JACKSONVILLE – When it comes to weird, this week was up there.
How else to describe the past few days – with Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey’s reported trade request and the accompanying chatter, speculation and angst?
What’s weirdest is there’s still a game to be played this week.
Indeed, the Jaguars will play host to the Tennessee Titans at TIAA Bank Field Thursday in the team’s only scheduled prime-time game of the season. It’s important for a slew of reasons. It’s an AFC South game. It’s a game against a disliked rival. It’s a game the Jaguars need to win to avoid an 0-3 start.
If the Jaguars win, they’re in the division chase and feeling good.
The season doesn’t end with a loss, but 0-3 is a tough road to travel even without noise and weirdness swirling. With that stuff, it would feel insurmountable.
The good news for the Jaguars is this is a game they can win.
Here are 10 things they must do to do that:
1.Forget the Ramsey drama. This won’t be difficult, and Ramsey’s sideshow this week shouldn’t hurt the Jaguars’ chances. “Distractions” in the NFL are vastly overrated as a reason teams win or lose. Yes, teams often get “distracted” late in the season when they are out of the playoff chase because motivation to play together as a team is gone. It’s rarely a big issue early in seasons because there’s still plenty for which to play. The Jaguars have plenty of motivation. If they lose Thursday, it won’t be because they were distracted by Ramsey.
2.Let Ramsey play. Defensive coordinator Todd Wash said Tuesday he hoped Ramsey will play, and there’s no indication he won’t. If he does, fine. He will play hard. And he probably will play well. He wants to be great and he’ll play as hard as he can to do that. And if he indeed wants to be traded, he’ll have extra motivation to play well and to play within the defense. He won’t want to cause teams to think twice about acquiring him by playing poorly or irresponsibly in a nationally-televised game.
3.Rally ‘round the ‘Stache … Ramsey pulled off what seemed impossible early in the week; he made the phenomenon that is Jaguars rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew II almost a non-story. Almost. The kid still looks like he has something. He has given this locker room and fan base some hope. The Jaguars need to feed off it.
4. … and the kid loose. Minshew got better as the game went on this past Sunday in a loss at Houston. That made sense in his first NFL start because he was getting more comfortable – and because offensive coordinator John DeFilippo was getting used to what Minshew likes and does well. Minshew’s grasp of the offense is such that he can handle more than a normal rookie and he has shown he can be trusted to execute it without tragic errors. The Jaguars must let him do that.
5.Stop Titans running back Derrick Henry. This has been easier said than done for the Jaguars, but it’s the key to beating Tennessee. It’s really the key for the Jaguars because the Titans believe they match up well against the Jaguars and can pound Henry into the line until the Jaguars’ front seven wears down. It’s up to the Jaguars’ defense to prove them wrong.
6.Tackle Derrick Henry. Yes, this is kind of repeating No. 3 – but it’s that important. Wash talked Tuesday of having a tackling plan for Henry. That plan needs to be better than the one they used last December when Henry ran for 238 and four touchdowns, including a 99-yard touchdown that will be on NFL highlight reels for years.
7.Don’t beat yourself. This is always key in the NFL because the margin for error is so small, but it’s epically important for this version of the Jaguars. This team has had enough trouble with poise and discipline that the trouble has become a defining characteristic. If this team cuts out the avoidable penalties and collectively does its job, the improvement could be dramatic.
8.Turn.The.Ball.Over. The Jaguars’ defense played one of its best games in recent memory Sunday, holding the Texans to the fewest points in quarterback Deshaun Watson’s career. But the Jaguars missed two turnover opportunities – a possible fumble recovery and a dropped interception by Ramsey. If they had gotten either of those, they would have been controlling the game late in the fourth quarter instead of trying to rally. This team has no takeaways this season. The Jaguars won’t win if that statistic continues.
9.Get defensive points. The formula here won’t change much week to week. With or without Ramsey, this team is built with defensive playmakers. The defense doesn’t need to score touchdowns, but it must create a few short fields and point-blank situations. So far, it hasn’t done that. If it does, this team can start winning.
10.Play desperate. Desperate teams in the NFL win games when playing against less desperate teams. Avoiding an 0-3 start should make the Jaguars desperate. They must play like it.