JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton break down three Jaguars keys for Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville
1.Be much better offensively. This is a broad, tall task that got taller with the NFL's one-game suspension this week of Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette. Also making it tough: The Jaguars' offensive line is down to two season-opening starters – right tackle Jermey Parnell and right guard A.J. Cann – after season-ending injuries at the other three positions. That makes quarterback Cody Kessler's first start for the Jaguars and offensive coordinator Scott Milanovich's first game calling plays for the offense monumentally difficult. Regardless, being better offensively is critical Sunday; the reality is the Colts' offense is good enough that it's probably going to score in the 20s even with a very good effort by the Jaguars' defense. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is having a Most Valuable Player-level season, enabling the Colts to average 31.8 points over their last eight games. The Jaguars must find big plays in the passing game and a way for a beat-up offensive line to enable running backs Carlos Hyde and T.J. Yeldon to be effective. Somehow.
2.Be smart. This may sound simple, but there's a harsh reality that must be remembered about this Jaguars season: For all that has gone wrong, the team would be contending for the playoffs without a few very avoidable mental and judgment errors. Missed defensive assignments cost the Jaguars a victory in Indianapolis in mid-November, and Fournette's ejection almost certainly cost them a victory against Buffalo last week. Most NFL games are decided by a score or less, which means most are decided by a play or two here or there. It's hard enough to win in the NFL when you're completely on point and doing things right on every play. It's monstrously difficult when you're not. This team is very capable of winning; it should have won the last three games and perhaps the last four. If the Jaguars are to snap this seven-game losing streak, the first thing they must do is stop beating themselves.
3.Steal points – and possessions. Yes, we've reached that point in the season that the Jaguars probably must make plays defensively and on special teams to have a chance. The Jaguars' offense hasn't scored 30 points since Week 4 and it only has reached 20 twice during their current seven-game losing streak. The Jaguars haven't had a defensive touchdown since linebacker Myles Jack's interception return in a Week 1 victory over the Giants. The Colts have been very good protecting the ball during their five-game winning streak, but Luck threw a pair of interceptions last week – and the Jaguars' defense remains capable of creating takeaways and big plays. An interception that creates a touchdown … perhaps a fake punt for a first down … those are the sort of momentum-changing plays a team seeking to snap a losing streak needs – and they're what the Jaguars may need Sunday.
1.Do your job. This seemingly obvious key was missing from the Jaguars' loss in Indianapolis – specifically, in the defensive backfield where All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey didn't play the defense called and gave up three of the four first-half touchdowns scored the Colts. My guess is we'll see the "wounded" version of Ramsey on Sunday, the guy who was stung by pregame reports of his eminent departure and played the best game of his career against the Steelers. If so, the Jaguars have an excellent chance to win because when he played the scheme called in the second half in Indianapolis the Colts managed only 68 passing yards and didn't sniff the end zone. If the All Pro and Pro Bowl players show up on defense, the Jaguars' offense will have a much greater chance for success.
2.Play above the Xs and Os: There are so many players playing on the Jaguars' offense who we never could have guessed would have to contribute. Left tackle Ereck Flowers and running back Carlos Hyde weren't even here when the losing streak began; both will start on Sunday. Guard Chris Reed was a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency guy, Tyler Shatley a valued swing guard/center and James O'Shaughnessy a move tight end. The biggest name on the list is Kessler, who we didn't figure would see much of the field because Blake Bortles was thought to be ready to play at a higher level and much more consistently than early in his career. In other words, a lot of bad things have happened and all of those have contributed to the train wreck that this offense has become – oh and mix in a new play-caller in Milanovich. For this group to be productive, guys must make plays. This sounds trite; everyone says make plays, but saying it and doing it are entirely different. Make the block, hold the ball, throw to the open receiver and catch it. There are opportunities in every game. A team with as many issues as this team has won't get many. The Jaguars must take advantage of the ones they get.
3.Block out the noise. There is a LOT of it right now and all of it is beyond the players' control. They must FOCUS on each play and keep fighting. Teams with as much drama as surrounds this one right now can let it get away; December can get ugly. There is still too much talent for that to happen; as long as the Jaguars focus, we should see a competitive team. That may be enough to find a victory in the final month of the season.