JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton break down three Jaguars keys for Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field in Buffalo, New York
1.Run – and run some more. This won't be easy against a very good Bills defense, but forget easy: The Jaguars' running game showed signs of real life in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday, and there's little reason to believe they'll stray from that approach in the final six games. Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette looked stronger against Pittsburgh than he did the previous week against Indianapolis, which marked his return after a four-game absence because of a hamstring issue. Fournette rushed for a season-high 95 yards on 28 carries Sunday, and reserve running back Carlos Hyde rushed just as well with 44 yards on eight carries. The 162 yards by Fournette, Hyde and T.J. Yeldon marked the first time this season Jaguars running backs combined for more than 100 yards rushing – and the result was an offense that looked more like the team's preseason vision than in any other game this season. It may be too late for a playoff push, but don't look for the Jaguars to abandon their offensive philosophy.
2.Make the rookie play … like a rookie. Bills rookie quarterback Josh Allen, the No. 7 overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft, is expected to start Sunday for the first time since sustaining an elbow injury in a Week 6 loss to the Houston Texans. While Allen showed some progress in his first early-season starts, he threw just two touchdown passes with five interceptions – and he hasn't played in nearly two months. The Jaguars, after registering just three interceptions in the first seven games of the season, have five in the last three games – a trend they must continue against the rookie quarterback. The Bills' offensive line has struggled without guard Richie Incognito and center Eric Wood this season – and while the Jaguars' pass rush hasn't matched its 2017 numbers it's still very capable of creating enough havoc to force a rookie quarterback into game-changing mistakes. The Jaguars haven't done that enough this season. They may get no better opportunity the rest of the season.
3.Get something – anything – from the passing offense. Is the problem quarterback Blake Bortles? The offensive line? The receivers? While much of the focus for the offense's struggles last week correctly was on the fifth-year quarterback, a beat-up line struggled in protection and helped allow six sacks – and Jaguars receivers caught just five passes for 45 yards. That was a group effort, and improvement won't be easy against a Bills defense that ranks first in the NFL against the pass. A priority for the Jaguars Sunday also must be blocking pass-rusher Jerry Hughes, who is quietly having a very effective season. No matter the reason for the Jaguars' struggles in the passing game a week ago, more production is needed – and more faith must be placed in the area. The Jaguars had four consecutive three-and-outs in the fourth quarter Sunday and didn't throw a pass on the game's critical series. The Jaguars can win in Buffalo Sunday, but it will be difficult to win any game with that approach.
1.Get the quarterback. Allen is going to be good, maybe very good. If you're dubious, as Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey is, consider Allen's performance in Minnesota in which he completed 68 percent of his passes with a touchdown and looked like Randall Cunningham running all over the field, leaping over defenders and running for two scores. He's big, athletic, can make every throw and we all know the trouble the Jaguars have had with mobile quarterbacks this season. But – and it's a big "but" – he's a rookie who sat and watched the last four weeks with an elbow injury, which doesn't make him ready for the type of defenders the Jaguars have on the field. If the Jaguars can play like they did last Sunday against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, it's time for them to play consistently and do it against a rookie making only his sixth start of the season – and his first since the middle of October.
2.Run. The Jaguars rushed for 143 yards in the first half against Pittsburgh, then only 38 in the second half. When your professed style of play is power, you must be able to run no matter how they stack the line of scrimmage. Everyone knew what Lombardi's Packers were going to do; they used to joke in Green Bay that they could point to the hole, tell the defense the snap count and more often than not they couldn't stop it. I can't go to that extreme with as many starting offensive linemen as the Jaguars have on the shelf, but you must be able to get four yards when you need it – and you must be able to stay ahead of the chains after spending the fourth pick of last year's draft on a guy who is supposed to be a generational running back.
3.Make a play. If Bortles simply threw the ball in the second quarter Sunday when he saw – saw – wide receiver Donte Moncrief running open on a slant, the Jaguars might have been able to get points after safety Barry Church's interception and change the tempo of the game. If Fournette had enough vision to see Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree overcommit to the inside run and make a slight move to the outside on a late-game third-and-5, he might have gained enough for the first down instead of running up the back of his lineman and forcing a punt. Don't blame the play calling as if that is somehow the only thing wrong; the right plays were called in those two instances, but no one made a play. We all hear coaches talking about making plays and players chirping about making plays. The Jaguars on Sunday must make some plays and beat a team that is building towards the future and isn't ready to play at a consistently high level. This Jaguars team was about the Super Bowl when this season began. They should be able to win Sunday if they just play slightly above the Xs and Os.