JACKSONVILLE – This may be the Jaguars' toughest task of the season to date.
And make no mistake:
The Arizona Cardinals? And their young, dynamic quarterback? That's a very tough task, with the Cardinals entering the game very much believing in themselves and their postseason hopes – and with the Jaguars having sustained back-to-back losses to start the NFL careers of quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Head Coach Urban Meyer.
The Cardinals also enter the game 2-0, with an impressive Week 1 victory over defending AFC South champion Tennessee and a hold-your-breath Week 2 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Quarterback Kyler Murray is key to a dynamic offense that features multiple big-play wide receives – including one of the NFL's best players at the position, former Houston Texans star DeAndre Hopkins.
The Cardinals play in the NFL's toughest division, which means their unbeaten record has them "only" tied for first in the NFC West. The San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams are also 2-0, and the Seattle Seahawks are 1-1.
The Jaguars won't be favored in this game. And through two games, they often have looked like what they are – a building team with many new players; a talented, young quarterback; and a new coaching staff. They have shown flashes to date and had a chance to compete in Week 2 before the Denver Broncos pulled away in the second half for a 23-13 victory.
They also have been too inconsistent with too many mistakes – mistakes that while expected for a young quarterback and young team still have prevented them from winning. So, yes, Sunday is a tough task – perhaps the Jaguars' toughest of the season to date. But can they win? Sure.
Here are 10 things they must do to do that:
1. Contain Murray. Murray, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, is among the NFL's best young quarterbacks – and among the most dangerous extending plays and escaping the pocket. The Jaguars pressured passers at times Weeks 1 and 2 but struggled at times to get them down. They must get Murray down. This won't be easy.
2. Force turnovers. The Jaguars have yet to record a takeaway in either of the first two games. They also didn't force one during preseason. Murray has thrown three interceptions and often will give opponents opportunities. The Jaguars must take advantage when that happens.
3. Get a lead. This is self-evident because leads are better than deficits, but this is a young team and the confidence of a lead can only help. More importantly, getting a lead would allow the Jaguars to …
4. Stick with the run. The Jaguars have run 32 times this season and thrown 84 passes. That's far outside Head Coach Urban Meyer's stated preference of a 50-50 balance. A major reason the Jaguars have run so much is they have trailed by double digits through the second half of both losses. As Meyer has said repeatedly, it's difficult to run when you're trailing and need to score quickly to reduce the deficit.
5. Stop the run. This is always a priority for the Jaguars, with the area a major offseason emphasis. They Jaguars held Houston Texans running backs to 3.24 yards per carry in Week 1 and held Denver Broncos running backs to 3.65 yards per carry in Week 2. That's a good start to an area that struggled in recent seasons. That trend must continue.
6. Take the checkdown … Lawrence has four touchdowns and five interceptions in two games, and he struggled in Week 2 – completing 14 of 32 passes for 118 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions. One issue for Lawrence last week was perhaps being too aggressive and throwing downfield when there were safer throws underneath. That will be an emphasis Sunday.
7. … but don't be ridiculous about it. One of the most encouraging parts of Lawrence's early performances is that he looks downfield for open receivers when under pressure. He has talent and the arm to make plays; his instinct is to use it. You don't want him always looking downfield at the expense of the safer throw, but you don't want him checking down all the time either. The great ones know where the balance is here. It's Week 2. Lawrence is learning that balance.
8. Run when it's there. This is also about Lawrence. He has rushed three times for 19 yards in two games. A lot of this is by design because you don't want the No. 1 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft sustaining career-altering hits early in his career. But the Jaguars do need – and want – Lawrence to use his mobility when appropriate. He'll get better here as he gains experience and gets more comfortable.
9. Get Arizona blocked. Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones wrecks game plans. Newly signed defensive end J.J. Watt is still capable of the same. The Jaguars' offensive line kept All-Pro edge rusher Von Miller from dominating Sunday. Doing so again is a major task Sunday.
10. Make field goals. Jaguars kicker Josh Lambo is 0-for-3 on field goals this season, and his 48-yard and 52-yard second-quarter misses against Denver changed the game's dynamics. The Jaguars aren't good enough yet to give away points. Meyer expressed confidence in Lambo this week. Still, this is a monumental storyline Sunday.
WEEK 3 · Sun 09/26 · 1:00 PM EDT