JACKSONVILLE – They're on the cusp of contention, and that's a remarkable thing. Think of it:
Just weeks ago the Jaguars left EverBank Field 0-3 in the wake of a maddening loss to Baltimore. They haven't exactly played great in the two weeks since. They're still struggling to run. Their quarterback remains inconsistent. There are still serious flaws.
And yet …
And yet here we are entering late October and the Jaguars can shine an entire new light on the 2016 season with a victory Sunday over Oakland – as impossible as that may have seemed less than a month ago.
The Jaguars with a victory Sunday will be .500, something they haven't been in October since 2010. With a victory, they will be very much in the AFC South race. With a victory they will have their first three-game winning streak since 2013.
A victory also would be their first against a team two or more games over .500 since they beat the Baltimore Ravens, 12-7, in the sixth game of the 2011 season. That was current Raiders Head Coach Jack Del Rio's last season as the Jaguars' head coach.
That historical angle means little for the Jaguars this week. Only middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, tight end Marcedes Lewis and defensive end Tyson Alualu remain from that team. What matters is what a victory would mean now, and right now it would mean a lot.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars must do to make that happen:
1)Protect the ball. The Jaguars rise and fall offensively largely based on when quarterback Blake Bortles turns the ball over and when he doesn't. He must minimize mistakes. Carelessness with the ball is the biggest sin in this offense right now.
2)Run.The collective "Aaarrrgh" you heard was a repeat of the collective "Aaaargh" you hear from Jaguars observers whenever it is said the Jaguars must run to win. Yell "Aaargh" all you want. Yell it from the rooftops. Yell it from atop the video boards. Yell it from under a Buick at the BCB tailgate. However loud or often you yell, the Jaguars must run better than they have if this offense is to be productive. "AAARRGHHH!
3)Get off the field.Third downs have been an issue for the Jaguars' defense this season. They were an issue in the first half against Chicago Sunday, and because of that, the game felt out of control. The Jaguars regained control by holding Chicago to 0-for-7 on third downs in the second half. Maintain control. Get the Raiders off the field.
4)Account for Khalil Mack.The Raiders' defense overall isn't great. The same isn't true of their third-year defensive end. Double him. Chip him. Whatever, just get him blocked.
Images from the Jaguars practice Thursday afternoon.
5)Score early.The Jaguars' offense deflated against the Bears when a great first drive ended with an end-zone interception. Don't deflate Sunday. Do the opposite. Score early and get the defense and the crowd going early.
6)Up the tempo.We're not talking about going no-huddle on every series. We're not talking about throwing on every down. But we are talking about mixing in some of the up-tempo that seems to work so effectively for these offensive players.
7)Get Bortles outside the pocket .This goes hand in hand with No. 6. You don't want Bortles outside the pocket on every play. Of such an approach are short quarterbacking seasons and short quarterbacking careers made. But getting outside the pocket seems to get him into a rhythm.
8)Limit Amari Cooper … This likely will have a lot to do with Jalen Ramsey – whether or not he is one-on-one with Cooper all over the field or not. Ramsey has shown he's capable of big-time play against big-time players. This will be another big-time test.
9)… and Michael Crabtree.Cooper is the Raiders' No. 1 receiver, but Crabtree has five touchdown receptions, and the combination of Cooper/Crabtree makes this offense very dangerous. This is strength versus strength, because Jaguars cornerback Prince Amukamara undoubtedly has been a strength through five games.
10.Force turnovers.The defense has done everything but this so far this season. Add this to the mix Sunday – and maybe mix in a defensive touchdown, too. Do that, and you've got a real chance to walk out of EverBank late Sunday afternoon with all your season-opening goals very much intact.
Images from Wednesday's practice as the Jaguars began preparations for the Oakland Raiders.