JACKSONVILLE – This feels real, doesn't it?
Hasn't it felt that way a lot this season – and didn't it really feel that way walking out of EverBank Field last Sunday?
Yes, the Jaguars are good. That's real.
And they have a chance to be really good. This defense is that good. The running game is that good. The way the whole thing is coming together is that impressive.
Indeed, the Jaguars – a team with a losing, struggling identity for far too long – now have a far different identity as they prepare to play the Los Angeles Chargers at EverBank Sunday at 1 p.m. It's an identity about playing defense, running, being tough, making clutch plays at clutch times.
That identity felt real earlier this season, and the feeling gained momentum with a raucous victory Cincinnati at EverBank this past Sunday. There's something about a one-sided home victory – fans full-throated, dancing and cheering – that galvanizes a good feeling and turns it into something more.
The Jaguars have a chance to run their winning streak to three Sunday. They have a chance to win a second consecutive game at the 'Bank. They must beat longtime Jaguars nemesis Philip Rivers to make that happen. If they do, they will be 6-3.
How real would that feel? Very.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars must do to make that happen:
1.Run.The Jaguars have done this both with and without rookie running back Leonard Fournette this season. They get Fournette back Sunday. That should mean doing it even better – and it should mean a chance for more explosive plays in the running game.
2.Disrupt Philip Rivers. The Jaguars haven't done this much against the Chargers' veteran quarterback. They're far better equipped to do it now than in recent seasons. But they still must do it, and that won't be easy. He gets rid of the ball quickly. He's accurate. He senses the rush. He's good. The Jaguars' defense must show it is better.
3.Swarm.This ties into disrupting Rivers. At some point in all five Jaguars victories this season, the defense has hit a point of frenzied adrenaline when you just figured the other team was done scoring. When the avalanche starts, this team is tough to beat.
4.Get Bosa and Ingram blocked.Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram of the Chargers are two of the NFL's best edge rushers. Running effectively will keep them off balance, but at some point the Chargers will force Jacksonville into passing situations. When they do, Jaguars tackles Cam Robinson and Jermey Parnell must get Bosa and Ingram blocked.
5.Win the turnover statistic.The Jaguars have won their last two games despite committing three turnovers and forcing none. The Jaguars aren't likely to have that sort of ratio often; they run too well and rush the passer too effectively to have a negative turnover ratio. But Sunday figures to be a close game between two good defensive teams. Forcing takeaways will be key.
6.Let Bortles throw on early downs.This is a running team, but it's hard for quarterbacks to throw when opponents know they must throw. Bortles is one of the NFL's best quarterbacks statistically on first down, and he has been really good on that down in recent weeks. That has helped the passing offense move early, which in turn has helped the Jaguars get early leads, which in turn helps the defense, which in turn …
7.Convert third downs.The Jaguars struggled here in the first six games, converting 26 of 79 third downs (33 percent). They have converted 20 of 32 (62.5 percent) in the last two games – against Indianapolis and Cincinnati. The difference? Huge, with the Jaguars scoring 50 points and averaging more than 450 yards in the last two games.
8.Score a touchdown on defense – or at least set one up.The Jaguars have four defensive touchdowns this season. The Chargers' defense is good enough that long offensive drives could be rare for both teams. A defensive touchdown in a game like this feels like a lot more than seven points.
9.Get a double-digit lead.The Jaguars haven't allowed an opponent to rally from more than 10 points down this season, but there's a bigger reason a lead is important Sunday. Rivers is one of the NFL's best in the final minutes. You don't want the Chargers taking possession late if they're within a touchdown.
10.Feed off the crowd.This started happening last Sunday. The crowd – and the players' response – made last Sunday fun. But that dynamic does something else: it makes it brutally tough on the opponent. Keep that going. It can be special.