JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton break down three Jaguars keys for Sunday's game against the Seattle Seahawks at EverBank Field in Jacksonville
1.Contain Russell Wilson.This is easy to write and far less easy to do. The Seahawks' dynamic quarterback has developed as a pocket passer throughout his career, but his mobility – his ability to complete passes downfield and run for first downs when the pocket collapses – makes him one of the NFL's most dangerous offensive players. His knack for the timely big play has made him one of the leading candidates for NFL Most Valuable Player. The Seahawks' offensive line has struggled to protect him this season, and that figures to be a matchup advantage for the Jaguars. While Wilson's mobility could negate that advantage, the Jaguars' nickel linebackers – Telvin Smith and Myles Jack – are two of the NFL's fastest players in pursuit. Their ability to chase Wilson and limit above the Xs-and-Os plays could be a deciding factor Sunday.
2.Make plays in the passing game.The Jaguars' rushing game has stagnated recently, and it's unlikely to suddenly find itself and control the game against a very aggressive Seattle defense. The key for the Jaguars will be what it has been much of the season: passing successfully against one-on-one coverage created by defenses stacking the line against rookie running back Leonard Fournette. Blake Bortles did this against the Colts last week to the tune of 309 yards and two touchdowns passing with 213 of those yards and both touchdowns going to the wide receiver corps of Marqise Lee, Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook. Beating the Seahawks' defense with safety Earl Thomas is a different task. How well the Jaguars handle that task will be key.
3.Swarm, swarm, swarm.The Jaguars' defense has been the NFL's best season – and it's hard to imagine Jacksonville winning Sunday if the defense doesn't play to its ranking. The Jaguars' defense has reached a point in most games this season when it's swarming, making plays and creating chaos. That chaos has created a league-high 45 sacks as well as 27 takeaways. It also has led to six defensive touchdowns and a league-high 106 points off turnovers. A defensive touchdown doesn't guarantee a Jaguars victory, but it's hard to imagine the Jaguars' offense scoring in bunches against Seattle. It's not nearly as hard to envision the Jaguars' defense creating points and opportunities. If they can do it multiple times, it could be a loud, memorable afternoon and early evening at the 'Bank on Sunday.
1.Pay close attention.I love to watch Wilson play quarterback – and though I can't prove it, I am absolutely convinced the ratings are significantly higher when the Seahawks are playing because of Wilson. Wilson is a gyroscope. His body turns in all directions, but his head never moves; it's always focused on what's happening down the field. When you play Seattle, the defenders must master the scramble rule, which means they must follow the receivers and not focus on Wilson. Leave him and his scrambling ways to the guys up front; follow those receivers.
2.Protect the football.If you watched the Seahawks beat the Eagles Sunday, you know Philadelphia missed a chance to tie the game when quarterback Carson Wentz was stripped of the ball as he reached for the goal line. This Seattle defense is nothing if it's not opportunistic; it thrives on taking the football away from the offense. This Jaguars' offense played better last week, but still must be thought of as inconsistent, which means it's going to need every possession to put enough points on the board to beat the Seahawks.
3.Ride the lightning.No Jaguars player ever will have played a game in Jacksonville that is going to have the energy that Sunday's will … no one. It has been so long since a meaningful December game took place in Jacksonville that only a few folks can even recall the last one. The buzz will build all week for the 8-4 Seahawks – and a statement game for the Jaguars if there ever was one. EverBank Field won't bother the Seahawks; they're used to getting the best the hostile crowd has to offer. But it can fuel the Jaguars, and I expect the defense in particular to use the noise and the energy from the crowd to its advantage. Enjoy it, soak it all in and understand this is what it can be like in Northeast Florida when you're winning.