JACKSONVILLE – Forget for a moment the noise of the week.
It would be nice to forget it forever, but perhaps it’s impossible to permanently erase from the memory ridiculousness so grand and glaring.
But putting the Jalen Ramsey Saga aside for now, the reality is the Jaguars will play a game on Sunday. And perhaps no Jaguars game yet this season has been quite so critical as the one against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.
The record and circumstances make it important. The Jaguars are 2-4 and the Bengals are 0-6 – and while very NFL opponent is difficult, you typically must beat winless teams in October if you’re going to have a realistic chance at the postseason. That’s particularly true if you’ve already played yourself a couple of games out of the division race.
Sunday’s game for the Jaguars is more than “winnable;” it’s must-win. They must win Sunday, then win next Sunday at home against the New York Jets. That would get them out of the early-season deficit and put them .500 heading to London to play the Houston Texans.
Anything less than victories in the next two games and it’s a long, heavy hoist back into the postseason conversation. Perhaps too long.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars must do to win in Cincinnati Sunday:
1.Run. The Bengals haven’t been able to stop it, a trend that dates to last season. They allowed 269 yards rushing to the Ravens last week. The Jaguars don’t have to match that performance, but they must take advantage of the Bengals’ obvious weakness.
2.Run. This is important on two levels, hence dedicating the first two entries to this area. The Jaguars must run to win Sunday, but they also must run to establish that area as a strength going into the rest of the season. Head Coach Doug Marrone early this week talked about the offensive line/running game feeling closer to playing well than it had been early in the season. These areas must start being more than close. They must become a strength.
3.Forget the noise … Ramsey is gone. That will hurt on the field, but it must be a relief for teammates to be rid of a player who gave up on them and the season in Week 2. The Jaguars must let this moment galvanize them – for the rest of the season and starting Sunday.
4. … and remember the Mania. Remember? Just last week? Rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew II and Minshew Mania? That faded after Minshew’s 163-yard, no-touchdown, one-interception game in a loss to New Orleans Sunday. Minshew and the Jaguars must show New Orleans was a dip and not a trend.
5.Deal with the double. The Saints stopped Minshew and the offense by doubling second-year wide receiver DJ Chark Jr., forcing Minshew to work the middle of the field and containing Minshew’s mobility with a disciplined pass rush. The Jaguars can expect the Bengals to try a similar approach, and they must adjust better than last week.
6.Get the tight end involved. A reason the Jaguars couldn’t work the middle of the field last week? They didn’t have a reliable receiving tight end. Rookie Josh Oliver is expected to play for the first time Sunday. He was drafted to fill that receiving tight end role at some time. The time is now.
7.Stop Joe Mixon. With wide receiver A.J. Green out, Mixon – the Bengals’ running back – is their team’s best player. He led the AFC in rushing last season but is averaging 42 yards per game this season. The Bengals almost certainly will focus on getting him involved in the offense Sunday. The Jaguars must make sure that doesn’t happen.
8.Get a lead and keep them down. The Bengals, despite being 0-6, have been close to winning three times. If they keep this game close, they will be hard to beat in the fourth quarter. Teams looking for first victories in October can give up if they get down early. If they don’t, they get very dangerous. Particularly at home.
9.Rush the passer. The Jaguars haven’t led enough to rush the passer effectively yet this season. In the one game they got an early lead – Week 3 against Tennessee – they finished with nine sacks. Do Step No. 8 – get a lead – first, then rush the passer.
10.Take the ball away. The Jaguars’ defense has just one takeaway this season. This team can still play its way into the playoff chase, but only if that statistic changes.