LONDON – We won't call this a must-win game. At least not in this "10 things."
The reason we won't call the Jaguars' game against the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday at Wembley Stadium must-win – even though it obviously feels like that – is simple: At some point you must stop calling games things and instead win them.
That's the state of the 3-4 Jaguars seven weeks into the 2018 NFL season.
The have lost enough badly enough in the last three weeks that it's time to stop talking about playoff scenarios, and it's time to stop labelling games. It's time for the Jaguars to win, and that's a tough task for many reasons.
One reason is the offense is struggling in a big way.
Another reason is those offensive struggles have made it very hard for the Jaguars to score early, and that has made things difficult in recent weeks on what remains a very good defense.
Still another reason: The Eagles are good. They're perhaps not as good as when they won the Super Bowl last season, but quarterback Carson Wentz makes them a potent offense – and their defensive front is still very good. The Eagles are also 3-4, so they need this one in a big way.
The Jaguars obviously need it, too. They need it to avoid a four-game losing streak and to avoid a 3-5 start that would be a major disappointment considering the expectations of September. They need it to feel better entering their bye week. And while they may not need it to mathematically stay in playoff contention, they need it to make it feel as if they have a chance to win the AFC South.
So, yeah … even it's not a "must-win" game, the Jaguars need it.
Here are 10 things they must do to get it:
1.Score early. Somehow, some way, anyway.
2.Score early. Yes, this is important enough for two entries. The Jaguars have trailed 20-0, 24-0 and 20-0 to the Chiefs, Cowboys and Texans during their current three-game losing streak. Trailing hampers the pass rush. It increases pressure on a struggling offense. The Jaguars have yet to come from behind this season. It's not that they can't do it, but breaking this losing streak will be easier if coming from behind isn't necessary.
3.Win field position. While pretty much every Jaguars observer talked quarterback this week, Head Coach Doug Marrone talked turnovers and field position. The Jaguars lost field position by double digits the past two weeks. The way the offense is playing, the shorter the field the better.
4.Protect. The. Ball. The giveaway-takeaway ratio is important enough this week that we'll address it in two parts. The giveaway part is the most important part because it's the part the Jaguars can control. It's also the part that involves quarterback Blake Bortles. He has 11 giveaways this season, including eight in the last three games. It was two lost fumbles that got him replaced by Cody Kessler last week. Bortles got his job back early this week. Avoidable turnovers could determine how long he keeps it.
5.Take away the ball. This is tougher than the protecting the ball. The Jaguars' defense is playing well this season. What's missing are turnovers – and what's missing there are turnover opportunities. Takeaways typically happen when opponents are pressing, which means they happen when opponents are trailing – and the Jaguars' opponents haven't trailed in a month. Still, this team needs an early turnover. A recovered fumble. An interception. If an opportunity comes, the defense must take advantage.
6.Run. The Jaguars have run for 70 and 65 yards the last two games. Part of that is because they have trailed big early, and it's tough to run when you're down by double digits. Still, the team acquired running back Carlos Hyde to get back to something close to a downhill power-running team. They must get there sooner or later. Sooner would be better.
7.Be Good Blake. We haven't seen it in a while. The losing streak isn't remotely all Bortles' fault. Still, the quarterback sometimes must lift those around him. This continues to be one of those times.
8.Watch the RPO. The Eagles run run-pass option well. The Jaguars don't always defend it well. That makes this a very dangerous game if the Eagles get a lead.
9.Channel the Wembley Magic. The Jaguars have won their last three games at Wembley, taking huge first-half leads en route to each one. Never have the Jaguars needed a fast UK start more than this week.
10.Get a break. The Jaguars are struggling. Sometimes a struggling team needs a break. The Jaguars could use one. Boy, could they.