JACKSONVILLE – This summed up Weeks 1-8:
“We just haven’t lived up to the expectations.”
Those were Head Coach Doug Marrone’s words Monday during his lone media availability of the 2018 bye week – words that came a day after a 24-18 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in London left the Jaguars with a four-game losing streak. They’re words that raise questions:
What’s next? What must be done?
The questions be answered quickly to salvage a season that began with lofty postseason expectations. Those hopes were dashed by an 0-4 October in which the Jaguars failed to score a first-half touchdown – or to hold a second-half lead.
The Jaguars are 3-5 entering this week’s bye week. They’re two games behind Houston in the AFC South with the Texans holding a tiebreaker advantage because of a Week 7 victory at Jacksonville.
The Jaguars still believe the season can be salvaged. Yes, they traded defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. on Tuesday just before the NFL’s trade deadline. But if they had been giving up on the season, more veterans – particularly on defense – could have been moved for future draft equity.
No, the goal remains the playoffs – though time is running short.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars must do to reach that goal:
1.Play better. Duh, right? But Marrone said it best following the Philadelphia loss: “Right now we’re not doing anything well.” We’ll get the obvious out of the way: If this team is to save the season, a lot of individuals – including some really good players – must play better in the last eight games. Everyone being a little better could make enough of a difference to get this turned. Maybe.
2.Get healthy. This could be Nos. 1-5 – because while injuries aren’t the sole reason the Jaguars are 3-5 neither can health be ignored as a major issue. Getting close to full health is impossible because too many key players are out for the season. But getting running back Leonard Fournette back and getting a beat-up offensive line less beat up … perhaps that can be a start.
3.Beat Indianapolis. The Jaguars travel to Indianapolis the week following the bye. The Jaguars are already 0-2 in the AFC South and two games behind the Texans. If the Jaguars lose again in the division, even the most optimistic of hopefuls – those who are left – will start losing hope. If they win, they will be 4-5 and the rest of the schedule looks more manageable.
4.Play Leonard Fournette. It’s incorrect to say the second-year running back’s return will save the season. It is correct to say the time is now to see if he can play through the hamstring issue that has cost him six of the first eight games. If not now, when?
5.Run. Jaguars running backs have yet to combine for 100 yards rushing in a game this season. This is about more than getting back to an identity; it’s about necessity. The combination of a healthy Fournette, Carlos Hyde and T.J. Yeldon makes running back the team’s most-talented available offensive skill position group. Piecing together enough blocking to allow this group to make plays may be the only offensive hope in the final half of the season. “We have to make that part of our mentality as an offense,” guard A.J. Cann said. “It all starts mentally, going into games and having that mindset of going out there being more dominant.”
6.Catch and secure. Wide receiver Keelan Cole’s lost fumble against Philadelphia may have been the season’s most damaging play, turning the momentum of a winnable game. But drops have been a bigger issue for the receiving corps. It’s not a group of elite players, but it’s a group capable of contributing more than has been the case thus far. “It's a struggle,” Marrone said. “We've got to keep working with them. We're in a league where you're expected to throw and catch. If the ball gets in your hands, you're expected to catch it.”
7.Score early touchdowns. The Jaguars haven’t scored a first-half touchdown since a Week 4 victory over the New York Jets. It’s well-established that the Jaguars aren’t built to be a great come-from-behind team. When you’re not that, you can’t be a not-a-great-take-an-early-lead team, too.
8.Create points defensively. It’s unreasonable to expect defenses to create points at the rate the Jaguars’ defense created them last season, but if you’re looking for ways the Jaguars can win and therefore salvage the season this is certainly one.
9.Stop the run. The Jaguars this season are ranked 24th in the NFL against the run having allowed 123.3 yards per game. Some of that statistic can be attributed to the Jaguars trailing late in games; when you trail a lot, teams are going to run more than usual. When teams run more than usual, their rushing yards increase. Still, the Jaguars have allowed too many opponents Titans, Texans, Eagles – to run effectively in key situations this season. “It’s a big reason we’re losing games,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “We’ve got to do better. That’s important. That’s something we’ve got to better as a collective group.”
10.Run. Somehow, some way.