JACKSONVILLE – This is a difficult one. That's not new.
It's hard to remember that not being a Jaguars pregame storyline, actually – and not just because of a franchise-record losing streak, a notably young roster and a slew of injuries. The schedule has been brutal, too, and guess what?
It's not exactly kind this week, either.
Up next for the Jaguars: The Baltimore Ravens (8-5), who haven't matched their 2019 14-2 regular season record this season. But they remain a tough matchup for the struggling Jaguars, in part because they enter Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium needing a victory to maintain postseason chances.
The storylines Sunday are many. Former Jaguars Pro Bowl defensive ends Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue play for the Ravens now, having been traded by the Jaguars this past offseason. And the Jaguars must find a way to bolster a recently staggering run defense against one of the NFL's elite run offenses.
There's also the matter of the Jaguars needing a victory to avoid tying the franchise record for consecutive losses – 13, a mark set during the final five games of a 2-14 2012 season and the first eight games of a 4-12 season.
The Jaguars can win Sunday because it's the NFL, and because they haven't quit on Head Coach Doug Marrone. But it will be a monumental task, as has been the case over a recent five-game stretch that includes losses to playoff contenders such as Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Minnesota and Tennessee.
The Jaguars came close in those games closer than many expected.
What must they do to do better than "close" Sunday?
Here are 10 things:
1.Contain the run. This is faaaaaar easier said than done Sunday, with a major reason being that the Jaguars increasingly have struggled to do this in recent weeks. Titans running back Derrick Henry gashed the Jaguars for 215 yards rushing last week. The Ravens' running game is equally potent.
2.No, really … contain the run. It's that important? To mention twice? Absolutely. The Ravens are the NFL's best rushing offense, ranked No. 1 in the NFL in rushing for a second consecutive season. Quarterback Lamar Jackson is the league's best running quarterback, and running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards are dangerous. These guys are good.
3.Contain Jackson. This is sorta, kinda the same as Nos. 1 and 2 – except containing Jackson isn't just about containing his running ability. His legs are what makes him great, but if you focus too much on stopping him running, he will beat you throwing over the top.
4.Force an early turnover. This ties in with stopping the run. It's unlikely the Jaguars will stymie the Ravens' running game the entire game; they force obvious passing situations early they could force Jackson into tough passing situations. If they can contain his scrambling in that situation, perhaps they can force him into the mistakes he sometimes makes when forced to win from the pocket under pressure.
5.Believe in the 'Stache! Gardner Minshew II is back as the Jaguars' starting quarterback after six games either inactive or as the backup. The Jaguars haven't had much to believe in lately, so why not believe in Minshew?
6.Make plays outside the pocket. This is about Minshew. It's probably not realistic to expect him to win from the pocket, but what he can do – and what he has done when successful as the Jaguars' starter – is make off-schedule plays when leaving the pocket. The Jaguars can't force Minshew to do what he doesn't want to do. They must let him run around and throw over confused defenses. It's probably the Jaguars' best chance in this situation.
7.Run, Robinson, run. This is a key for the Jaguars every week because rookie running back James Robinson is the team's best offensive player. It's particularly key this week; Robinson's presence gives the Jaguars at least a hope of a matchup advantage against a Ravens defense that's not playing at its usual level against the run.
8.Get an early lead. This ties in with getting an early turnover. The Ravens are really, really good with a lead. They have been vulnerable at times when they fall behind because so much of their passing success depends on play action. If the Jaguars can get ahead by a couple of touchdowns or two, maybe they can force the Ravens to throw. Maybe.
9.Block old friends. Ngakoue and Campbell will be motivated. That figures to be particularly true for Ngakoue, who left the Jaguars not exactly on the best of terms this past offseason. Neither player has been great this season for the Ravens, Campbell largely because of injuries and Ngakoue perhaps because he's adjusting to the Ravens' scheme. But both can wreck games, and both will want to do that Sunday.
10.Make all kicks. The loss of kicker Josh Lambo has hurt the Jaguars all season. They have used six different kickers, including Lambo, and have had just three games in which they did not miss an extra point or field goal. The Jaguars don't figure to blow any team out this season. To have a chance, they must win close games. They can't miss kicks and win those close games.