JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines key players, matchups and storylines as the Jaguars prepare to play host to the Denver Broncos at EverBank Field Sunday
The buzz around the Jaguars is they're still struggling – and still need a victory.
The Jaguars (2-9) have lost six consecutive games, with all six losses to teams currently at or above .500: Oakland, Tennessee, Kansas City, Houston, Detroit and Buffalo. They have led or been within a score in the fourth quarter in the last four games, including a 28-21 loss at Buffalo Sunday.
While the Jaguars with the loss secured a sixth consecutive losing season, they rank sixth in the NFL in total yards allowed.
The Jaguars remain last in the NFL with a minus-15 turnover margin; Sunday was the first time since a Week 4 victory over Indianapolis they did not commit a turnover. The Jaguars' special teams continue to struggle and have allowed a long punt return to set up a score in each of the last four games.
The defending Super Bowl champion Broncos are in contention, but need to play well in December.
The Broncos' Super Bowl championship last season was keyed by one of the best postseason defensive performances in recent memory, and the Broncos are using the same formula this season. Denver ranks fourth in the NFL in total defense, and pass-rushing linebacker Von Miller remains one of the league's elite players regardless of position.
Miller leads the NFL with 12.5 sacks and Denver leads the NFL with 35 as a team.
The Broncos enter Sunday's game in very close to a must-win situation, having lost in overtime to the Kansas City Chiefs this past Sunday to slip to 7-4. That leaves them two games behind Oakland and a game behind Kansas City in the AFC West.
The Broncos and the Miami Dolphins are tied for the sixth AFC wild-card spot.
Matchups to watch
*Jaguars left tackle Kelvin Beachum and right tackle Jermey Parnell versus Miller.Miller lines up on either side of the line, and is disruptive on either side. While Parnell struggled at times with edge rusher Dee Ford of Kansas City four games ago, the Jaguars' line for the most part has pass blocked well this season.
*Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson versus his former team.The fifth-year veteran will play his former team for the first time Sunday, having signed with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent in the offseason. He has more than fulfilled expectations, and has been consistently active and disruptive on the defensive interior.
*Jaguars cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey, Prince Amukamara and Aaron Colvin versus Broncos wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian is playing well enough in his first season as a starter to make Thomas and Sanders dangerous. Thomas has five touchdown receptions with a 12.3-yards-per-reception average and Sanders has caught four touchdown passes while averaging 13.6 yards per reception. Ramsey, Amukamara and Colvin continue to play at a high level and are a major reason the Jaguars rank No. 3 in the NFL against the pass.
Jaguars to watch
*Blake Bortles, quarterback.Bortles wasn't great in Buffalo, but he played well enough to give the Jaguars a chance. He avoided an interception for the third time this season, appearing solid mechanically throughout. He also ran decisively from the pocket, and his two-touchdown, no-interception performance was one of his best games of the season.
*Marqise Lee, wide receiver.The third-year wide receiver continues to improve by the week, catching touchdown passes in each of his last two games. He has 46 receptions for 581 yards and two touchdowns this season.
*Paul Posluszny and Telvin Smith, linebackers.There are many reasons the Jaguars' defense is dramatically improved this season. None are more important than this duo.
The Jaguars have lost their last five games at EverBank Field with their last victory there coming over the Indianapolis Colts, 51-16, last December. The Broncos are 3-2 on the road this season. The Broncos won the teams' most recent meeting, 35-19, in Denver in 2013.
Key to victory
The Jaguars must find a way to function offensively, something Denver's defense often prevents very good offenses from doing. Miller is dominant enough off the edge that he can almost single-handedly disrupt a passing game. That means the Jaguars must be effective on first- and second down, which means running with more effectiveness than typically has been the case this season. The Jaguars' offense have allowed 21 sacks this season after allowing 71 in 2014 and 51 last season. Keeping that number reasonable Sunday will be critical.
Keep an eye on …
*Wide receiver Allen Hurns (hamstring), defensive end Yannick Ngakoue (ankle), running back Chris Ivory (ankle), wide receiver Rashad Greene (Achilles) and safety Peyton Thompson (ankle) left the Bills loss Sunday with injuries. Their statuses will be updated this week. …
*Running back T.J. Yeldon played through an ankle sprain and was about 75 percent against Buffalo, Jaguars Head Coach Bradley said Monday. …
*Defensive tackle Abry Jones (ankle), defensive end Jared Odrick (shoulder), tight end Julius Thomas (back), linebacker Dan Skuta (back), defensive end Chris Smith (eye) missed Sunday's game and are expected to appear on the injury report this week. …