JACKSONVILLE – Suddenly, an opportunity.
No, the Jaguars' game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday doesn't represent a chance to join the playoff chase. True contention – or even a .500 record – for the 2-6 Jaguars remains a few victories away.
But the Jaguars on Sunday have an opportunity to prove a few things:
- That they can win two consecutive games.
- That they really are improved.
- That this past Sunday's victory over the Buffalo Bills wasn't a one off.
The Jaguars absolutely believe they can prove those things, and they are rightfully a confident team after winning two of the past three games. That confidence was buoyed by their most impressive victory in recent memory – 9-6 over the AFC East-leading Bills, a dominant defensive performance against a team that entered the game No. 1 in the NFL in scoring.
A franchise-record 20-game losing streak that ended last month is a memory. And the Jaguars on Sunday can take another step in the build taking place under first-year Head Coach Urban Meyer. It would be a third victory in four games, and a second consecutive victory over a contending team.
A victory would be an upset. The Colts are heavily favored, finding themselves offensively in recent weeks and winning three of the last four games. They have played their way into playoff contention. It's also an AFC South road game in the second half of the season, and the Jaguars haven't won one of those since 2013.
So, what must the Jaguars do to win in decidedly tough circumstances?
Here are 10 things:
1. Keep disrupting. The victory over the Bills was largely about disruption. The Jaguars pressured Bills quarterback Josh Allen throughout. Dawuane Smoot pressured him. So did Josh Allen. So did Taven Bryan. Pressure. Pressure. Pressure. That's it. That's the formula.
2. Get J-Rob healthy – and run him. Running back James Robinson remains the Jaguars' best offensive play. He practiced limited Thursday after missing practice Wednesday – all of which came after he missed the victory over Buffalo with a heel injury. The Jaguars could get little news better than a Robinson return. This offense has just 16 points in his absence.
3. Convert third downs – and red-zone opportunities. The Jaguars are struggling mightily on third down, and they settled for field goals twice in the red zone last week. Points are scarce. A lack of dynamic skill players is one reason. Missed opportunities matter, too. When the Jaguars do drive deep into their opponents' territory, they must score touchdowns – not field goals.
4. Take the ball away. The Jaguars had two takeaways in the first seven games. The aforementioned disruption created three takeaways Sunday. That's the reason the Jaguars won. That must be part of the formula, too. A big part.
5. Stop. The. Run. There's more to defending the Colts, but this is paramount. Running back Jonathan Taylor has emerged one of the NFL's top two or three running backs, and the Colts are best when they're overpowering teams in the running game.
6. Strike deep. The Jaguars' lack of speed at wide receiver has been well-documented and may not get fixed this season. Still, the Jaguars have had one completion of more than 23 yards the last two weeks –a 33-yard pass from backup quarterback C.J. Beathard to tight end Dan Arnold against Buffalo. Starting quarterback Trevor Lawrence's longest completions the last two games have come when the receiver turned a short pass into intermediate gains. The lack of deep shots continues to compress the field, which has compounded the offensive issues. The Jaguars didn't have a receiver with more than 27 yards receiving last week. That's not sustainable.
7. Convert kicks. Kicker Matthew Wright's field goals have been the difference in Jaguars victories twice in the last three games. He has been clutch more often the not, but he also missed three times in succession on one attempt in the third quarter Sunday. If the Jaguars beat Indianapolis, it likely will be in a close game. Maybe a field goal game.
8. Get Shenault involved. Wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. hasn't gotten open consistently downfield. It has been tricky getting him free near the line of scrimmage – and reverses and runs haven't been effective. But Shenault remains one of the Jaguars' most dangerous offensive weapons. They must keep trying.
9. Beware Pittman. The Colts aren't all Taylor. Wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. is developing into an elite level receiver. This is a more balanced offense than Buffalo and therefore a dramatically different task.
10. Do the spectacular. This is about Lawrence – and it's asking a lot, because the reality is Lawrence is getting little help from his receivers. Still, he's capable of the spectacular. He can make passes and plays above the Xs and Os. This is a tough enough matchup that the spectacular may be needed.