JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines key players, matchups and storylines as the Jaguars prepare to play the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York, Sunday
The buzz around the Jaguars remains that they need a victory – even if it won't save the season.
The Jaguars (2-8) have lost five consecutive games. One-sided losses to Oakland and Tennessee started the skid, and three consecutive narrow losses to Kansas City, Houston and Detroit assured the Jaguars of a ninth consecutive non-winning season.
The Jaguars' struggles have come despite a defense that is significantly improved from last season. They rank seventh in the NFL in yards allowed, and are fifth against the pass.
Why are they 2-8? Turnovers, offensive struggles and special teams gaffes. The Jaguars are last in the NFL with a minus-15 turnover margin and rank 27th in the NFL in points scored. They have allowed a game-turning punt return in each of the last three games.
The Bills are in the playoff race, but they need to be good in the second half of the season.
In their second season under Head Coach Rex Ryan, the Bills lost their first two games before winning their next four. They then lost three consecutive games to Miami, New England and Seattle – a trio of playoff contenders – before winning 16-12 at Cincinnati this past Sunday.
The Bills enter Sunday as the NFL's best rushing offense with 157.8 yards a game. Running back LeSean McCoy leads Buffalo with 716 yards and seven touchdowns on 138 carries, and is expected to play Sunday despite sustaining a thumb injury at Cincinnati that is expected to require surgery this week.
The Bills at 5-5 are in third place in the AFC East behind New England (8-2) and Miami (6-4). They are two games behind Kansas City (7-3) and Denver (7-3) in the AFC wild-card race, and haven't made the playoffs in 16 seasons – the NFL's longest non-playoff streak.
Matchups to watch
*Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny and weak-side linebacker Telvin Smith versus McCoy.The Jaguars' defensive emphasizes stopping the run, and have done it this season. One of those times came against Detroit Sunday when the Jaguars held the Lions to 14 yards rushing. The Bills are a dramatically different task. Anything under 100 yards would be a strong day for the Jaguars.
*Jaguars wide receivers Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee versus Bills cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore, Ronald Darby and Kevon Seymour. Gilmore had his second two-interception game of the season Sunday, responding to Ryan's comment during the week that he was "challenging him to be the player that I know he is." Seymour, a rookie moved into the team's nickel role Sunday as Ryan shook up the secondary. Lee has emerged as a key playmaker, and Robinson remains the Jaguars most-reliable red-zone receiver with six touchdown receptions.
*Jaguars cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and Prince Amukamara versus the Bills' wide receivers.A primary issue in this matchup is health. Jaguars nickel corner Aaron Colvin is in the concussion protocol. Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins – the team's top outside play-maker – has been on injured reserve since mid-September. He is eligible to return Sunday, and Ryan indicated this week he could play a small role. Bills wide receiver Robert Woods left Sunday's game at Cincinnati with a knee injury and early indications are he won't play Sunday.
Jaguars to watch
*Blake Bortles, quarterback.Bortles continues to be the Jaguars' hot-button topic. He has thrown 18 touchdown passes, including two against Detroit last week, but many of his 16 turnovers have been killers. Bortles does a lot of good things, but accuracy and decision-making must be more consistent.
*Marqise Lee, wide receiver.The third-year veteran is on the verge of becoming the Jaguars' best offensive player. He caught four passes for 52 yards and his first touchdown of the season against the Lions. He's doing special things by the week – and getting better by the week, too.
*Abry Jones, defensive tackle.Jones has played well in the absence of Roy Miller, and he was a reason the Jaguars held Detroit under a yard per carry Sunday. The Bills depend heavily on a quick-strike running game and Jones' athleticism will be an important element inside.
The Jaguars are 2-11 on the road over the last two seasons. The Bills are 2-2 at New Era Field this season. The Jaguars beat the Bills 34-31 at Wembley Stadium in London last season.
Key to victory
The Jaguars must stop the run Sunday – and they also must stop beating themselves. The Jaguars in the last three weeks have committed eight turnovers and allowed three long punt returns that have changed momentum. They allowed just one offensive touchdown to Detroit, but had an interception returned for a touchdown and allowed a punt return for a touchdown. How do you lose three consecutive games in which you outgain contending teams? You turn the ball over and give away points on offense and special teams.
Keep an eye on …
*Bortles played through a shoulder issue in Detroit but is expected to play Sunday.
*The Jaguars placed tight end Marcedes Lewis (calf) and left guard Patrick Omameh (foot) on injured reserve this week. Lewis' absence is key because he and Ben Koyack had been playing extensively in the team's base, two-tight end packages with Julius Thomas playing in passing situations. Chris Reed replaced Omameh at left guard Sunday. …
*The Jaguars on Monday moved offensive tackle Josh Wells to the active roster from the injured reserve/designated-to-return list.
*Colvin and wide receiver Arrelious Benn are in the concussion protocol. …
*Running back T.J. Yeldon (ankle), defensive end Jared Odrick (shoulder) and Jones (ankle) sustained injuries against Detroit with linebacker Dan Skuta missing the game with a back injury. …