JACKSONVILLE – How big is this one? Pretty big.
How important is the Jaguars' game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday? Given that the Jaguars are 1-3 with a home game against the 1-4 Houston Texans next week …
Well, let's just say winning in Tampa on Sunday would move the Jaguars to within a game of .500 in a league with only nine teams better than .500 right now.
A victory keeps the Jaguars in range of good things.
The other side of that, of course, is the Jaguars thus far in 2015 have shown themselves to be a team with little margin for error. They must play well to compete – and while that has happened in three of four games this season, there have been enough inconsistences that the Jaguars are 1-3 rather than an AFC South-leading 3-1.
But that's the past. Let's focus on the immediate future, and with that in mind, here are 10 things the Jaguars must do beat the Buccaneers Sunday:
1)Finish I.This one is about the offense – and specifically, finishing drives. The Jaguars have moved efficiently at times this season. They moved efficiently at times last week against the Colts. Not enough of those times became points. The Jaguars must turn yards into touchdowns.
2)Finish II. This is more general than "Finish I." The Jaguars have had chances to win in the fourth quarter in three of four games this season. In Week 1, the defense allowed a long drive that clinched the victory for Carolina. In Week 2, the Jaguars closed against Miami. In Week 4, multiple opportunities were missed against the Colts. This team has reached a point where it's competitive. The next step is closing games.
3)Intercept the ball.Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston has thrown seven interceptions in four games. The Jaguars have seven interceptions in the past 20 games. The Jaguars need to make that second statistic look a lot different.
Images from Thursdays practice as the Jaguars prepare to take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
4)Score in the second half.This is over-simplistic, yes, but take away two touchdowns in a blowout Week 3 loss to New England and the Jaguars have scored three second-half points. It's very hard to be leading enough at halftime to withstand that.
5)Keep doing what you're doing offensively.Whoa??!!!!! The Jaguars have scored more than 20 points once this season … and you want to keep doing what they're doing!!? Yes – at least partly. The Jaguars are showing some improvement. Blake Bortles, Allen Hurns, Allen Robinson and T.J. Yeldon … those are four key, young guys and all are showing good signs. In that sense, the Jaguars have to keep doing what they're doing – in the first half, anyway.
6)Get Gerald McCoy blocked.The Buccaneers' defensive tackle is a big-time interior pass rusher – and despite the record, the Bucs in general can generate pressure defensively. The Jaguars' offensive line has kept Bortles clean for the most part this season, allowing just eight sacks. That's a pace for 32, which is a significant improvement from last season's 71. Still, guards Zane Beadles and A.J. Cann – not to mention center Stefen Wisniewski -- have a test this week with McCoy.
Images from Jaguars' Wednesday practice.
7)Run, T.J., run.T.J. Yeldon, the Jaguars' rookie running back, had his best game of the season against the Colts, rushing for 105 yards on 22 carries. He also improved as the game continued. The Jaguars continue to want to be a forceful running team. They're not there yet. Look for them to keep working to get closer.
8)Rush with four – or whatever.The inability to pressure the quarterback with four down linemen has hurt the Jaguars this season. Against a young quarterback such as Winston, if you can pressure with four, that should mean turnover opportunities. But if they can't pressure with four, they must blitz. The more pressure, the more mistakes.
9)Be "Good Blake" for longer.Bortles, the Jaguars' second-year quarterback, has shown significant flashes this season. That has been particularly true in the first half of three games. His second-half inconsistency has mirrored the second-half offensive struggles. The progress is good. It matters very much. Consistency is the next step.
10)Make field goals … not to overstate the obvious here, but the Jaguars' offense isn't mature enough that the team can count on double-digit victories. When opportunities for points come they must be converted.