JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton break down three Jaguars keys for Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville
1.Stop Adrian Peterson. As has happened with the Jaguars, injuries have limited the Redskins offensively in recent weeks. They're down to their third starter at each guard position, and Josh Johnson will be their fourth starting quarterback in the last month. Still, Peterson in his 11th NFL season is an effective runner capable of carrying an offense for stretches and is on pace for his eighth 1,000-yard season with 872 yards and seven touchdowns on 202 carries. The Jaguars have allowed 120.4 yards a game rushing this season, an average that rose when they allowed Titans running back Derrick Henry 238 yards and four touchdowns in a 30-9 loss in Nashville last Thursday. Poor tackling, angles and positioning hurt the Jaguars at times against the Titans, particularly on Henry's touchdowns of 99, 56 and 16 yards. The task will be equally important Sunday because Peterson – like Henry – can win a game if the Jaguars don't tackle.
2.Pressure Johnson. The 32-year-old last started an NFL game in 2011, when he started one game and played nine for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He has started five NFL games with six career touchdown passes and 11 interceptions, but after signing with the Redskins last week as a backup, he replaced an ineffective Mark Sanchez in a 40-16 loss to the Giants. Johnson completed 11 of 16 passes in the game for 195 yards and a touchdown. Still, pressuring him and forcing mistakes figures to be critical for Jacksonville Sunday. The Jaguars are averaging 13.7 points per game in their last nine games, and they have scored just one offensive touchdown in two games since Cody Kessler became the starting quarterback and Scott Milanovich began calling plays. It's not realistic to assume the Jaguars will score enough points offensively to win even a low-scoring game. The Jaguars, after having 10 defensive/special teams touchdowns in the regular season and postseason last season, have just one this season. They may need one Sunday to get enough points to win what figures to be a game in the teens.
3.Run. It's difficult at this point to analyze how the Jaguars can score offensively. The passing game has continued its late-season struggles even with the change at coordinator and quarterback, and a running game that showed signs of life at times with the midseason return of Leonard Fournette struggled despite his presence against the Titans. Kessler at times in his two starts has shown enough accuracy and willingness to throw downfield to make you think the offense could get a passing touchdown – if a lot of things go right; the Jaguars' lone touchdown in the last two games came on a pass from Kessler to Dede Westbrook against Tennessee. Still, the most likely scenario for this offense to be effective is for Fournette to smashmouth his way to a 90-to-100-yard game. He did this in losses to Pittsburgh and Buffalo, games in which the Jaguars managed 16 and 21 points, respectively. Those aren't eye-catching totals, but they might be enough for the Jaguars to win for the second time in three weeks on Sunday.
1.Get the quarterback. Mobile quarterbacks have challenged the Jaguars all season. And while Johnson won't be the same running threat that Josh Allen was in Buffalo a few weeks ago, he's a serious unknown who can therefore create issues. The Redskins' offense is every bit as injured and ineffective as the Jaguars' offense, which means they have nothing to lose by turning Johnson loose. The Jaguars' defense is ridiculously talented, though maybe I should stop writing that the way this season has gone. Still, it's hard to look at the roster and see anything less. And it should be able to make Johnson wish he was playing in a charity basketball tournament this weekend instead of strapping on a helmet and playing professional football. Find him, get him, hit him. That should do the trick.
2.Score a couple touchdowns. Whichever team gets an early lead should be able to lean on the defense and play keep-away. The Jaguars had a nice drive in the first half of the loss to Tennessee after the special teams came up big with a safety … but they couldn't finish. It's pretty simple: You must score points to win, so the Jaguars must score a few touchdowns instead of settling for field goals or missed red-zone chances on fourth down. What the heck: You might as well do as the Redskins and go for broke, so bring on the trick plays, throw to someone no one expects you to and go for it on fourth down on your side of the field.
3.Be a professional. This one has a couple of different layers, so I'll go right to the bottom: The Jaguars must earn their money. They must show up and play as hard as they would if this game was in September. They owe that to the organization that writes the check, to the coaching staff who believed in them, to their teammates and to themselves. It would be incredibly easy to just get by, try and stay healthy and get to the finish line on December 30. A professional athlete knows he is only as good as his last performance, so he makes every snap of every game important even if the folks watching at home are barely paying attention. I haven't seen any signs of it in the Jaguars locker room yet, but I know it's lurking there, waiting to find a willing accomplice. The Jaguars must continue to be professionals.