JACKSONVILLE – Here are 10 things the Jacksonville Jaguars must do to beat the Tennessee Titans at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday . . .
1. Play better.OK, this is probably too general to be one of "Ten Things," but the Jaguars as a whole did not play well the last two games before the bye. That bothered the players and coaches a lot. The Jaguars aren't talented enough right now to win if they don't play well. If they do play well, there are winnable games down the stretch. But win or lose, they just need to play better.
2. Forget the Justin Blackmon issue.OK, this is easier said than done – a lot easier, actually. Wide receiver Justin Blackmon was the offense's best player the last four games, and now that he's out for at least the rest of the season, the Jaguars' offense isn't as talented as it was two weeks ago. Nothing can be done about that now, and Blackmon's not walking back through the locker room doors until at least next season. The Jaguars have to play without him, and they have to make up for his production. Somehow.
3. Get Cecil Shorts III involved early …With Blackmon suspended the first four games of the season, Shorts spent those games as the go-to, No. 1 receiver. Too often, the team didn't get Shorts many touches early and his yards came late. He also had some drops that hurt early. Shorts needs to get the ball and make plays. He's the best option in the passing game now.
4. …and get Mike Brown involved, too.With Blackmon out, Brown is now the starter opposite Shorts. It's not realistic to expect him to make up for Blackmon's yardage – or his ability to draw defenders away from other receivers. But Brown has shown in recent weeks he is capable of beating single coverage and getting open underneath. As the starter, he has to do it against more focused defenses and better defenders – and he has to do it more consistently.
5. Make tackles.This became more of an issue as the bye week approached, and if the Jaguars have one fixable issue, it's that. Missed tackles turn short gains into long gains, which in turn pass-rushing situations into running downs for the opposing offense. Missed tackles also give the opposition explosive plays, and there have been way too many of those against the Jaguars this season. This was a focus in practice this week. It needs to improve Sunday.
6. Stop CJ2K. Did we mention, "Make tackles?" As important as that is every week, it's doubly or triply so against the Titans. Running back Chris Johnson usually isn't going to grind out a lot of yards. He's not going to overpower defenses at the line of scrimmage. But he can turn one missed tackle into a game-breaking run. Miss three or four and he can turn in a historic day.
7. Get tough.When the Titans are on offense, they believe they can out-physical you. They've been right about that a lot this season, and that's a big reason they have been able to win four games. There's no question what they will try to do, and they'll keep trying to do it the entire game. Be ready for it. Not every game is about toughness in the NFL anymore. For the Jaguars' defense, this one will be.
8. Run, run, run.The Jaguars' offense hasn't been able to do this consistently enough the last two seasons. Some of that is an interior offensive line that has struggled. Some of it has been Maurice Jones-Drew still looking for the consistency he showed before a season-ending foot injury last season. He started showing a lot more of that the last four games before the bye. With Blackmon out, he'll need to show a lot more of it the rest of the season.
9. Stay in it early.The Jaguars have allowed touchdowns on the first two opponents' possessions each of the last three games. The 49ers two weeks ago scored touchdowns on each of their first four possessions. A lot of those touchdowns have come on extended, length-of-the-field drives. That saps confidence and the Jaguars aren't potent enough offensively to overcome double-digit deficits. Stay in it early. Give yourselves a chance in the second half. That hasn't been the case nearly often enough this season.
10. Fight.To paraphrase Jaguars cornerback Will Blackmon this week, if you're going to lose, lose like you did against Denver. Blackmon wasn't saying the Jaguars have to lose. Far from it. But against Denver, and the week before against St. Louis, the team fought. It kept the game close at the end – at least close enough that there was a chance. That wasn't the case the next two weeks. The playoffs aren't happening, and there is every indication the record is going to be really rough. But the season from the beginning has been about showing improvement. To show that, there has to be more fight than there was the last two weeks.