JACKSONVILLE – This feels big.
And yes … when say "big," we mean must-win big.
While Week 2 is typically way too early to say such things, the Jaguars' game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium in Houston Sunday has that feeling.
No, the season isn't over with a loss.
And yes, the Jaguars still will be well within reach of any of the preseason goals and aspirations and blah, blah, blah …
But while this normally wouldn't have a must-win feel, this isn't a normal situation for the Jaguars. Starting quarterback Nick Foles is out for at least eight weeks – and while rookie backup Gardner Minshew is promising, that promise needs to produce meaningful touchdowns and a victory to feel like something substantial.
Just as pertinent to the must-win theme is the defense. That unit played poorly enough last week in a Week 1 loss to Kansas City that it's fair to wonder if it was overhyped all offseason when it was considered one of the NFL's best defenses. If it's going to maintain that reputation and be more than hype, it needs to show something on the field.
The thought here remains that Sunday in Houston will define much about this season. If the Jaguars win and the defense plays to its potential, the ugly loss to Kansas City will seem like an outlier. And a home game against the Tennessee Titans four days later will seem like an opportunity to keep moving in the right direction.
If they lose … well, 0-2 would be a scary record entering a game against a team that has handled the Jaguars as consistently as Tennessee has done in recent seasons.
So, "must-win?" Yeah, it feels a little early for that.
But it feels right, too.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars must do to win Sunday:
1.Believe in The Mustache. The Mustache is capitalized because Minshew's 'stache is that good. And Minshew is that critical to the Jaguars' success. Minshew was remarkable enough against the Chiefs – 22 of 25 passing, 275 yards, two touchdowns – that it's OK to believe maybe Foles' injury didn't destroy the season. Players and coaches expressed big belief in Minshew this week. Now, the game plan must back that confidence up. They must let him be a quarterback and make plays. They must let him throw. They must believe in The Mustache.
2.Protect The Mustache. Minshew made good decisions and moved the offense efficiently when given time in Week 1, which was a sharp contrast to some of his inconsistent preseason moments. For all the hype, Minshew is still a young quarterback. A line that played well for the most part in Week 1 must give the kid time.
3.Calm down. This is about the defense – and mainly the back seven of the defense. Those areas had a rough day against the Chiefs, primarily because players failed to play assignments and tried to do too much on their own. Not every play is going to be a SportsCenter highlight. These units need to play the scheme and play smart. If they do that, this defense won't have a repeat of Week 1.
4.Seriously, just calm down. This is about the entire team – and it's about whatever player has the inkling on Sunday to throw a punch, or taunt, or do something else that's very avoidable and very costly. It's long since time for the nonsense to stop. It's not impressing anyone. It's not establishing anyone's manhood. It's childish. Stop.
5.Cover. This ties in with No. 3, but it must be stressed. Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins and tight end Travis Kelce ran way too open way too often last week. Some of the problem was missed assignments, some was blown coverages and some was because the Chiefs are good. The Texans' offensive weapons are just as capable as the Chiefs. They must be covered.
6.Pressure Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. This almost certainly will happen if No. 3 happens. A major reason the Jaguars' offensive line didn't pressure Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes into mistakes enough in Week 1 was because Chiefs wide receivers got so open so quickly. If the back seven covers a second longer, the Texans' offensive line is vulnerable enough – and Watson holds the ball long enough – for the pass rushers to get home.
7.Be healthy. This matters everywhere, but this week it's primarily about the defensive line. Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and ends Yannick Ngakoue and Calais Campbell all have been on the injury report this week, and all have injuries serious enough to be an issue. The guess here is all three will play. The Jaguars need that to happen.
8.Force a turnover … The Jaguars forced none against Kansas City. They're not going to win many games when that's the case.
9. … and get defensive points. The defense doesn't have to return an interception or fumble for a touchdown to accomplish this, but the unit must create some short fields, or get a turnover that sets up a score. That's what the defense was designed to do. The Jaguars won't win consistently without it happening.
10.Run. Running back Leonard Fournette showed good signs last week. He ran hard consistently and got yards after contact a couple of times. That's a good start. Now, it's up to the defense to keep the Jaguars in the game enough that Fournette can be a factor for the entire game.