JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton break down three Jaguars keys for Sunday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri
1.Get ahead early.This is always a Jaguars key; their top-ranked defense is designed to prevent teams from throwing their way back into games. "Shutting down" the Chiefs' offense is a tough task, but getting ahead is paramount. Getting ahead will give the Jaguars a chance to get second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes and a slew of dangerously fast receivers in obvious passing situations, which in turn will give the Jaguars a chance to pressure Mahomes into mistakes he rarely has made in the first four games of a dynamic, breakout season. Getting behind the Chiefs is dangerous for the opposite reason; if the Chiefs are ahead it gives them access to their entire offensive scheme. Given the creative extent of Head Coach Andy Reid's playbook, and given the big-play potential of receiver/running back Tyreek Hill and running back Kareem Hunt, Kansas City will be particularly hard to stop in that situation. The Jaguars need to follow their lead from last January's AFC Divisional Playoff victory at Pittsburgh: shock a frenzied crowd with an impressive early drive. Or an early turnover. Or both.
2.Catch the ball.This is a sideways way of saying the Jaguars must make plays when opportunities arise. The Chiefs' style – high-powered offense, struggling defense – makes a high-scoring game likely. High-scoring games often feature a slew of opportunities on both sides of the ball. Mahomes figures to make at least a few mistakes against a pressuring, fast Jaguars defense that ranks first in the NFL in total defense in points, total yards allowed and passing yards allowed. The Jaguars' secondary must catch its opportunities. This is equally true offensively. The Chiefs' defense is struggling enough that the Jaguars must run – whatever the health of running backs Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon. But the Jaguars figure to test the Chiefs' secondary. They need to get defensive ends Dee Ford and Justin Houston blocked, but they need to convert opportunities when they're there. A bad day for the wide receivers such as they had versus Tennessee will make this a very difficult get for the Jaguars.
3.Keep pace and keep cool.The Jaguars like to control tempo, but that will be difficult without Fournette. Considering Kansas City's preferred style – a frenetic, up-tempo, multi-look approach offensively – the game figures to take on a back-and-forth, score-for-score feel at some point. The crowd at Arrowhead also figures to add to the frenzy. But this Jaguars team doesn't figure to get overwhelmed in that situation. They are 6-4 in the regular season away from TIAA Bank Field under Head Coach Doug Marrone, but two of those losses came with their playoff positioning clinched late last season – and they thrived in an up-tempo, hostile postseason environment in Pittsburgh in January. They also had no problem staying in an up-tempo, pass-oriented offensive approach against New England in Week 2 and the Jets last week. The myth that Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles can't win a passing contest is just that – a myth. The Jaguars must stay poised Sunday, and Bortles must convert third downs and avoid interceptions when he's in obvious passing situations. Recent history suggests he can do just that.
1.Attack the Chiefs' defense.It isn't very good and the numbers back it up. Part of its problem is the offense scores so much and so fast that the opponent is in catch-up mode, but in reality the Chiefs don't have the horses on that side of the field – as evidenced by their league-high 30 explosive plays allowed. They're giving up 29 points per game, are letting their opponents score nearly 90 percent of the time they reach the red zone and have given up 6.6 yards per carry the last two weeks. The Jaguars' offense has the weapons to exploit a weak spot and they absolutely should. The Jaguars must attack, attack and then attack again.
2.Attack the Chiefs' offense.The Chiefs are going to take their shots down the field. The Chiefs have the strongest arm in the game today and Mahomes doesn't hesitate to let it fly. They also have some of the game's best weapons in Hill, Hunt and tight end Travis Kelce; they multiply Mahomes' amazing arm strength. The Jaguars can run with their horses in this matchup and should trust the secondary to allow defensive coordinator Todd Wash to dial up some new and twisted blitzes to get after a quarterback who is making just his sixth NFL start. Mahomes is going to be very good for a very long time; the Jaguars must give him something he's never seen and will never forget. They must attack, attack and then attack again.
3.Bring the attitude.The Jaguars won't have any problem with this one. From the final whistle against the Jets until the first whistle on Sunday, this team has been dialed into the challenge. They know what they're up against and they believe they're the team to shut down the Chiefs. Arrowhead can be chaos, bedlam and confusion all rolled into one, but this team has the talent and the mindset to handle everything the Chiefs and their rowdy crowd can throw at them. In this case, their attitude will be as important as their talent because they're going to face some adversity on Sunday. They'll need to shake it off and keep rolling.