JACKSONVILLE – "Consistency" will be a theme until it's not.
So will "execution" and "taking advantage of opportunities," with all three buzzwords/phrases getting used often – maybe too often – around the Jaguars in recent weeks.
The Jaguars have another chance to execute when they play the Detroit Lions at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville Sunday, when they have another chance to achieve the consistency – and the victory – that has eluded them since a Week 1 victory over the Indianapolis Colts at the 'Bank.
The Jaguars have struggled with all three areas during their current four-game losing streak. Execution and missed opportunities were particular issues in a 30-14 loss to the Houston Texans last week, with the offense failing to score following two takeaways that gave the Jaguars possession in Houston territory.
Those are the sorts of moments a young, inexperienced team must capture to win. Their lone victory of the season came when they scored 10 points off Colts turnovers.
Taking the ball away and taking advantage of it when they do therefore combined to form one of 10 things the Jaguars must do to beat the Lions Sunday. Here are nine others:
1.Take the ball away and take advantage of it. (See above).
2.Get better play from the quarterback position. It has been a theme among Jaguars observers all week: quarterback Gardner Minshew II has struggled in the pocket at times in recent weeks, which has limited the offense at times. He also hasn't thrown the ball downfield enough at times into tight windows, instead often taking the safer check-down throw. These issues are not the sole reason the Jaguars have struggled offensively in two of the last three game, but they very definitely are part of the struggles. Those areas must improve in a hurry.
3.Run James Robinson – and keep running him (Part One). The rookie has averaged 15 carries the last two weeks. There are reasons that number hasn't been higher. A trend of big second-half deficits is one. A game-plan against Houston last week that emphasized pushing the ball downfield in the passing game is another. Whatever the reason, the time has long since passed to get Robinson more involved in the offense. The first step is using him early. The second step is staying close enough to use him late.
4.Run Robinson and keep running him II. The Lions are struggling defensively, particularly against the run. They rank last in the NFL in run defense. The Texans entered last week struggling against the run, too; they also ranked last in the NFL entering the game. The Jaguars didn't take advantage of that matchup last week. They must do it this week.
5.Keep Laviska Shenault Jr. involved. The rookie wide receiver has led the Jaguars in receiving the last two weeks. He has been very productive for a rookie and appears to quickly be developing polish as a young receiver. He has become key to the offense. He's even more key if wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. – who missed practice Wednesday and Thursday with an ankle injury – can't play.
6.Make field goals. Jon Brown, you're up. It's true that you've never kicked in an NFL game and it's true that you're the fifth kicker in as many games. Nonetheless … you're up.
7.Get pressure. Somehow. Pressuring quarterbacks is difficult when you trail by double digits as much as the Jaguars have this season, but five sacks in five games is still not enough. This is critical against Detroit because while quarterback Matt Stafford is very good, pressure can force him into errant throws and interceptions. The Jaguars got better pressure last week against Houston than in any previous game this season. Perhaps the return this week of Pro Bowl defensive end Josh Allen will help. If he returns.
8.Cover. This is big ask. A young secondary hasn't done it well enough so far. If rookie corner CJ Henderson returns, that will help. Sidney Jones, whose four passes defensed with an interception against Houston, also could help.
9.Get Myles Jack back. Jack, the Jaguars' weak-side linebacker, has been the team's best player through five games. This is not a great defense, but it was coming up with some key stops with him in the lineup. This is a much better run defense with him than without. He's that important.
10.Take the ball away and take advantage of it. Yes, this was mentioned at the top. And it was mentioned again. So? We mention it here again. It's that important. This team has shown it can stay close – and win – when it takes advantage of opportunities. If it squanders post-turnover and red-zone opportunities, things get much tougher. This is not just "one thing" for this team right now. It's close to everything.