JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines key players, matchups and storylines as the Jaguars prepare to play the Detroit Lions at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan, Sunday
The buzz around the Jaguars is they need a victory somehow, someway.
That doesn't make the buzz much different than it has been in recent weeks, but considering the Jaguars' losing streak now stands at four … well, they just need a victory. That's all.
They could take a step toward that by changing some key statistics that have defined what has been a disappointing season. The Jaguars haven't held a lead in any of the last four games, and they have led for two minutes, 49 seconds in the last five games.
They haven't forced a turnover in the last five games, and they have forced a league-low four turnovers defensively this season. They are minus-14 turnovers for the season.
It's tough to win with those numbers, and those numbers are a big reason the Jaguars are 2-7 and failing to meet expectations. Altering the numbers even a bit would go a long way to changing the conversation around this team.
The Lions are suddenly and somewhat surprisingly in first place in the NFC North.
After a three-game losing streak dropped them to 1-3, the Lions have won four of five games. With the Minnesota Vikings losing four consecutive games and the Green Bay Packers on a three-game losing streak, the Lions are now tied with Minnesota for first place at 5-4.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford has keyed the Lions' success this season and has a deserved spot in the conversation for MVP honors. The Lions have struggled to run this season, and they have trailed in all nine games, but Stafford has rallied them for five come-from-behind, fourth-quarter victories.
Stafford has thrown 18 touchdowns with five interceptions this season.
Matchups to watch
*Jaguars C Brandon Linder versus Lions DL Kerry Hyder.This isn't an all-game matchup because the Lions line Hyder up inside and outside. Wherever he lines up, he gets penetration. He has a team-high seven sacks and has developed this season from a reserve to a potential core player.
*Jaguars CBs Jalen Ramsey, Prince Amukamara and Aaron Colvin versus Lions WRs Golden Tate, Marvin Jones and Anquan Boldin.The Lions replaced the retired Calvin Johnson with multiple productive receivers – and no Lions receiver has been as productive as Jones. Jones, who signed with the Lions as an unrestricted free agent from Cincinnati, has 661 yards and four touchdowns receiving this season. Tate leads the Lions with 49 receptions for 513 yards and Boldin has a team-high five touchdown receptions.
*Jaguars DEs Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler Jr. versus Lions OTs Taylor Decker and Riley Reiff.The Jaguars' pass rush has struggled in recent weeks with four sacks in the last five games; Fowler has registered no sacks in that span and Ngakoue has one. Reiff moved to the right side of the line this season with Decker – a rookie first-round selection – starting, and the Lions' pass protection overall has improved this season.
Jaguars to watch
*Blake Bortles, quarterback.Bortles remains the Jaguars' No. 1 storyline – and he continues to struggle with accuracy and decision-making. He threw two touchdowns and completed 65.3 percent of his passes in a loss to Houston Sunday, but his first-drive interception was returned for a touchdown and he twice missed open receivers for would-be touchdowns. He has 16 touchdowns this season with 11 interceptions.
*Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon, running backs.After a season-high 205 yards rushing against Kansas City in Nathaniel Hackett's debut as offensive coordinator, the Jaguars rushed for just 80 yards on 22 carries against Houston. The Jaguars want more balance offensively. Can the running game produce enough to allow for more carries?
*Marqise Lee, wide receiver.The third-year veteran seems oh-so-close to making a big, breakout play. He was running behind the defense last week and Bortles underthrew him. Is this the week?
The Lions are 3-1 at home this season and have won their last three games at Ford Field. The Jaguars are 1-3 on the road with one-sided losses at San Diego and Tennessee, a narrow loss at Kansas City and a come-from-behind victory over Chicago. They have scored just one first-half road touchdown this season and the 2:49 they led at the end of the Chicago game marks the only time this season they have led on the road.
Key to victory
The key for the Jaguars remains ball security and turnover differential. They have shown in recent weeks they can compete with contending teams, losing close games to AFC-West leading Kansas City and AFC South-leading Houston. The Jaguars outgained both teams, but committed four turnovers and forced none in a 19-14 loss to Kansas City and committed two turnovers with none forced in a 24-21 loss to Houston. If the Jaguars can force mistakes and protect the ball, they can beat most teams on their schedule. If they don't, they cannot.
Keep an eye on …
*Wide receiver Bryan Walters remains in the NFL's concussion protocol. He missed Sunday's game with a concussion sustained in Kansas City a week ago.