JACKSONVILLE – Here are ten things the Jacksonville Jaguars must do to beat the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis Sunday…
1. Finish it out.The Jaguars improved in the second half of the season. Injuries made it tough to see in the last two weeks, but make no mistake: there's still momentum and life in the locker room and on this team, and there's still unusual focus for a team eliminated from the postseason. The Jaguars have played hard all season. They'll need to do it one more time.
2. Forget September.The Colts beat the Jaguars 37-3 in the teams' first meeting at EverBank Field in late September. The Jaguars by any measure are a dramatically different team now. They're better on defense and significantly better offensively. They played competitively through the second half of the season, with their worst loss coming by 13 points to an Arizona team that could finish 11-5. The Jaguars are making fewer mistakes and playing smarter to stay in games. They have to keep doing it.
3. Stop the run. The Colts believe they're a running team. They ran well at EverBank earlier in the season, but the Jaguars have improved against the run. They had until the last two weeks anyway. They have to get back to fitting the run better, and they'll have to do it without Roy Miller, Russell Allen and Geno Hayes. That makes it tougher, but it still has to get done.
4. Pressure Andrew Luck.The Jaguars did this a bit in the early-season loss, and Luck didn't look superhuman. The Jaguars' pass rush hasn't been great this season, but it has gotten significantly better in the second half of the season. If the Jaguars can fit the run just enough to get in pass-rush situations on third down, they can rush the passer enough to be effective.
5. Let Andre Branch dance.The second-year defensive end has five sacks in his last six games. And he has danced his odd, entrancing, windmill/backstroke/whatever-you-call-it-sack dance each time. Whatever. His improvement has helped the pass rush improve, and you can't emphasize the pass rush enough against Luck.
6. Protect Chad Henne.This is easier said than done. The Colts sacked Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith four times last week, and Colts veteran linebacker Robert Mathis remains one of the league's most dangerous pass rushers. Cameron Bradfield (ankle) should be healthy, but even if he is, he and the Jaguars' front must negate Mathis better than they did in September when he had three sacks at EverBank Field. The Jaguars' pass protection has improved for the most part in the second half of the season. If it's not on point Sunday, Mathis can create short fields in a hurry.
7. Protect the ball.This is a Gus Bradley mantra against any team, but it's critical against the Colts. They forced five turnovers to win easily in Kansas City last week. If they force anywhere near that many Sunday, the Jaguars will have trouble keeping pace.
8. Run, run, run.This could be Maurice Jones-Drew's last game with the Jaguars, but that's not why the Jaguars need to run. They need to run because the team has played very well in recent weeks when it has run and because it didn't play well last week when it didn't run. Jones-Drew played through a hamstring injury last week, but he ran effectively for a four-game stretch before that and the Jaguars need to get back to that effectiveness Sunday.
9. Throw it to Marcedes.Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis is dynamic. He's big. He's strong. And he has consistently made more important plays in the passing game than anyone else in recent weeks. He has touchdown receptions in each of his last four games. He's playing hard and he's peaking. He wants the ball. Give it to him – often, if possible.
10. Forget the injuries. This is hard to do. Because this is a beat-up team. But what's notable is it continues to not act like a beat-up team. The Jaguars still carry themselves like a fresh team playing for a playoff berth. So, yes, forget the injuries. Forget that you're out of the playoffs. Keep playing and keep having fun. Go play hard and take a shot at the AFC South Champions. You want to set a tone for the offseason? A victory Sunday certainly would do that in a big way.