JACKSONVILLE – The road is long this week – and tough. Really long – and really tough.
The Jaguars (2-9) this weekend will travel to the West Coast for a second time in a little more than a month – this time to play the Los Angeles Rams (7-4), a team very much in contention for the postseason and very much needing a victory.
How much do the Rams need this one? Consider:
They have lost three consecutive games after a 7-1 start. That means they have gone from a favorite to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium to a team needing to win to regain momentum – and to maintain any chance to win the NFC West, one of the NFL's toughest divisions.
The Jaguars, like the Rams, have lost three consecutive games – and, like the Rams, they have done so in one-sided fashion. The Jaguars have trailed by 10 more points in nine of 11 games this season, a concerning statistic that has been more pronounced during a current three-game losing streak in which they have trailed by at least 17 points in all three games.
An encouraging note about that streak: The Jaguars have rallied in two of those three games to have a chance to win in the final two minutes. So, no … this team hasn't quit. But the Jaguars must play better to have a chance to win at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., Sunday.
Here are 10 things they must do to do that:
1. Take. The. Ball. Away. This will be the No. 1 key to victory for the Jaguars until it's not – and it figures to remain key the rest of the season. The Jaguars' offense is struggling enough that it's unrealistic to believe they will outscore most teams without extra possessions or short fields. The Jaguars have six takeaways this season, fewest in the NFL – and they have recovered just one opponent fumble all season.
2. Communicate. Injuries have contributed to multiple combinations at receiver this season, and multiple receivers make cohesion difficult with a rookie quarterback. That's one reason for rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence's accuracy issues in the last month.
3. Block Donald. Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald may be the best defensive linemen in the NFL – and he may be the best overall defensive player in the NFL. He's a six-time All-Pro player as good defending the run as rushing the passer. The Jaguars must run to win Sunday, so blocking Donald is key.
4. Play smart(er). The Jaguars have given opponents six first downs in the last two games with special teams or defensive penalties on third or fourth down. Six. In two games. That's three extra possessions a game given to an opponent by a team that can't realistically afford to give even one. Ever.
5. Get J-Rob right. Running back James Robinson is the Jaguars' best offensive player when healthy. He hasn't been 100 percent since a heel injury in Seattle on Halloween. This offense has scored 57 points in five games since the injury. That's no coincidence.
6. Make plays in the passing game. The Jaguars have had one play of more than 30 yards since a Week 5 loss to Tennessee. That was a 66-yard run by wide receiver Jamal Agnew. Head Coach Urban Meyer repeatedly has said its difficult for offenses to drive the length of the field without big plays. He repeatedly has been right.
7. Pressure Stafford. Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford has had interception issues in recent weeks. The Jaguars have just five interceptions this season, but their pass rush has been effective enough lately to pressure Stafford into mistakes.
8. Separate … Separation remains an issue for a struggling Jaguars receiver corps. This is a group with one 100-yard game this season – and a group with no 60-yard games in the last five. A lot of factors contribute to such a statistic, but inability to create separation is perhaps foremost among those factors.
9. Run, Trevor, Run. All signs point to the Jaguars running more run-pass-option concepts, and Lawrence seems confident and effective running. He rushed five times for 39 yards last week, and the offense looked more potent when playing up-tempo with RPO concepts. The Jaguars had thee drives over 70 yards against the Falcons, their most 70-yad-plus drives since Week 1.
10. Get down! Jaguars coaches seem committed to utilizing more RPOs. That was a week-long theme, and Meyer said Lawrence has good awareness when it comes to protecting himself when running. That's good because the last thing this team needs is Lawrence getting injured outside the pocket.