JACKSONVILLE – This is a tough test. Really, really tough.
How tough is the Jaguars' Week 3 matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers? Enough that it's easy to miss which team is the division leader.
That team is the Jaguars, who at 1-1 lead the AFC South. They moved into first with a shutout victory over the Indianapolis Colts at TIAA Bank Field this past Sunday. They haven't led the division alone since Week 2 of the 2018 season.
The Chargers, also 1-1, are in second place in an AFC West that is expected to be among the NFL's toughest divisions in 2022 – and the Chargers are also expected to contend for the playoffs and perhaps the Super Bowl.
They're a mature, balanced team with big-time offensive players. Among them: Justin Herbert, a third-year veteran considered one of the league's best young quarterbacks. They're also talented at receiver (Mike Williams, Keenan Allen) and running back (Austin Ekeler), and equally talented defensively with pass rushers Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack and safety Derwin James all All-Pro-level players.
That talent makes the Chargers easily the toughest test of the Jaguars' season to date. They also likely will be one of the Jaguars' toughest matchups of the season, and not just because the Jaguars never have won on the road in this series.
But a tough test isn't an unwinnable one, particularly considering the Jaguars are looking and acting like a rapidly improving team that believes in itself. What must the Jaguars do to win Sunday?
Here are 10 things:
- Pressure Herbert. The Chargers' quarterback is dealing with a rib injury. Assuming he plays, the best way to affect a quarterback – hurting or not – is to pressure him and hit him.
- Get Bosa and Mack blocked. There may be no tougher test for the Jaguars all season than Sunday. That's particularly true for offensive tackles Cam Robinson and Jawaan Taylor. Robinson struggled at times late in a Week 1 loss to the Washington Commanders against pass rusher Montez Sweat while Taylor has yet to allow a pressure this season. Forget the Week 1 and 2 results. This challenge is a different level.
- Forget the past. Not only have the Jaguars never won on the road against the Chargers, they never have come closer than 10 points in five previous meetings. If the Jaguars are going to improve and contend, it must put "nevers" like that in the past.
- Force turnovers and don't make them. The Jaguars through two games lead the NFL in takeaway-giveaway at plus five after finishing last in the category in 2021. The best way to stay in tough road games is to keep that trend going. The easiest way to get blown out on the road is to give the ball away.
- Stay efficient. Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence had his most efficient career game in the victory over the Colts. Offensive coaches put players in good positions, and Lawrence made clean decisions and accurate throws. The Jaguars must make that a trend.
- Stop the run. The Jaguars contained Colts running back Jonathan Taylor. Ekeler isn't as powerful as Taylor, but he's dangerous in the open field and the Jaguars must contain him early to get a chance to rush Herbert.
- Stay in it early. The Jaguars overcame an early 14-3 deficit in a Week 1 loss at Washington. The Chargers are a different beast than the Commanders. If you get down to a team this good offensively, it's hard to outscore them enough to rally.
- Run. The Jaguars ran effectively and sparingly in Week 1. They ran often in Week 2 – and did so effectively enough to make the Colts respect it enough to help Lawrence. The Jaguars need running backs James Robinson and Travis Etienne to be good enough to make Bosa and Mack pay attention.
- Score 30. The Chargers are good enough offensively that you can play well defensively and still give up touchdowns. The Jaguars haven't scored 30 or more points since Week 2 of the 2020 season. They could need that many – or close – Sunday.
- Take one back. Jaguars wide receiver Jamal Agnew is among the league's best punt/kick returners. One way to shock a home team and steal momentum is a turnover for a touchdown. A return for a touchdown has the same effect.