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Final analysis: Key to contending

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JACKSONVILLE – Nine Jaguars experts – Rick Ballou, Bucky Brooks, Frank Frangie, Jeff Lageman, Brent Martineau, John Oehser, Brian Sexton, J.P. Shadrick and Ashlyn Sullivan – are breaking down the Jaguars as the 2021 NFL season approaches; today's topic: the key to the Jaguars contending in '21…

Rick Ballou, Jaguars sideline reporter

Key to contending: Getting some leads. This changes everything. The Jaguars have averaged just over eight first-half points a game the last two seasons. Scoring early likely means Jacksonville is establishing a balanced attack. If you can run, the clock runs as well. Putting together long scoring drives will set the tone for the game and allow the defense to get some rest. There were too many three and outs a year ago.

Bucky Brooks, NFL Media and Jaguars Media analyst

Key to contending: The Jaguars must overcome their mistakes with great energy and effort. The team is noticeably bigger, faster and stronger – but there is still a significant talent behind the top contenders. Meyer has preached toughness and effort since Day 1, and the Jaguars could steal a few victories with superior effort and physical play. If Lawrence and Co. can keep the turnovers down with the defense limiting big plays, this team can certainly scratch out some one-score victories in the fourth quarter.

Frank Frangie, Radio Voice of the Jaguars

Key to contending: Rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence adapting to the NFL way — the speed of the game, understanding defensive concepts, getting on the same page with his receivers/linemen — very quickly. And defensive coordinator Joe Cullen finding the right combination of pass rushers out of a group that wasn't great at it a year ago. That all will happen. The question is how quickly it will happen.

Jeff Lageman, Jaguars analyst and former Jaguars defensive end

Key to contending: The key to contending for the Jaguars is like a key ring with many keys. A young quarterback must protect the football. A running game must be the strongest asset of the team. A developing defense must digest a new scheme quickly. A new coaching staff with college and pro experience must blend. And potential of players must turn into production.

Brent Martineau, Action Sports Jax Sports Director

Key to contending: The key to contending is staying healthy and winning four AFC South games. If the Jaguars get to four victories in the division, they will have a shot to surprise everyone in December.

John Oehser, senior writer

Key to contending: Stopping the run. It's not that the offense and Lawrence's ability to adapt quickly to the NFL aren't key; Lawrence obviously is the key storyline around the season. But the Jaguars' inability to stop the run has ruined each of the last two seasons. The inability to get offenses into long yardage on third down has caused the Jaguars to struggle rushing the passer. That in turn has made it difficult to produce sacks or turnovers, and has had the added effect of keeping the Jaguars' offense playing while facing large deficits. It's a pass-oriented league, but if you can't stop the run, teams never need to pass. Whatever else the Jaguars must do, they must improve here first.

Brian Sexton, senior correspondent

Key to contending: A dominant running game. If running backs James Robinson, Travis Etienne Jr. and Carlos Hyde can pound defenses, then Lawrence will have more time and more leeway to operate. Look how much better Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield was last season with the NFL's best rushing attack, and go back to 2007 and see how much easier it was for then-Jaguars quarterback David Garrard with running backs Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones Drew running for more than 150 yards per game. A strong ground game would limit opportunities for rookie mistakes from the quarterback.

J.P. Shadrick, reporter/editor

Key to contending: Getting through the Seattle trip in Week 8 with around a .500 record. Including that game, the Jaguars have 11 consecutive weeks without a bye to end the season. How a new, relatively young team with a first-time NFL head coach handles the adversity of the final two months will be key.

Ashlyn Sullivan, Digital reporter and host

Key to contending: Stopping the run. The Jaguars never even gave themselves a chance to win last year with their run defense. Opponents rushed for 2,452 yards in 2020; that is over 930 more yards than the Jags produced in the running game. The stats are just ugly, with the Jaguars also allowing 23 rushing touchdowns in 2020. The Jaguars must stop the run to even be in the conversation of contending.

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