JACKSONVILLE – As NFL tasks go, this one's daunting.
The Jaguars enter their home game Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts not only on a seven-game losing streak, but without their starting running back, with a new quarterback, with a beat-up offensive line and with a new play-caller.
That's a partial list of the adversity facing the Jaguars these days.
That's enough to make Sunday's game tricky even before you consider that Colts are one of the NFL's hottest teams with one of its hottest quarterbacks, a very hot offense …
Well, you get the idea.
The Jaguars (3-8) most certainly won't be favored against the suddenly-surging Colts (6-5), and this most certainly has a different feel than the last time these two teams played in Jacksonville.
That was a 30-10 Jaguars victory last December. The Jaguars were on the way to the AFC South title and a spot in the AFC Championship Game. Quarterback Blake Bortles was beginning the best month of his NFL career. All was good at the Bank.
Fast forward 12 months: Cody Kessler this week replaced Bortles as the Jaguars' starting quarterback, the Jaguars have lost seven consecutive games and they will be without suspended running back Leonard Fournette Sunday.
For those reasons and more, winning won't be easy for the Jaguars Sunday.
Here are 10 things they must do to do win despite the difficulties:
1.Run.Yes, Fournette is out. Yes, the Jaguars offensive line is down to two Week 1 starters – right tackle Jermey Parnell and right guard A.J. Cann. But the Jaguars' offense showed life the last two weeks because the running game showed life. Carlos Hyde and T.J. Yeldon? Somehow, some way …
2.Protect.Bortles was benched for Kessler this week. The move will make little difference if an offensive line that allowed nine sacks the last two weeks can't protect Kessler better.
3.Ride with Cody.That's the mantra for the final five weeks. It starts Sunday. Ride with Cody, ride with Cody, ride with Cody …
4.Make the play.This is about the receivers as much as anything. With Head Coach Doug Marrone turning to Milanovich and Kessler to spark the passing offense, the Jaguars figure to throw more than was the case in recent weeks. That will mean opportunities for the receivers. The receivers have had too many drops and fumbles this season. They must avoid those Sunday.
5.Steal possessions …The Colts are scoring 31.8 points per game over the last eight games. The Jaguars haven't scored 31 since their last victory – Week 4 against the Jets. When one offense is producing that much more than the other, the team with the less productive offense needs turnovers, fake punts … anything to give you a few more opportunities to score than your opponent.
6. … and steal points.The Jaguars had seven defensive touchdowns last season and another two on special teams. They have one such touchdown this season: a Week 1 interception return for a touchdown by linebacker Myles Jack. If the Jaguars are going to snap their losing streak – and the Colts' winning streak – they need some of that '17 return magic.
7.Stop tight Eric Ebron.The Jaguars didn't come close to doing this last month; he scored three touchdowns in the first half. Few other teams have done that much better; he has 11 for the season.
8.Play your assignments.The Jaguars would have beaten the Colts in mid-November had it not been for a series of mental errors, including one when cornerback Jalen Ramsey played the wrong defense on a 53-yard touchdown reception by Ebron. It's hard enough to beat a quarterback as hot as Luck playing the right defense. The Jaguars must be on point to have a chance Sunday.
9.Pressure Luck.The Jaguars pressured opposing quarterbacks almost not at all last month, and the Colts' offensive line has protected the quarterback as well as any team in the NFL during their midseason resurgence. This may mean the Jaguars blitzing more than usual, but they must somehow pressure Luck into mistakes.
10.Keep playing as if you need it.This gets increasingly tough for teams eliminated from the postseason – and although the Jaguars aren't technically out of the playoffs, their chances are essentially over. December games often are won by the team that needs it more. The Jaguars must find a way on Sunday to play as if they're in contention.