JACKSONVILLE – Here are 10 things the Jacksonville Jaguars must do to beat the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio, Sunday…
1. Keep doing what they're doing.Whatever the Jaguars have been doing the last three weeks, it has been working. They're 2-1 after the bye and they've played their three best games of the season. A lot of it has been about listening to Head Coach Gus Bradley. A lot has been playing better defense. Whatever it has been about, it has worked better than it did the first eight games.
2. Protect Chad Henne.This may or may not be one of the 10 most important things, but whatever … Henne deserves some protection. He was under constant pressure last week against Houston, and stood tall in the pocket. He had one of his better games under those circumstances. The Browns' defense maybe isn't quite as good as the Texans, but it's still very good – and Henne still needs time.
3. Get the ball to Cecil Shorts III.This remains necessary, but it sure won't be easy. When Shorts last played an elite corner – Patrick Peterson of Arizona – he caught two passes for 22 yards and expressed disappointment with how he was used. Browns cornerback Joe Haden is at least as good as Peterson and has limited some of the NFL's elite receivers this season. Still, Shorts is the Jaguars' best wide receiver. He needs the ball … even if getting it to him is difficult.
4. Get Mike Brown involved – or Ace Sanders … or …The Jaguars continue to look for answers offensively, and with the Browns ranked No. 4 in the NFL in defense that won't be easy. The Jaguars need plays from receivers other than Shorts, and those could come from Brown, who is expected to return from a shoulder injury and start Sunday. Rookie Ace Sanders also could be an option. He had the longest reception of his career – a 51-yarder against Houston – and has been improving each week.
5. Keep run blocking.The Jaguars weren't dominant run-blocking against the Texans last week but they were good enough to allow Maurice Jones-Drew to run for 84 yards and the Jaguars as a team to rush for 118. Both of those numbers were season-highs. The Browns are a better run defense than the Texans, but balance is still needed. Keep working to achieve it.
6. Keep MJD running – and catching.Jones-Drew got better blocking against Houston than he had much of the season, but he ran better, too. As important was how Jones-Drew played as a pass receiver, catching six passes for 60 yards. The running game probably isn't going to produce consistent 120-to-130-yard games, but if the offense can get 130-to-140 total yards from Jones-Drew … well, that means a lot of good down-and-distance situations.
7. Create turnovers.The Jaguars produced just one takeaway against the Texans – that after producing none in a loss to the Cardinals the week before. But the Jaguars' got the one against the Texans when it mattered, with defensive end Ryan Davis intercepting a tipped pass from Case Keenum in the final minute to secure the victory. The takeaways need to come earlier against Cleveland. They're still the best way for this team to get early momentum and an early lead.
8. Stop the run.On paper, this is attainable. The Browns have struggled to run this season. The Jaguars have improved dramatically in that area in recent weeks, holding their last three opponents – the Titans, Cardinals and Texans – under 100 yards rushing. This is important – and not just for Sunday's game in Cleveland. The Jaguars are starting to believe in themselves defensively. It's time to build on that.
9. Get a play on special teams.The special teams have played well much of the season – a blocked field goal by the Texans Sunday notwithstanding. The unit has produced a safety, some big kickoff returns and punter Bryan Anger has controlled field position much of the last two weeks. Still, playing on the road this week, a special teams touchdown would be key. Calling Ace Sanders?
10. Maintain momentum.This could be, "Keep Believing," or, "Keep Listening to Gus Bradley," or any number of entries along those lines. Bradley has continued to preach a message of improvement and he has continued to emphasize that if players play as well as they can, then winning will take care of itself. While it may sound like Coach Speak and while it may sound too positive for some, players clearly have bought in and believe in the direction. That approach has gotten this team out of a tough situation coming out of the bye. The approach also has led to victories in two of three games. So, keep believing? Yes, no doubt.