JACKSONVILLE – Different week, different feel.
That's the Jaguars' reality this week – and whereas last week they traveled north for a "should-win" game only to lose, they're traveling under different circumstances this weekend.
Few will pick them to win, and with reason.
The Jaguars on Sunday will visit the Pittsburgh Steelers, traditional playoff contenders who rightfully believe they should contend for a Super Bowl appearance this season.
Ben Roethlisberger. Le'Veon Bell. Antonio Brown.
The Steelers have stars on offense, and they also have a good defense that early in the season looks the part of a traditional Steelers defense – and looks, too, like a better defense than the Steelers have fielded in recent memory.
The Jaguars have a chance Sunday. Make no mistake about that. They have a good defense, too – one that can create turnovers and pressure the quarterback against any team in the NFL. They need consistency offensively, and getting that will be difficult in a hostile Heinz Field environment.
The Jaguars actually will need a lot of things Sunday to earn what would be their biggest victory in a long, long time. Here are 10 of them:
1.Get two meaningful offensive touchdowns.The Jaguars outside of a 44-7 Week 3 victory over Baltimore have had two length-of-the-field touchdown drives – early in the second half against Houston Week 1 and early in the first half against the Jets last week. If the Jaguars can generate two such drives against the Steelers, the defense is good enough to win this game. It's a big "if."
2.Mind your gap.Defenders out of gaps led to 256 Jets rushing yards last week. Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell's patience allows him to exploit gaps as well as any back in the NFL. Gap discipline is critical Sunday.
3.Shut down Brown.Yes, Brown's one of the NFL's best receivers. But Jaguars cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye are one of the league's best tandems at their position. This is strength versus strength. If this is a matchup edge for Pittsburgh, the Jaguars are in trouble.
4.Force a turnover early.The Jaguars' defense has 10 takeaways in four games, and the two it forced in the fourth quarter against the Jets Sunday nearly saved the game. The Jaguars need momentum early at Heinz Field. The best way to get it is forcing an early change of field position. The best way to do that? Take the ball away.
5.Get a 30-yard-plus run. Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette's longest run of the season: 17 yards. His talent is too great for him not to break one. Momentum will be tough to get for the Jaguars Sunday, but nothing would get it quite like Fournette breaking free.
6.Get Fournette the ball when it matters most.This doesn't mean get him the ball more. His 81 carries are second only to Bell among AFC backs. The challenge is getting him touches at key times. That's a huge challenge because, really: Is there a bad time to get him the ball?
7.Find 150 yards from the receivers.The Jaguars had 70 yards receiving from the wide receivers last week against the Jets – and that was with Marqise Lee healthy. But the offense must get production on the outside to take safeties out of the box and give Fournette a chance. If Lee doesn't play, someone from a group that includes Allen Hurns, Keelan Cole, Max McCaffrey and perhaps Jaelen Strong must step up in a big way. That won't be easy, but if it happens? Advantage, Jaguars.
8.Be patient.This is about Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles. The Steelers play as much zone pass defense as any team in the NFL. They want quarterbacks to get impatient and throw into the teeth of an opportunistic defense. Don't take the bait. It's OK to check down in this one. A lot.
9.Protect the ball.Always.
10.Hit him early and hit him hard.This about Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He hasn't thrown downfield as effectively as usual early in the season, but don't count on that continuing. He remains difficult to sack and he remains dangerous if he extends plays. The Jaguars must get the Steelers into passing situations by stopping the run (see "No. 2: Mind the gap). Once the Steelers face third down, the Jaguars' pass rush must be as good as it has been in the first four games. That's the best formula for this one.