JACKSONVILLE – The goals are more modest now.
The Jaguars are 1-6 entering their 2020 bye week, having lost six consecutive games. Talk of winning streaks or the postseason long since have been replaced by a pressing, weekly question:
What must the Jaguars do to win a game?
The short answer is they must improve in multiple areas. The six consecutive losses were by a cumulative 73 points and they allowed 30 or points in all six games. They trailed by double digits in all six and haven't scored an opening-drive touchdown this season. Such a streak is not caused by one thing – or even a few things. Much must improve.
Head Coach Doug Marrone during the bye vowed to "bust his ass" to get what's ailing the Jaguars, saying he was "kind of fired up" for the task. While it's far from an easy task, there are clear things the Jaguars must do better to win in the final nine games.
Here are 10 of those things:
1.Improve quarterback play. Quarterback has been a problem. Gardner Minshew II has looked uncomfortable in the pocket and hesitant to throw downfield into tight windows. With Minshew reportedly being found to have multiple fractures and a strained ligament in his throwing hand, look for either rookie Jake Luton or veteran Mike Glennon – likely Luton – to start against the Houston Texans in Week 9. First task for either player: throw downfield to a capable group of receivers to open up an offense that has checked down too often and taken too many avoidable sacks through seven weeks.
2.Keep feeding Robinson. This isn't as easy as it sounds. While rookie running back James Robinson has emerged as the team's best offensive skill player, the Jaguars too often have fallen too far behind too quickly to use him the entire game. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden stuck with Robinson this past Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers despite a double-digit deficit. That sort of patience may be necessary to keep Robinson involved.
3.Be stouter on the defensive interior. The Jaguars lost defensive tackles Al Woods (COVID-19 opt out) and Rodney Gunter (retired, heart condition) before the season. That cost them needed depth and stoutness in the middle, and that has been an issue all season. Rookie nose tackle DaVon Hamilton had a strong showing this past Sunday with eight tackles, a tackle for loss and two quarterback hurries. More in that vein is needed.
4.Get healthy. Weak-side linebacker Myles Jack missed two of the last three games with an ankle injury. Safety Jarrod Wilson missed four games with a hamstring injury. Defensive end Josh Allen missed two games with a knee injury. Those were three major defensive injuries. They were others. The defense is thin when healthy. It can't afford losses to key personnel.
5.Improve the pass rush. This goes along with Nos. 3 and 4. The lack of interior depth and stoutness hurts the run defense, which puts Jaguars opponents in a lot of favorable passing situations. That hurts the pass rush. So does a lack of push up the middle from the defensive tackles. Allen's absence also hurt. The Jaguars must somehow, some way, get more pressure.
6.Turn the ball over … The Jaguars have won the takeaway-giveaway statistic once in seven games. That was in Week 1 – not coincidentally their lone victory of the season, 27-20 over the Indianapolis Colts.
7. … and take advantage of opportunities. Losses to Houston, Detroit and Cincinnati featured major post-turnover and red-zone opportunities lost. This defense is too young to expect it not to allow points and yards. When the offense gets point-blank opportunities, it must take advantage.
8.Get Cann back – and maintain the level on the offensive line. Don't let the statistics fool you. While the Jaguars have allowed 23 sacks this season, many of those sacks have come from Minshew holding the ball too long in the pocket. Also: 20 sacks have come when trailing and seven have come when down by double digits; it's tough to pass protect when trailing so big so often. The group struggled a bit in the last two weeks with the absence of right guard A.J. Cann with a shoulder injury. When fully healthy, this is the best group on the roster. Considering its health and the veteran presence on the unit, that must continue.
9.Convert in the red zone. The Jaguars led the NFL in third-down offense through two games, having converted 62.5 percent. They have converted 40.6 percent in the last five games. That's still good, but the Jaguars figure to need to be somewhere near 50 percent on this statistic in the second half of the season to win.
10.Make. Key. Plays. Yes, this is a generic category. But the truth remains. Despite being younger with fewer experienced front-line players than most opponents, the Jaguars have had opportunities to make plays and win two or three games since Week 1. Sometimes, they have lost red-zone opportunities. Other times, they have lost opportunities following momentum-changing turnovers. Still other times, they missed makeable field goals. This team isn't good enough to miss moments like that. To win improve – and win – in the final nine games of the season, the big moments must be captured more consistently.