JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines key players, matchups and storylines as the Jaguars prepare to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Sunday
Things are getting critical.
The phrase "must win" gets thrown around a lot in the NFL, but in terms of the 2015 season, the Jaguars' game against the Buccaneers Sunday is about as urgent as it gets.
They are 1-3 and facing another 1-3 team – and for a second consecutive week, they will face a team that has struggled early in the 2015 season. This past Sunday, the Jaguars squandered multiple opportunities, committing 13 penalties and missing two late field goals – one with :01 remaining in regulation and a second in overtime – in a loss to the 2-2 Indianapolis Colts.
That was the second time in four games missed opportunities and mistakes hurt the Jaguars, with a regular-season-opening loss to Carolina having a similar feel.
A victory Sunday would make the Jaguars 2-3 with a home game the next week against 1-3 Houston. A loss would move the Jaguars to 1-4, and put them in a deep hole five weeks into the season.
The Buccaneers are struggling in a situation in which many teams struggle.
A season removed from the NFL's worst record, the Buccaneers are starting a rookie quarterback who was the No. 1 overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft. That's former Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston, who has struggled in four games as a starter.
Winston has thrown six touchdowns with seven interceptions, including four interceptions in a 37-23 loss to unbeaten Carolina this past Sunday.
The Buccaneers lost the regular-season opener, 42-14, to Tennessee before winning at New Orleans, 26-19. They lost to Houston, 19-9, in Week 3 before the loss to Carolina.
Matchups to watch
*Jaguars secondary versus Winston.This is about the Jaguars' secondary and interceptions. They have none this season after three last season and Winston has been interception-prone. The secondary entered the season focused on getting more interceptions. On paper, this is a chance.
*Jaguars interior line versus Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.This matchup should be a lot about Jaguars left guard Zane Beadles – and a little about center Stefen Wisniewski. McCoy is considered the Buccaneers' best defensive lineman, though end William Gholston has played well this season and end Jacquies Smith has a team-leading four sacks. McCoy has three sacks and typically lines over the left guard. There, he will face Beadles, who – like the entire Jaguars' line – is significantly improved through four games from last season.
*Jaguars middle linebacker Thurston Armbrister versus Buccaneers running back Doug Martin.Armbrister appears likely to start for Paul Posluszny, who sustained a high-ankle sprain against the Colts. The Jaguars' defense has been stout against the run this season, and limited Indianapolis until the final series of overtime. Martin rushed for a season-high 106 yards on 20 carries against Carolina.
Jaguars to watch
*Bortles, quarterback. Bortles has improved this season, but consistency is an issue. He had perhaps his best half in 17 NFL starts against the Colts, but his accuracy/productivity fell off in the second half. That's a pattern that has shown up three times this season, with second-half offensive struggles thus far defining the Jaguars' season.
*Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson, wide receivers.Hurns and Robinson, like Bortles, have improved significantly through four games. Each has a 100-yard receiving game, with Robinson repeatedly showing big-play ability and Hurns developing as a reliable playmaker. Next step: turning the consistent yardage into points.
*T.J. Yeldon, running back.Yeldon registered his first 100-yard rushing game Sunday, finishing with 105 yards on 22 carries against the Colts. This is an area the Jaguars focused on strengthening in the offseason, and Sunday was the best step forward this season in that vein.
Keep an eye on …
*Posluszny. Though a high-ankle sprain often means being out multiple weeks, Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley on Monday did not rule out Posluszny for Sunday. …
*Updates are expected this week on defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks (knee) and tight end Julius Thomas (hand). Neither has played in the regular season.
*Linebacker John Lotulelei will be in the concussion program after being injured Sunday. With Lotulelei and Posluszny injured, the Jaguars on Monday signed fourth-year veteran linebacker James-Michael Johnson, who has spent time with Cleveland (2012), Kansas City (2013-2014) and Tampa Bay (2015). …
*Cornerback Aaron Colvin and safety James Sample sustained shoulder injuries Sunday, with Colvin expected to rehabilitate this week and an MRI on Sample revealing no significant damage. …
*Safety Sergio Brown (calf) will increase practice work this week after missing Sunday. …
*Running back Denard Robinson (knee) and wide receiver Marqise Lee (hamstring) will rehabilitate this week. Robinson has missed the last two games and Lee missed last week. …
*A.J. Cann will make a second consecutive start at right guard. He started Sunday for second-year veteran Brandon Linder, who was placed on injured reserve Monday with a torn labrum. …