JACKSONVILLE – They have continued believing and improving. Even in tough times.
The Jaguars a week ago used that formula for a faith-affirming, confidence-building victory. Now, they a significantly tougher task. That task:
The Kansas City Chiefs, and the AFC West leaders might be the toughest task the Jaguars have faced – or will face – this season.
The Chiefs (6-2) are a perennial Super Bowl contender, having played in the last four AFC Championship Games. They play with intensity and speed, and their potent offense puts enormous strain on opposing offenses and defenses. Patrick Mahomes is one of the NFL's best quarterbacks. Head Coach Andy Reid is one of the NFL's best play-callers. Travis Kelce is one of the NFL's best tight ends.
That's a lot of bests, with the result being that the Chiefs are one of the NFL's best offenses – and one of its best teams. That will be a tough test for a Jaguars defense that has been inconsistent this season, and that has struggled to pressure opposing passers in big situations and to stop deep passes.
It's an equally tough task for a Jaguars offense that is dramatically improved this season but has struggled with key mistakes – particularly turnovers in the end zone.
The Jaguars likely need to play their best game of the season Sunday to win.
Here are 10 things they must do to make that happen:
- Pressure Mahomes. This isn't easy. Mahomes is not only accurate with a knack for the big play, he is elusive with high-end pocket presence and can extend plays. Still, the Chiefs offensive tackles have struggled at times this season. Jaguars pass rushers Dawuane Smoot, Josh Allen and Travon Walker must take advantage. And when they get pressure, they must get Mahomes down. And force mistakes. Near-misses won't win Sunday.
- Be aware. The Jaguars have struggled against running quarterbacks this season. Mahomes doesn't look to run as much as some quarterbacks the Jaguars have played to date, but he's a dangerous passer outside the pocket. And when he does run, he's dangerous there, too.
- Get a big play from Allen. Credit Smoot for a career-best season with five sacks through nine games. But while Allen consistently has pressured opposing passers, he hasn't made enough game-turning plays. The Jaguars need him to break through Sunday.
- Run Etienne … Jaguars running back Travis Etienne Jr. has emerged as the Jaguars' most reliable, most explosive offensive player in the last month. As he has gone in recent weeks, the Jaguars' offense as gone, too – and the offense typically has gone very well during that span.
- … and break a long run for a touchdown. Etienne has been oh-so-close to breaking a long run for a touchdown in recent weeks. Playing in one of the NFL's toughest venues, this feels like a game the Jaguars need big plays from Etienne. A couple, actually.
- Be accurate. Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence can't worry about outplaying Mahomes in a shootout. What he can do is play within himself and be accurate. When he has completed 70 percent or more of his passes, the Jaguars 24 or more points; they are 3-1 in those games. For Lawrence, accuracy is key.
- Force turnovers. The Jaguars are past the point of needing to force takeaways in every game to have a chance to win. But the Chiefs in Arrowhead are one of the NFL's toughest tasks. The Jaguars need momentum-turning plays Sunday and nothing turns momentum in a tough road venue like an early interception.
- Get a big play from Agnew. Jaguars kick/punt returner Jamal Agnew made one of the game's key plays in Sunday's come-from-behind victory over the Las Vegas Raiders. Agnew may not need to score Sunday for the Jaguars to win, but he probably needs to flip the field at least once.
- Protect the ball. Key mistakes at key times have cost the Jaguars dearly this season. They have had a red-zone turnover in four of their six losses, with a turnover on downs in the red zone in another loss. Considering everyone of those losses was by a score or less, red-zone mistakes have defined this Jaguars season.
- Score touchdowns in the red zone. In some weeks, just kicking field goals in the red zone might be enough to win. That's not likely the case against the Chiefs.