JACKSONVILLE – This is where it gets tough.
The Jaguars are injured and struggling. Young players are everywhere in the lineup, and the motivation of a postseason berth has long since passed.
So, how tough is finding 10 things the Jaguars must do to win Sunday? Well, it ain't easy.
We'll start where we have started in recent weeks: pride. That will be key against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, Sunday, and it will remain key when they play the Houston Texans in Houston next week in the 2018 regular-season finale.
Both games are against teams still in the postseason chase. That means both teams will have obvious motivation, which means two tough tasks for a Jaguars team that began the season with high expectations and is ending it amid disappointment and speculation about the coming offseason.
Still, as the past two months have shown, the Jaguars have enough talent to be competitive – even against contending teams. They have lost nine of 10 games, but five of their last six losses have come by a touchdown or less. So, yes, the Jaguars can win Sunday. Absolutely they can.
Here are 10 things they must do to make that happen:
1.Protect Cody Kessler. He now has been sacked 13 times in three games as the Jaguars' starting quarterback – and 17 times in four appearances this season. Kessler could have avoided a couple of sacks in a loss to the Washington Redskins last Sunday, but Head Coach Doug Marrone said at least four came when the offensive line just got beat. That can't happen if the Jaguars are to have a chance Sunday.
2.Make plays in the passing game. This seems like a big ask right now, particularly with the offensive-line struggles – and particularly after the Jaguars set a franchise-record-low for net yards passing (20) in last Sunday's loss to Washington. But Kessler completed just three passes to wide receivers in that game and he targeted wide receivers just seven times. That must increase. Somehow.
3.Get production from the running backs. This has been tough since running back Leonard Fournette's suspension in Buffalo. While the Jaguars rushed for 172 yards against Washington, 78 of those yards came on runs by Kessler and wide receiver Dede Westbrook. With the passing game struggling, that sort of production from the backs isn't enough.
4.Play big on special teams. The best special-teams effort of the season – a punt return for a touchdown by Westbrook, a partially-blocked punt setting up a field goal – was nearly enough against Washington last week. It feels like such an effort will be necessary again Sunday. That's a lot to ask of a special teams unit, but ask the Jaguars must.
5.Create turnovers … The lack of big plays from the defense remains the biggest difference between the unit this season and last season. This offense isn't going to score a bunch of touchdowns on length-of-the-field drives. It needs the short fields created by turnovers.
6…. and score defensively. Linebacker Myles Jack's fourth-quarter Week 1 interception return in a victory over the New York Giants remains the Jaguars' lone defensive touchdown of the season. With the offensive struggles, points from the defense would be a welcome boost.
7.Pressure Ryan Tannehill. The Jaguars have pressured the passer this season better than their 28 sacks would indicate. The Jaguars' front has pressured; it just hasn't quite got home enough. Tannehill, the Dolphins' quarterback, was sacked nine times in a loss to Minnesota last week. If the Jaguars can get home three or four times, maybe they can pull an upset.
8.Stop the run. The Dolphins on Sunday will be without veteran running back Frank Gore. But Dolphins running backs Kenyon Drake and Kalen Ballage have proven themselves capable. The Jaguars stuffed Redskins running back Adrian Peterson Sunday. They need a similar performance Sunday against a Dolphins team that has shown it can run effectively.
9.Break a couple of huge trends. The Jaguars have won once away from TIAA Bank Field this season – the Week 1 victory over the Giants. The Dolphins have lost at home just once. That's just one of many statistical trends that make this seem like a tough task for the Jaguars.
10.Play with pride. Even with it, the Jaguars have struggled lately. Without it, they have no chance.