JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines key players, matchups and storylines as the Jaguars prepare to play host to the Baltimore Ravens at EverBank Field in Jacksonville Sunday
The Jaguars' buzz? They need to win. They really need to win.
That's true any week, but it's particularly true following a 38-14 loss to the Chargers in San Diego this past Sunday that stunned Jaguars players for its one-sidedness and left them 0-2 two weeks into the season.
The loss eliminated any positive feeling from a Week 1 loss to Green Bay in which the Jaguars showed improvement from a team that spent the past three seasons rebuilding under Head Coach Gus Bradley and General Manager David Caldwell. Jaguars players entered the San Diego game believing they would play well and win; there was clear disbelief, disappointment and frustration afterward.
The Jaguars' season is not over. They still can navigate a difficult first month of the season with a 2-2 record entering the bye. But no margin for error remains to achieve that, and there will be urgency this week to erase the memory of a Week 2 one-sided enough to shake many teams' confidence.
The Ravens narrowly averted entering Week 3 in a difficult circumstance.
As it stands, the Jaguars' opponent this week is 2-0 after two games – though it is hardly a team that has looked dominant early in the season.
The Ravens, after an uncharacteristic 5-11 2015 season in which they fell from playoff contention early, edged the winless Buffalo Bills, 13-7, in the regular-season opener before rallying from a 20-0 first-quarter deficit for a dramatic 25-20 over the winless Cleveland Browns in Cleveland this past Sunday.
Quarterback Joe Flacco, who missed the last six games of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, completed 25 of 45 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions against the Browns.
One storyline to watch for the Ravens: the potential return of defensive end Elvis Dumervil. The team's sacks leader the past two seasons, he has been missed the first two regular-season games after an offseason foot injury. Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said Dumervil could play Sunday and his status could depend on his ability to practice Wednesday.
Matchups to watch
*Jaguars WRs Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns versus Ravens CBs Jimmy Smith and Shareece Wright.Robinson and Hurns combined for eight receptions for 118 yards Sunday, but as was the case for much around the Jaguars, the duo was unproductive until the game was out of hand. Chargers cornerback Jason Verrett was particularly effective covering Robinson. Both Hurns and Robinson caught touchdown passes against the Ravens last season, and this offense must be able to rely on productivity from that duo.
*Jaguars MLB Paul Posluszny and DT Roy Miller versus Ravens RBs Justin Forsett and Terrance West.Forsett and West combined for just 79 yards against Cleveland last week, but the Jaguars' performance against San Diego Sunday makes this area a concern. The Jaguars believe they're a stop-the-run-first defense. They allowed 58 yards on the game's opening drive in San Diego, a possession that set the game's tone.
*Jaguars SS Johnathan Cyprien/WLB Telvin Smith versus Ravens TE Dennis Pitta. **The Ravens' offense struggled much of the game against Cleveland, but Pitta caught nine passes for 102 yards and has 141 receiving this season. That's not surprising, because when healthy Pitta has been one of the NFL's best at his position. Considering the Jaguars' history of troubles covering tight ends, look for Flacco to target Pitta early and often.
Jaguars to watch
*T.J. Yeldon, running back.The status of Jaguars running back Chris Ivory (general medical issue) will become clearer throughout the week. But whether it's Yeldon Sunday or a combination of Yeldon/Ivory, the Jaguars' offense must run better Sunday than it has in Weeks 1 and 2.
*Dante Fowler Jr./Yannick Ngakoue, defensive endsThe young pass rushers showed signs of life with three sacks Sunday – two by Fowler and one by Ngakoue. The Jaguars need more in this vein – and more from the defensive front overall.
*Jalen Ramsey, cornerback; linebacker Telvin Smith, linebacker.Whatever else hasn't gone right for the Jaguars early this season, these two are playing at a high level. The Jaguars could use more players playing with their consistency and at their speed Sunday.
The Jaguars' key trends entering Week 3 are ones they must break. They are 1-10 in September under Bradley, and they are 5-19 under Bradley against teams with winning records. Even after Sunday's one-sided loss in San Diego, confidence remains among players that this season can be a successful one. But they must start winning and history suggests Sunday's game is a tricky proposition.
Key to victory
The Jaguars must forget last week, and Blake Bortles must put it behind him, too. The third-year veteran had one of the most-difficult games of his three-year career, throwing two interceptions and losing a fumble on a sack. Bortles had shown a lot of positive growth in training camp and preseason, but Week 2 looked similar to some past games when he has struggled with decision-making and pocket awareness. Young quarterbacks have starts and stops. If the Jaguars are going to beat Baltimore Sunday, Bortles needs to start again.
Keep an eye on …
*Jaguars left tackle Kelvin Beachum is in the NFL's concussion protocol after sustaining a concussion in the fourth quarter Sunday.
*Several injured Jaguars players will be evaluated in the coming days: defensive end Jared Odrick (triceps), strong safety Johnathan Cyprien (triceps) and defensive tackle Roy Miller (hand).
*Ivory and CB Prince Amukamara (hamstring) missed Sunday's game against San Diego. Their statuses will be updated Wednesday.