JACKSONVILLE – Game week is here. The real game week. At last.
The most high-profile, most-significant offseason/preseason in franchise history officially will end – and the much-anticipated 2021 regular season will begin – when the Jaguars play the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, Sunday at 1 p.m.
The Trevor Lawrence era will begin.
As will the Urban Meyer era.
As will a bunch of other Jaguars careers, including those of a slew of young players – and a slew of coaches and other football types – all brought in to guide a Jaguars rebuild into an anticipated, promising era.
There is reason for excitement. And reason for hope following a 1-15 season that enabled the Jaguars to select No. 1 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft – a selection they used to select Lawrence, considered one of the top quarterbacks to enter the NFL in the last decade.
One reason for hope is Lawrence – and another reason is Meyer, who won three national championships in a 17-year college coaching career and who will make his NFL regular-season head-coaching debut Sunday.
There are multiple other reasons. An improved run defense. A veteran, cohesive offensive line. A slew of talented young players including linebackers Josh Allen and Myles Jack, cornerback CJ Henderson, wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. and Laviska Shenault Jr. – just to name a few.
A key early for the Jaguars: how a lot of youth and a lot of newness come together with a new coaching staff – with the most critical story being how Lawrence adapts to the NFL.
The Jaguars haven't won in 15 games, a streak that dates to a 27-20 victory over the Indianapolis Colts Week 1 last season. A victory Sunday would establish momentum – and confidence for a new era and a new quarterback. Here are 10 things the Jaguars need to do to make that happen:
1)Run. Meyer made clear throughout the offseason establishing the run was a priority. Running back James Robinson, a 1,000-yard rusher as a rookie last season, switched numbers to 25 from 30 early this week. If he gets around 25 carries Sunday … well, that would mean the Jaguars are playing as Meyer wants.
2)Protect Lawrence. All five starting Jaguars offensive linemen from the last two seasons will start Week 1. That makes it the Jaguars' most-tenured position. That tenure must mean protection for the rookie quarterback.
3)Defy history. No NFL quarterback selected No. 1 overall has won Week 1 of his rookie season since David Carr did it with the Houston Texans in the 2002 regular-season opener. No. 1-drafted quarterbacks since who lost their rookie Week 1 starts: Joe Burrow (Cincinnati, 2019), Jameis Winston (Tampa Bay, 2015), Andrew Luck (Indianapolis, 2012), Cam Newton (Carolina, 2011), Sam Bradford (St. Louis, 2010) and Matthew Stafford (Detroit, 2009). Kyler Murray in 2018 tied in his first game.
4)Contain Tyrod Taylor. Taylor – and not Deshaun Watson – will start at quarterback for Houston Sunday. Taylor isn't at Watson's level, but his ability to create off-schedule plays makes him dangerous. The Jaguars will want to blitz under defensive coordinator Joe Cullen. But they also will want to keep Taylor in the pocket.
5)Stop the run. The Texans, like the Jaguars, want to establish the run – and they built a veteran running-back room to do just that. The Jaguars invested major offseason resources to improve a run defense that has been a season-defining liability the past two seasons. Houston will test the effectiveness of those offseason efforts.
6)Get Chark – or someone – deep. Meyer early this week bemoaned the Jaguars' lack of deep speed offensively during the preseason. Chark, who missed the entire preseason but who will play Sunday, has deep speed. So do newcomer wide receivers Devin Smith and Tyron Johnson. That trio likely will get chances to change the game. They must take advantage of the opportunities.
7)Work the chemistry. No Jaguars receiver had as much preseason chemistry with Lawrence as veteran receiver Marvin Jones Jr. His NFL calling card has been a nose for the end zone. The Jaguars need to lean on that nose – and chemistry – Sunday.
8)Forget the pre-game talk. Many observers believe Houston will be among the league's worst teams. So what? The Jaguars went 1-15 last season, so even with offseason additions, they can afford to overlook no team in Week 1. Not believing pregame speculation is a must for the Jaguars Sunday.
9)Just blitz, baby. Cullen said throughout the offseason the Jaguars will blitz this season and blitz often. If the Jaguars can earn the right to rush the passer by stopping the run, Week 1 could be defined by Cullen's creative pressures.
10)Just win, baby. The Jaguars haven't won in far too long. However they do it, they need a victory. They have a rookie quarterback and a lot of newness. Late-game guts and figuring a way – somehow, some way – to win a close game could be paramount in the first game of a new era.