WATFORD, United Kingdom – The venue is foreign. The storyline is not.
The Jaguars on Sunday will play the Denver Broncos at Wembley Stadium in London, with the goal to finish a difficult month on something of an upswing.
The Jaguars after a 2-1 start have lost four consecutive games, all by a score or less. They are close. Head Coach Doug Pederson has said it. Players have said it. All involved are tired of saying it. Very tired.
The Jaguars (2-5) have seemed very much like a team ready to break through all season. They have led in all five losses and a mistake or two has cost them in most losses, perhaps all of them.
Oddsmakers agree they are close. They were favored last week in a late loss to the New York Giants and are favored again Sunday.
But it's not enough to be favored. Or to be close week after week after week. The Jaguars know this, and it's why they are tired of talking about being close. It's also why they really need to beat the Broncos Sunday.
Here are 10 things they must do to make that happen.
- Add in a touchdown or two – and a deep ball or two. Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence has reduced mistakes in recent weeks, and he's helping the Jaguars move efficiently. They're seventh in the NFL in total offense and are moving consistently. He's protecting the ball and playing smart. But he hasn't thrown a touchdown pass in the last two games and the Jaguars need the over-the-top, stretch-the-field completion that has been lacking this season.
- Cover the crosser. This wasn't as much of an issue against the Giants in Week 7 as against the Colts in Week 6, but make no mistake: Teams will test the Jaguars corners on short passes until they stop it. Struggles here haven't helped the pass rush.
- Stay turnover-free … The Jaguars have improved here the last two weeks, committing one turnover in each game after committing seven in back-to-back losses to Philadelphia and Houston in Week 4 and 5. They must get even better. They're 2-0 this season when they have no takeaways; 0-5 when they have one or more.
- … particularly in the red zone. Red-zone turnovers cost the Jaguars dearly in three losses – Philadelphia, Houston and this past week against the Giants. They also turned the ball over on downs in the red zone in Week 1 at Washington. The Jaguars might be above .500 without red-zone turnovers this season. When players and coaches discuss eliminating the turnovers that cost them games, it starts here.
- Take. The. Ball. Away. The Jaguars felt really good defensively – and really good, period – through four games. They had nine takeaways at that point. They have had no takeaways in the last three games. They don't feel good anymore.
- Pressure.The.Passer. This ties in with No. 5. The Jaguars have two sacks in the last three games. They have pressured quarterbacks at times, but with coverage struggling – and with teams playing up-tempo – the pass rush hasn't quiiiite got the pressure needed to force turnovers. It all ties together, and the Jaguars' defense must be more effective at all levels.
- Break it. Running back Travis Etienne Jr. has been the Jaguars' most-explosive offensive player in recent weeks, enough so that the team traded running back James Robinson to the New York Jets Wednesday. Etienne has been a step from a long touchdown often in three weeks. The Jaguars need him to take that extra step.
- Be aware. Lawrence has reduced interceptions this season overall and has thrown none in the last two games. The Broncos' secondary is a strength, and cornerback Patrick Surtain II in his second season has emerged as one of the NFL's best at his position. Lawrence must be aware of Surtain at all times.
- Get the middle blocked. The Broncos might be the best defense the Jaguars have played this season. Pederson said this week the interior of the Denver defensive line may be the best they have played. Center Luke Fortner and the interior of the Jaguars' line must get that interior blocked for Lawrence to be effective.
- Finish. If there has been a theme among players and coaches in recent weeks, this has been it. They're close. They must stop talking about it. They must do it. They must finish.