Sexton-Oehser Keys: Jets-Jaguars

20180927-Keys

JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton break down three Jaguars keys for Sunday's game against the New York Jets at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville …

Oehser …

1.Hit reboot. This borrows from Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson, who earlier this week said a key to the team's success responding to losses lately has been rebooting and moving forward. That mindset allowed the Jaguars to win after their first four losses last season; it's also key this week because a Jaguars team with its eye on a second consecutive AFC South title and a deep run in the postseason can't afford back-to-back September home losses – particularly not with an October schedule that includes road trips to Dallas and undefeated Kansas City, and a London home game against the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. The Jaguars – who lost to the Tennessee Titans 9-6 this past Sunday for their first loss of the 2018 season – not only followed their first four losses last season with victories, they won the ensuing weeks by 37 (44-7 over Baltimore), 21 (30-9 over Pittsburgh), 27 (27-0 over Indianapolis) and 20 (30-10 over Indianapolis). Those sorts of responses cleanse the football soul. The Jaguars could use some cleansing after Sunday's loss.

2.Get the backs involved – productively. This ideally would be about Leonard Fournette. But the Jaguars need production from the backs whether or not the second-year veteran returns on Sunday from the hamstring injury that has kept him out the last two games. The Jaguars have had the added issue of backup T.J. Yeldon playing – effectively much of the time – through an ankle problem the last two games. Still, the offense not only needs more rushing yards than the 60 yards on 14 carries Yeldon, Corey Grant and Brandon Wilds managed Sunday, it needs more than the 45 yards receiving Yeldon (46) and Grant (minus-one) produced Sunday. The backs produced 105 total yards Sunday: 50 on the two field goals drives, and 55 on the other eight drives combined. This offense is at its best when the backs catch screens to either side and strain the defense against outside linebackers and cornerbacks. Fournette's injury also has kept the team from the two-back looks that were so productive at times in the preseason. The Jaguars need Fournette; he's the key to their offensive identity. And they need dynamic play from the backs. Somehow, some way.

3.Keep up the swarm. This is basic for the Jaguars, but it's also essential to their success. When the Jaguars' defense plays well – and it has played at a phenomenally high level in three games this season – it swarms with speed, power and fury. The Jaguars have allowed just three touchdowns this season – and have yet to allow one when leading by less than 10 points. If that continues, this team will win more than it loses no matter how the offense plays. A key Sunday will be stopping the run against a Jets team that will emphasize the run and try to get rookie quarterback Sam Darnold into positive passing situations. The Jets rushed for 256 yards against the Jaguars in a 23-20 overtime Jets victory at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey in Week 4 last season. Seventy-five of those yards came on a touchdown when the Jaguars' defense let running back Bilal Powell get up and run the final 50 or so yards. Which brings up another key on Sunday: Touch the guy down.

Sexton…

1.Run. The Jaguars in Week 2 took advantage of a Patriots defense that isn't what it has been in the past and threw the ball all over the field, but this offense is built around Fournette and the running game. They showed their hand when they took Fournette No. 4 in the 2017 NFL Draft; I won't forget that when analyzing how they play the game. Everything they do or want to do is based on the threat of No. 27 in the backfield; no matter what his statistics say at time, the most important consideration is that he is a threat that defensive coordinators must respect. If safeties are worried about Fournette, there's more room for tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the middle of the field and less interference for the deep ball for wide receivers Keelan Cole and Donte Moncrief. It seems contrary to the way the game is played today because it is. Unlike most other teams the Jaguars are run-centric and maybe more specifically, Leonard-centric.

2.Take the ball away. The defense came up with a huge play in New Jersey to beat the New York Giants in Week 1 and they did it again against the Patriots in Week 2. They seemed to have done it again last Sunday against Tennessee before the referee tossed his flag. They can do it against the NFL's best quarterbacks and should be able to do it to Darnold in his fourth NFL start. I expect the offense to be significantly better this week than last week – if only because it is pride is on the line – but short fields for the offense would help against a talented Jets defense. We know the Jaguars' defense can control the field as well as anyone in the game. What makes the unit great is its ability to control the game by scoring – or at least taking the ball and giving it to their offense to score. They need to take the ball away from Darnold and give it to quarterback Blake Bortles on Sunday, early.

3.Ride the lightning. The Jaguars' three-game homestand ends Sunday and is followed by a trip to Kansas City, where the energy works from the stands to the field as well as anywhere in the NFL. The home crowd has been powerful the last two weeks and should be again this week. The Jaguars will only be at TIAA Bank Field once between September 30 and November 18 when they host the Steelers. That's once in 49 days. The Jaguars must feed off a crowd that will be energetic and give them a reason to make it even more difficult on a young quarterback.

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