JACKSONVILLE – This one likely won't be easy.
That's something to remember as the Jaguars prepare to play the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis Sunday. And if you've watched these Jaguars, you probably know that already.
Yes, you know the Jaguars can win one-sided games. They have shown that with three such victories – over Houston (29-7, Week 1), Baltimore (44-7, Week 3) and Pittsburgh (30-9, Week 5).
But you also know the passing game is struggling. And you know one-sided games usually are rare in the NFL – and because of those things, you know Jaguars victories the rest of the season likely will get closer and trickier in nature.
The Jaguars are favored Sunday, and many believe they should win. It's tougher than that because although the Colts remain without quarterback Andrew Luck, they have strengths. Foremost: they stop the run well, which means the Jaguars must figure a way to pass offensively. Their recent struggles in that area are threatening to define the season.
A potential edge for the Jaguars? A Colts offensive line that wasn't considered a strength entering the season. The Jaguars' defense has exploited matchup advantages against opposing offensive lines more often than not this season.
Can the Jaguars pass enough for running back Leonard Fournette to be effective? Can they force Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett into mistakes?
Those are two things the Jaguars must do to beat the Colts Sunday. Here are all 10:
1. Get the Colts out of the box!!!Exclamation points rarely make a 10 Things appearance. They appear this week to emphasize what can't be overemphasized – that the Jaguars must create enough of a threat in the passing game to make teams use at least four defensive backs to defend the pass. The Rams often put eight defenders – five-to-six linemen and two-to-three linebackers – at the line of scrimmage last week. If this offense can't pass or create a threat of a pass enough to keep defenses from doing that, this offense can't expect to score enough to win.
2. GET THE COLTS OUT OF THE BOX!!!We added some capital letters here. It has reached that point. At least one of the 10 things normally would involve Fournette. But we'll put aside Fournette for this week. Defenders must be forced from the box first.
3. Let Bortles throw.This is an addendum to the first two, but again: we have reached that point. Yes, minimizing Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles' mistakes is key. Yes, he has struggled enough to merit concern. But he hasn't struggled enough that he can't be trusted to throw downfield against uber-bunched formations.
4. Make the catch.This is an addendum to Nos. 1, 2 and 3 with an emphasis on the fact that the passing game struggles this season have not been all Bortles. Jaguars wide receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns must get open and catch the ball downfield; Keelan Cole must show up, too. This group was perceived as a preseason strength. Since the Week 1 loss of Allen Robinson it has been anything but that.
5. Make the kick.This will be Josh Lambo's first game as the Jaguars' kicker since he replaced Jason Myers Tuesday. Making that first field goal? Well, it's better than the alternative.
6. Show up on first and second down. The Jaguars' defense has been one of the NFL's best in passing situations, and but in three losses it has struggled against the run. Some of it has been gap control by the defensive line. Some has been linebackers over-pursuing. Some has been a lot of other stuff. This is a big-time pass rushing team, but as defensive tackle Malik Jackson said early this week: it must earn the right to rush the passer. You do that by stopping the run on first and second down.
7. Mind the gaps.When this defense does it, it stops the run. When it stops the run, it's a good defense – even close to elite. When it doesn't stop the run, it's just a good defense. For this team right now, the defense must be better than that. Opponents rushing yards in Jaguars victories: 99.0 yards per game; in losses: 192.3. Neither is great. One is eye-catchingly troubling.
8. Get a special teams shutout.This realistically should happen every week. It must be emphasized this week. The Rams scored 14 special teams points and had another three points set up by a short punt. Few NFL teams can win doing that. The Jaguars absolutely can't.
9. Sack Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett four times.If you can sack him, you can force mistakes. If you can force mistakes, No. 9 becomes possible.
10. Force three takeaways.When the Jaguars have done it this season, they have won. When they haven't, they have lost. Sacks and takeaways … the Jaguars' winning formula can't be that simple, can it? Maybe it can.