JACKSONVILLE – It's time to show the opener was no fluke.
It's time to play better in Music City as well.
The Jaguars (1-0) will play the Tennessee Titans (1-0) at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Sun. As usual when the two teams play, storylines abound. But those first two sentences stand out for a young Jaguars team playing for sole possession of first place in the AFC South.
There are observers who wonder if the Jaguars can play well for a second consecutive week, with the team having surprised many around the NFL with a 27-20 victory in the 2020 regular-season opener last week over an Indianapolis Colts team many expect to contend for the AFC South title.
There are also observers who wonder if the Jaguars can play well in Nashville.
Those observers have reason to wonder that. Nissan Stadium has been the site of some of the Jaguars' worse losses in recent seasons. They haven't won in Nashville since 2013, losing their last four games there by a cumulative 123-61. Titans running back Derrick Henry has rushed for 397 yards and six touchdowns in the teams' last two meetings in Tennessee.
The Jaguars showed signs in Week 1 of being competitive this season. Head Coach Doug Marrone believes the strength of the team will be its ability to handle adversity. If history is any indication, the Jaguars will face it in Nashville.
Can the Jaguars handle it Sunday? Can they win in Nashville – finally?
Here are 10 things they must do for the answer to be yes:
1.Stay together. This is corny and cliché, but it matters. Marrone likes this team because it plays together and communicates well. "Playing as one" mattered in the opener as the Jaguars rallied from four different deficits to win. Corny or not, cliché or not, this young team must play as one to win.
2.Be accurate deep. Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II completed 19 of 20 passes with three touchdowns and no interceptions in the opener. What he didn't do much was throw deep – just once, to wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. on a play that drew defensive pass interference. The lack of deep stuff wasn't Minshew's fault. The Colts defended him to take it away. The Titans play more man-to-man coverage than the Colts, which will mean opportunities deep. Minshew must hit them when they're there.
3.Win takeaways. The Jaguars won this statistic 2-0 in Week 1. The Titans thrive on winning the same way. The Jaguars must stay even here to have a chance. They may need to win the category by two to win in Tennessee.
4.Slow Derrick Henry. The Jaguars haven't done this enough in recent season, and the fifth-year running back has been particularly good against the Jaguars in Nashville. If the Jaguars are to win in Tennessee, they must be better against Henry. Obviously.
5.Get consistency from the running game. Rookie running back James Robinson rushed for 61 yards in the first half last week and one in the second. The Colts then bunched the line of scrimmage in the second half to take the run away. Credit Minshew and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden for taking advantage of that, but the Jaguars will need more consistency from Robinson and the running game Sunday.
6.Get ahead early. Rallying four times was impressive in the opener, but a common thread of the last four losses in Tennessee has been the Titans getting ahead early and the Jaguars feeling like they were playing uphill. It's tough to overcome a strong running team such as Tennessee from behind.
7.Get more pass rush. The Jaguars' pass rush didn't get to Colts quarterback Philip Rivers enough. That's understandable; he's tough to sack. Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill is far better than most observers believe, and he's a key to their offense. If the Jaguars are to win takeaways, pressuring him into mistakes is key.
8.Get Clowney blocked. The Titans are very good all over the defensive front seven. But newly-signed edge defender Jadeveon Clowney is capable of wrecking multiple series – and an entire game. He's not a great sack guy, but he's more than good enough against run to put a young offense in bad down-and-distance situations. That must be avoided and Clowney must be blocked.
9.Stay on the field. Somewhat lost in the Week 1 victory was that the Jaguars ran just 47 plays. It's tough to get 27 points from so few plays. It's tough to control clock or tempo. It's tough on the defense. Much must happen right for the Jaguars to win Sunday. Converting more first downs and staying on the field is critical to many of those things.
10.Forget history. This won't be hard. This Jaguars team is young and doesn't care that the franchise has lost six consecutive games in Nashville. If the Jaguars lose Sunday, the streak won't be why.