JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton break down three Jaguars keys for Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens at Wembley Stadium in London
1.Protect the ball.This is always key for this Jaguars offense: the offense committed no turnovers in a Week 1 victory over Houston and three on Sunday against Tennessee. The statistic is no coincidence, but it's particularly important this week. The Ravens with 10 takeaways in two games are the first team since the 1992 Pittsburgh Steelers with four takeaways in each of the first two games of the season. Those takeaways include eight interceptions, and those turnovers changed the early tone of a Week 2 victory over Cleveland. The Jaguars must do something to create more opportunities downfield. It's tough to win doing as little in the passing game as they did last week. At the same time, any giveaways will be magnified against a team that thrives on them. Dicey situation? Pretty much.
2.Make plays downfield.This key assumes the Jaguars will run effectively with rookie running back Leonard Fournette. They did so throughout a Week 1 victory at Houston, and did so again early against Tennessee. But Tennessee was able to stack the line of scrimmage and limit Fournette because they believed the Jaguars' offense and quarterback Blake Bortles couldn't be effective enough in the passing game to make them pay for the strategy. The Jaguars want to run effectively and play defense. That's their formula and it's unlikely to change. But within that strategy the Jaguars need some success with a struggling passing offense. It's hard to imagine defenses backing off the line of scrimmage unless they get it.
3. Match takeaways.This won't be easy against Baltimore; the Ravens have run effectively early in the season, and achieved a desired balance this past week against the Browns. The first task for the Jaguars on Sunday: stop the run and get into pass-rush situations. Second task: take advantage of an injured Baltimore offensive line and create something close to the chaos the Jaguars' defensive line created in a 10-sack, four-takeaway performance in a Week 1 victory over Houston. If the Jaguars are going to be successful this season, they have to be close to Week 1 defensively than Week 2. This is a team that's going to be in close games. It doesn't look like a team that's going to create a slew of big plays offensively every week. Teams like that need to score or create opportunities defensively, and you do that by creating chaos in the offensive backfield.
1.Protect the football.The Ravens are 2-0 with wins over the Bengals and Browns. In each of those two victories, they created five turnovers. That's downright awesome for a defense loaded with playmakers in its secondary. Let me pull out the written highlighter here and underscore it again: Bortles is the NFL's turnover leader since the start of the 2014 season, and he's coming off a three-turnover performance. Bortles must protect the football and he's not alone; the offensive line needs to protect him so he isn't the victim of a sack/fumble combination this week.
2. Take a chance.This seems diametrically opposed to my first point; in some ways it is. The Ravens are a strong defensive front and they're going to take the same "Make Blake" approach the Titans did last week. Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone has a formula to win: run the ball and rely on your defense to pressure the quarterback to create turnovers, field position and points. The thought here is they need to push the ball up the field, not necessarily down the field. In other words, get the tight ends involved early – perhaps James O'Shaughnessy, who is an interesting blend of size and athleticism. If they can hit the middle routes and force the Ravens' defense to adjust with their safeties, it should open up the deep ball. I'm not talking "Greatest-Show-On-Turf' stuff here, but everyone knows what the Jags are built to do. Show them something else and make them work to figure you out.
3. Control field position.It's not as if the Ravens are the best punt return team in the league but it's not as if the Jaguars proved last week they were ready for that kind of challenge. Titans returner Adoree Jackson's long third-quarter punt return blew the game wide open Sunday, and was the kind of back-breaking moment we saw too often in 2016. Offensive and defensive players alike cited the problematic field position after last week's loss to the Titans and they have to get control of that problem this week. Special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis is one of the game's best coaches and one of its most vociferous. My guess is he drove home his point with both alacrity and clarity this week. The Ravens like to play the same way the Jaguars do. If you give their third-ranked rushing attack a short field, they will absolutely take advantage. Cover the kicks and do your job on special teams.