JACKSONVILLE – Now, pride comes into play.
That's not where the Jaguars wanted to be nine games into the 2016 season, and 2-7 isn't the record anyone expected. Unfilled expectations have become the theme to the season – and that once again has become the case far too early.
So, what now? What's the motivation?
Yes, the chance of a long winning streak and re-entry into the playoff chase remains, but let's put aside such miracle talk for a later date. Let's let the Jaguars earn their way back to that conversation by winning a bunch of games.
Until that happens, the goal must again be to win one game – and within that framework, the goal must be playing better and doing what it takes to win. One game. Somehow.
For the Jaguars, that means reducing turnovers offensively – and forcing some defensively. It means keeping the score manageable. It means stopping the run better than last week.
It means the quarterback playing better and everyone else playing better around him, too. It means pressuring the opposing passer.
It's not original or complex, but the contributing factors to the current four-game losing streak aren't real original or complex either. The Jaguars can win Sunday in Detroit, but to do so they need to do some basic things.
Here are 10 of them:
1) Hit the deep ball.This comes in at No. 1 this week. Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles and the team's wide receivers have had opportunities for big plays in recent weeks. At least one has been dropped. Another couple resulted in completions or pass interference penalties. But Bortles has missed too many deep passes. Big plays win games in the NFL. Bortles must hit them when they're there – at least more than has been the case in recent weeks.
2) Force a turnover.This isn't No. 1, but only because the importance "Hit the deep ball" at No. 1. Forcing turnovers is a close second because the Jaguars' takeaway drought is reaching mind-blowing proportions. The Jaguars haven't forced a turnover in five games. *Five games?! *Crazy.
3) Pressure the quarterback.**Issues in football are often intertwined. Such is the case with the Jaguars' turnover issues and their pass rush. The Jaguars have just four sacks in the last five games. When you're not pressuring the quarterback, you're not forcing the quarterback to make mistakes. When the quarterback isn't making mistakes, you're not going to get many turnovers.
4) Get a lead.Speaking of intertwined. The Jaguars haven't had a lead in four weeks. When you're trailing in all games, you're not going to get many opportunities to rush the passer. When you don't have a chance to rush the passer, you're not going to pressure the quarterback. When you're not pressuring the quarterback, you're not forcing the quarterback to make mistakes … and so on and so on and so on …
5) Get a bi-i-i-i-i-ig lead.This isn't about the Jaguars' pass rush or their takeaway ratio as much as it is about Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. It's not enough to be ahead of the Lions late; you need to be well ahead because no quarterback comes from behind as well as Stafford. The Lions have trailed in the fourth quarter of all nine games this season. They have won five of those games.
6) Cover punts.The Jaguars have allowed punt returns of 36 and 57 yards in the last two weeks. The 36-yarder led to a Kansas City field goal. The 57-yarder led to a Houston touchdown. Those don't technically count as turnovers, but they're just as important to momentum. And to final scores.
7) Run – and run some more.After a 205-yard running day against Kansas City two weeks ago in Nathaniel Hackett's debut as offensive coordinator, the Jaguars last week against Houston rushed for 80 yards on 22 carries. They rushed for 60 in the first half and had to abandon the run in the second half when they fell behind by double digits. Stay close. Give yourself a chance offensive balance for 60 minutes rather than 30.
8) Protect the ball.The defense's struggles to create a turnover aren't the only reason for the minus-14 turnover ratio. The Jaguars also have six giveaways in the last two games. Remember former Head Coach Tom Coughlin's "callous-disregard-for-the-ball" line? Things have felt too callous lately.
9) Get the ball to Marqise Lee.He's not only making big plays lately, he's doing so on a consistent basis. He drew two long pass-interference penalties last week against Kansas City and was wide open deep only to have Bortles underthrow him. The more Lee in the offense right now, the better.
10) Make a big play.The Jaguars are struggling. They haven't won in four weeks, and they've lost two consecutive close games. They outgained the last two opponents only to lose – because their opponents made big plays. Big punt returns. Big takeaways. And so on. Turn that around. The NFL is a league about big plays at big times. The Jaguars haven't made enough of them this season. Someone needs to make one and get the Jaguars out of this funk. Someone. Someway. Somehow.