JACKSONVILLE – These are tough times for the Jaguars.
Scratch that: they're really, really tough times – perhaps as difficult as any the team has faced during a Gus Bradley Era that has featured its share of really difficult times.
Add in an equally tough opponent along with one of the NFL's toughest venues and it makes Sunday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City as difficult a task as the Jaguars have faced in quite some time.
Few analysts give the Jaguars a chance – not with Kansas City having won 15 of its last 17 games and with the Jaguars having lost two consecutive games in one-sided fashion.
Where's the hope for the Jaguars? A couple of things:
One is that this team is capable of playing better than it played in back-to-back losses to Oakland and Tennessee. The Jaguars played far better earlier in the season than it did in those two games, so the body of work is there for an improved effort.
Another reason for hope: a change at offensive coordinator, with Nathaniel Hackett taking over for Greg Olson after the latter was fired from the position last Saturday.
Those factors won't sway public perception that the Chiefs are huge favorites Sunday. But they represent at least a sliver of hope for a team that desperately needs a victory in difficult circumstances.
What do the Jaguars have to do to make that happen? Here are 10 things:
1)Play better.This is across the board, and while it's obvious and general, it's also painfully true. The Jaguars can't win Sunday playing as they did the last two weeks. They must play smarter, with more poise, with more effort. Everything must improve. Dramatically.
2)Play better at quarterback.We single out Blake Bortles here because the quarterback always gets singled out – and because it, too, is painfully true. Bortles has struggled more in the last two weeks than at any time over the past two seasons. He must be more accurate. He must give his receivers opportunities to make plays. If he doesn't, the Jaguars may have decisions to make at this position.
3)Run.Look for the Jaguars to re-emphasize this this week under Hackett. If the run doesn't work early, look for the Jaguars to keep emphasizing it. It's important, and it hasn't worked enough this season. That has to change Sunday.
4)Protect the ball.This isn't everything, but it's part of it. A huge part of the Chiefs' success this season has been their ability to force turnovers – and to score when they do. Teams that turn the ball over in Arrowhead leave as losing teams. The Jaguars must avoid being one of those teams.
5)Shut out the noise I.Arrowhead will be loud Sunday. It's always loud. The Jaguars probably will commit a few penalties because of it. Keep those to a minimum.
6)Look within.This could have been entitled, "Shut out the noise II." Perhaps the only noise louder than Arrowhead fans has been the noise of Jaguars fans and team observers this week. A 2-5 record and unmet expectations have caused that. While this noise is understandable and expected, it can't be allowed to drift onto the field. Play through it. Play for yourselves if nothing else.
7)Play smart.How about a game with no unsportsmanlike penalties? That would be a start, right?
8)Get back to decent.This is the first step for the Jaguars' defense. The unit had played winning football for the most part in the first six games. It wasn't close to that against Tennessee. If the Jaguars' defense can't prove it's miles better than it showed in Nashville, then things are broken around the 'Bank far worse than anyone believes. Here's guessing that ain't so.
9)Force turnovers.This is the second step for the defense. Even when it was playing well early in the season, it wasn't doing this enough with five turnovers forced by the unit this season. Doing this isn't easy against the Chiefs because they play smart and emphasize protecting the ball. So what if it's not easy? The Jaguars need to do it anyway.
10)Work a miracle.Maybe that's what it will take in Arrowhead. They happen, right? Right?