JACKSONVILLE – Here are 10 things the Jacksonville Jaguars must do to beat the Buffalo Bills at EverBank Field in Jacksonville Sunday…
1. Keep getting better.Again with this? Yeah, again with it … absolutely. The Jaguars have won four of five games including their last three in succession by sticking with Head Coach Gus Bradley's message of constant improvement rather than focusing as much about winning and losing. It may not make for a thrilling narrative, but it has worked, with the end result being a better energy around the franchise than there has been in some time. Now's no time to stop following Bradley's lead.
2. Shut out the noise.As much negative talk that surrounded the franchise when the Jaguars were 0-8 at the bye, there suddenly is as much positive talk. Shoot, people even were kicking around playoff scenarios last weekend – and a little this week. The positive talk means no more now than the negative talk did in October. Don't listen. Just play.
3. Protect Chad Henne.This is always critical, but it won't be easy against the Bills. They are struggling at 4-9, but their defense is very good and pressures the quarterback exceptionally well. Mario Williams has 12 sacks, and the Bills lead the NFL in sacks with 44. Jerry Hughes. Marcell Dareus. Keith Williams. All can rush the quarterback. Henne, the Jaguars' quarterback, has played well under pressure in recent weeks. Keeping that pressure to a minimum Sunday won't be easy.
4. Run.Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew (hamstring) is "very" questionable, according to Bradley. More will be known about his status Friday, but there's a good chance he won't play. That would mean a heavy dose of Jordan Todman with a sprinkling of Denard Robinson Sunday, but whatever and whoever it means, the team must find a way to run. The Jaguars have rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the last three games after not doing so in the first 10 games of the season. It's no coincidence that the team won all three games.
5. Block, block, block…Yes, we sort of covered this with "Protect Chad Henne" and "Run." But this can't be overemphasized. The Bills are good everywhere on the defensive front. Williams, Williams, Dareus and Branch give the Bills one of the league's best fronts, with Mario Williams among the league's better ends/outside linebackers and linebacker Kiko Alonzo among the league's best rookies at his position. The Bills have struggled at times, but there's front-line talent here that can dominate.
6. Keep Cecil Shorts III involved – if he plays.Shorts hasn't had as many receptions in the second half of the season as the first, but he has made big plays at key times. He has touchdown receptions in back-to-back games for the first time this season, and he's clearly the Jaguars' best big-play opportunity offensively. The Jaguars narrowly missed a 59-yard touchdown when Chad Henne barely overthrew Shorts last Thursday. He has a groin issue and is as questionable as Jones-Drew, but if he plays, he has to be the main target. He's the Jaguars' best chance at a big play.
7. Cover Stevie.The Jaguars have allowed huge receiving game in three of four weeks, allowing Michael Floyd of Arizona (193 yards, one touchdown), Josh Gordon of Cleveland (261 yards, two touchdowns) and Andre Johnson (154 yards, no touchdowns) more than 150 yards each. Steve Johnson is the Bills' go-to guy, but he has just one 100-yard game this season. Don't let him break out.
8. Pressure Manuel.Bills rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel threw a season-high four interceptions Sunday. Two of those passes were off receivers, and Manuel also was sacked seven times. The Jaguars haven't had a seven-sack day this season, but their pass rush has increased as the season has continued. Pressure Manuel and that will give you a very good chance at No. 9 …
9…. Create turnovers.Takeaways define Bradley's defensive approach, and they have been crucial since the bye. The Jaguars forced four turnovers in a victory at Tennessee, and forced two more in a victory over the Texans Thursday. The Jaguars have won three consecutive games, but they're probably not going to string four or five 80-yard drives together in one game. Short fields are needed; turnovers are the way to get them.
10. Feed off the crowd.The crowd was a factor in the victory over Houston and players knew it. Not only that, they loved it. The energy of the crowd was real late in that game, and could be the start of something. Don't let that feeling die. Make plays early, stay in the game, make turnovers … whatever. This crowd is ready to love this team. Let them do it.