JACKSONVILLE – Here are 10 things the Jacksonville Jaguars must do to beat the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas Sunday . . .
1. Max out.This makes its debut this week, substituting for our weekly, "Play Better" entry. Here's the reason: The Jaguars did in fact play better against Arizona last week than they had much of the first part of the season. Against a team very much alive in the playoff chase, it wasn't enough. The Jaguars not only need to play better to win Sunday, they need to have pretty close to all players play at a high level.
2. Force turnovers.The Jaguars had four takeaways and a safety defensively in their lone victory of the season two weeks ago. They also scored a defensive touchdown. That's nine points and a lot of momentum-changing by the defense. A lot to ask every week? Yes, but that's what's necessary.
3. Run.The Jaguars haven't been able to do this nearly enough this season. Their running struggles are well-documented. They're averaging 2.7 yards per carry for the season. They're averaging less than 2.0 yards a carry the last two weeks. That won't win many games no matter what else is going on offensively.
4. No, really – ru-u-u-u-u-n.This can't be overemphasized, so it gets a special second entry this week. Head Coach Gus Bradley said this week that somehow, someway the Jaguars have to figure a way to run. He couldn't be more right.
5. Block J.J. Watt.This may not be doable with just one player, so this is about more than second-year guard Mike Brewster or third-year guard Will Rackley. One of them likely will line up opposite Watt more often than not. Watt had one of the best seasons by a defensive lineman in NFL history last season, and is playing just as well this season. The Jaguars need to account for Watt with tackles, guards, even tight ends. Even then it's not easy, but to be halfway effective offensively, it must be done.
6. Get the ball to Cecil Shorts III. He made it pretty clear he wants the ball. The Jaguars know they need to get it to him. Time to do it.
7. Take advantage of opportunities.Scoring opportunities have been scarce at times for the Jaguars this season, but they happened a bit more than last two weeks. The Jaguars squandered two such opportunities last week, failing to score on back-to-back second-half drives that started at the 50 and inside Cardinals territory. The Jaguars right now don't have as many big-play threats as would be ideal. That makes long scoring plays difficult. When they get close, they have to take advantage. A wasted opportunity is an opportunity lost.
8. Stop the run.The Jaguars' turnaround in this area has been remarkable. Coming out of the bye, it was a major concern. Now, it's a strength. The Texans are without Arian Foster for the rest of the season, but Ben Tate is dangerous and when Gary Kubiak's calling the plays, running always is a priority.
9. Make the Texans doubt themselves.This is a game when an early lead could mean a great deal to Jacksonville. The Texans are talented. But they have lost a franchise-record eight consecutive games. If they're ahead, they'll have confidence and the fans will be behind them. If they're behind, there will be boos, self-doubt and a lot of other things that happen to teams on losing streaks.
10. Get better quarterback play.A whole lot goes into this. Just as you can't blame just the running backs or just the offensive line for the struggles of the running game you can't blame just the quarterbacks for the problems at the position this season. But the Jaguars quarterbacks combined have thrown five touchdowns with 16 interceptions this season. Chad Henne had his best game with the Jaguars in Houston last season. Something closer to last year and further away from the last few weeks would be huge on Sunday.