JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines key players, matchups and storylines as the Jaguars prepare to play the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City Sunday
The winning streak seems long ago.
That's the difference five days can make, and it's a span that has redefined the Jaguars' season.
The Jaguars, after winning two consecutive games to improve to 2-3 and move to the edges of the AFC South race, have lost their last two games to the Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Titans. The losses came within a five-day period by respective scores of 33-16 and 36-22 in games that weren't that close.
As a result, they enter Sunday's game at Kansas City three games under .500.
The Jaguars likely need to win Sunday to retain any chance of a .500 season, but mostly they need to put on a better performance than the last two games, games in which they trailed at halftime by a cumulative score of 47-6.
Sunday's game will be the first for Nathaniel Hackett as the Jaguars' offensive coordinator. The Buffalo Bills' offensive coordinator in 2013 and 2014, Hackett served as Jaguars quarterbacks coach from the start of the 2015 season. The Jaguars fired offensive coordinator Greg Olson Saturday.
The Chiefs entered the season with playoff aspirations. They're playing to that potential so far.
Kansas City hasn't been spectacular statistically, but the Chiefs are balanced offensively and effective defensively. Quarterback Alex Smith has been efficient with eight touchdown passes and two interceptions and the Chiefs rank second in the NFL with a plus-nine giveaway-takeaway margin.
Smith left a victory at Indianapolis Sunday with what the team originally announced as a concussion, but team trainers later said Smith did not sustain a concussion. Backup Nick Foles threw two touchdown passes playing for Smith; Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid said Smith will start when healthy.
Pass-rushing outside linebacker Justin Houston remains on the Physically Unable to Perform list; as of early this week, it's unlikely he will play Sunday. Running back Jamaal Charles has rushed just 12 times in three games and leading rusher Spencer Ware – 511 yards and two touchdowns on 102 carries – left Sunday's game with a concussion.
Third-year veteran linebacker Dee Ford leads the Chiefs with seven sacks, and cornerback Marcus Peters has five interceptions with 11 passes defensed.
Matchups to watch
*Jaguars offensive line versus Chiefs defensive line.This isn't a one-on-one matchup, but the Jaguars' offensive line could decide this game – and how the offense fares the rest of the season. Expect the Jaguars to recommit to the run under Hackett – and to stay committed to it. If that happens, how the offensive line fares against a capable defensive line could be where the game turns.
*Jaguars WRs Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns versus Chiefs CBs Marcus Peters and Phillip Gaines.The intriguing matchup here could be Peters covering Robinson. Peters, in his second season, has emerged as one of NFL's top cornerbacks – and perhaps its best interception-creating corner. Peters typically lines up on the left side of the defense, but has the ability to shadow a top receiver such as Robinson.
*Jaguars SS Johnathan Cyprien and LB Telvin Smith versus Chiefs TE Travis Kelce.The Jaguars have improved against tight ends compared to recent seasons, but this week will be a test. Kelce, the star of E!'s "Catching Kelce," is more than a reality television star; the Pro Bowl tight end is the Chiefs' leading receiver with 34 receptions for 377 yards and three touchdowns.
Jaguars to watch
*Blake Bortles, quarterback.Bortles' accuracy and production issues have continued in recent weeks; he has thrown for fewer than 75 first-half yards in each of the last games. Can Hackett's presence steady Bortles? That's Jaguars Storyline No. 1 Sunday.
*Abry Jones and Sen'Derrick Marks, defensive tackles. The Jaguars struggled against the run Thursday against the Titans, their first game without veteran nose tackle/run-stuffer Roy Miller III. Kansas City is balanced enough to run effectively; if the Jaguars are going to solidify the defense, it has to start here.
*Marqise Lee, wide receiver.The third-year veteran has stayed healthy this season – and he has been the Jaguars' most productive offensive player at times. Can that turn into explosive plays and points? That's Lee's next step.
The Chiefs have won 15 of their last 17 regular-season games; no other NFL team has won more than 13 games in that span. The Jaguars have won six games over the same span. The Chiefs have won their last three games after a 43-14 Week 4 loss to Pittsburgh.
Key to victory
Before the Jaguars can beat a team as good as Kansas City, they must steady a rocky ship. Part of that unsteadiness has been an ineffective running game, which has produced just one 100-yard game this season. Bradley and Hackett spoke on Monday of needing to run more effectively to give the offense balance and help a passing game that has been ineffective lately. Running well may not give the Jaguars a victory Sunday, but it's hard to imagine them having a chance without consistency in this area.
Keep an eye on …
*Defensive end Jared Odrick (quad) was the lone Jaguars player to miss last Thursday's loss to Tennessee because of injury. ..
*Cornerback Aaron Colvin left the Tennessee game with a calf injury. …