has rushed the passer well for the most part could force a rookie quarterback into game-changing errors.
- Simplify, simplify, simplify. It's one of the NFL's oldest coaching adages. When struggling, simplify and allow players to play fast. The Jaguars' game plan Sunday figures to have fewer options and maybe fewer players, with the idea to allow players to just play.
- Stay physical, stay fast. The theory before the season was the Jaguars' continuity defensively under second-year coordinator Mike Caldwell could result in a unit playing together and playing fast. That has happened and the unit is playing physically – and coming in big moments. That must become the norm.
- Capture the moment. The Jaguars were inches away from multiple touchdowns against the Chiefs. That's the nature of a game of inches. If the Jaguars make the plays that are there to make, what is perceived as a struggling offense will get right in a hurry.