The task this weekend is far from easy.
From early this week – beginning in the immediate aftermath of a second consecutive loss and a ninth loss in 10 games – Jaguars players were up front about that.
Three games remain in the 2012 regular season. The Jaguars are 2-11, with playoff hopes long since lost and the season long since frustrating. So, about those final three games...
How to get up for them? How do you keep fighting? How do you maintain focus?
The simple answer: You just do.
You do because it's your job, because you're professional, and in the Jaguars' case, because for the most part you've done the right things with the right approach most of the season. You do because even though there have been bad losses this season – too many of them – you've continued to fight in recent weeks.
You do because you're always playing for a job in the NFL, be it on your team or on another, and you do because – as cornerback Rashean Mathis said early this week – it's not in the team's cloth to do otherwise.
You don't do it because you're trying to avert having the fewest victories in franchise history, and you don't do it because of what outsiders say. You do it because it's what you do in the NFL, because whatever the record, it's a regular-season game and winning those regular-season games matters.
You do because it's what you do, and because you're going to do it, here are 10 things the Jaguars must do to beat the Miami Dolphins Sunday at Sun Life Stadium:
1) Stop the run.The Jaguars allowed 408 yards rushing in the last two games – 242 to Buffalo and 166 to the New York Jets. It has reached the point where it's the major problem on a defense with a lot of major problems. If it doesn't improve, the rest of this list may not matter much.
2) Pressure Ryan Tannehill.You must stop the run first, but once that's done, you have to pressure Tannehill. He started off well this season, but neither he nor that Dolphins' offense has been productive in recent weeks. He's still a rookie, and if you pressure rookies, they give you opportunities.
3) Get healthy.This would be a nice touch in the final three weeks. Cecil Shorts. Maurice Jones-Drew. Mike Brewster. Aaron Ross. George Selvie. Rashad Jennings. All missed last week's game, and Brewster was placed on injured reserved this week. This team needs to play its best to have a chance, and to play its best, it needs front-line players to play.
4) Get Shorts involved. This shouldn't be a problem if Shorts is healthy. When he has been on the field this season, he consistently has been a factor. When he was out last week, the offensive production dipped accordingly. If he plays, get him involved. He's your best offensive player right now.
5) Catch the ball.We keep saying it and saying it and saying it...
6) Protect Chad Henne.There were many offensive issues last week, protection foremost among them. There was too much pressure on Henne much of the game, particularly up the middle, and on Henne's two interceptions, there was pressure from inside. With a young, beat-up receiving corps, Henne hasn't had time to develop much continuity with the group. In that scenario, time is critical.
7) Block Cameron Wake.The Dolphins' defensive end has 36.5 sacks in the last three seasons, 14 this season. He will go against Jaguars right tackle Cameron Bradfield, who has been inconsistent in his first season as a starter. Wake is as relentless as he is talented, and if the Jaguars don't get him blocked, it could be a tougher day for the offensive front than last week.
8) Stay focused. In the last month or so, this hasn't been an issue. Focus and effort ought to be a given, but that's not always the case for a team out of the playoffs in December. Keep preparing, stay together, and this is a winnable game.
9) Get Marcedes Lewis involved. It stood to reason last week he would be a huge factor. The receiving corps was depleted, and he and Henne had had a rapport in the last few weeks. Lewis' big day didn't happen against the Jets, but the circumstances are there again for him to be a factor.
10) Make plays.We keep saying this, too, but last week's loss to the Jets sort of exemplified this issue. The Jaguars were up 3-0 and scored an apparent touchdown on a fumble return by Dwight Lowery. The play would have given the Jaguars a two-score lead, a significant lead against a struggling Jets offense, but the play was called back when it was ruled a Jets receiver had made contact with Lowery. Head Coach Mike Mularkey has talked all year about needing a play – something – to go right. So far, it hasn't happened nearly enough. Time is running out, but if you make big plays, the Dolphins aren't explosive enough offensively to get away from you.