JACKSONVILLE – If they're going to do it, it must be now.
We're referring to the Jaguars' chances in the AFC South race, chances that have grown slim in recent weeks and are approaching none.
Those chances in fact were barely discussed this week as the Jaguars prepared to play the Texans at EverBank Field.
Instead, the talk focused on continuing to improve offensively, and to package that improvement with fewer mistakes. The talk, too, was of turning in a second consecutive strong defensive game – and packaging such a game with a few takeaways.
The Jaguars played one of their best games of the season last Sunday against Kansas City, producing season-high 449 yards offense and allowing 231 yards defensively. It was in many ways their best performance of the season, one ruined by a minus-four turnover margin that turned an otherwise memorable day into a third consecutive loss.
That loss left the Jaguars three games out of first place in the AFC South with eight remaining. If the Jaguars beat the Texans Sunday, they will be two games out of the division lead – and they will have three division games remaining. While their playoff hopes would still be slim, they would still have a chance.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars must do Sunday to beat the Texans and keep that chance alive:
1.Run.If the Kansas City loss showed anything it's that the Jaguars must run. Of their season-high 449 yards offense in that game, 205 came on the ground. That's the best the Jaguars' offense has looked in a long, long time – and balance was the reason. Maintain that balance. Run.
2.Protect the ball.This always matters. Considering the Jaguars' were minus-four in turnover margin last week and minus-12 for the season … well, let's just say it matters a little more this week.
3.Make the connection.The Jaguars missed multiple big plays against the Chiefs last week – a dropped pass by wide receiver Allen Hurns and a couple of missed passes by quarterback Blake Bortles to wide receiver Allen Robinson chief among them. When big plays are there, they must be hit.
4.Stop the run. Texans running back Lamar Miller is one of the more underrated players at his position in the NFL. He has been the Texans' most productive offensive player. When the Jaguars are good defensively, they stop the run. They must do that Sunday.
5.Limit DeAndre Hopkins.The Texans' wide receiver hasn't been nearly as effective with quarterback Brock Osweiler this season as he was with a slew of quarterbacks last season. Still, He's still Houston's most-dynamic and most dangerous playmaker. Calling Jalen Ramsey ...
6.Get a lead.The Jaguars have led for just 2:49 minutes during the last four games. Take away the Week 4 victory over Indianapolis and they have led less than 20 minutes this season. It's harder to play from behind than ahead. It's harder to rush the passer – and therefore harder to get takeaways. It's harder to play offense effectively. The Jaguars must change that. They must score early. They must take a lead.
7.Pressure the passer.This goes with getting a lead. The Jaguars have just three sacks in four games – partly because they haven't led enough to get opponents in passing situations. With or without the lead, though, they must find a way to pressure the opposing quarterback. Calling Dante Fowler Jr. and Yannick Ngakoue …
8.Get Marqise Lee involved.The Jaguars' third-year wide receiver has become more and more involved in the offense in recent weeks. He is starting to look like the talented, dynamic player the Jaguars believed him to be when he was drafted. In Nathaniel Hackett's first game as coordinator last Sunday, Lee caught four passes for 84 yards and made big plays in the short, medium and deep passing game. A sign of things to come?
9.Force turnovers.The Jaguars' defense has been good this season. At times it has been very good. But it has forced a league-low four takeaways. That's one every two games – and that's not enough.
10.Play better.We saved this for last. It's about Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles – and while it has been said pretty much every week, it remains true. The Jaguars need more consistent play from the quarterback position. Fewer turnovers. More big plays. More consistency. In one sense, Kansas City was a start. In another sense, there were too many throws that were and could have been turnovers – and too many other throws on which big plays were narrowly missed. It's a quarterback's league. The position must perform.