JACKSONVILLE – This is the big one – big for preseason, anyway.
The Jaguars play host to the Detroit Lions at EverBank Field Friday in the third game of the 2015 preseason, and you've heard all week how this is the NFL's version of a dress rehearsal for the regular season.
That's true, and it's true teams tend to put at least a bit more emphasis on Preseason Week 3 than Preseason Weeks 1, 2 and 4. It's not close to regular-season emphasis, but players want to perform well in what often is the final extensive action before the regular season.
Midway through preseason, the Jaguars have shown enough to have earned a good feeling. The belief entering training camp was this was an improved roster, and two preseason games have solidified that feeling. It's only a start, but it's a good start.
What needs to happen to push that feeling forward another week? Here are 10 things:
1.Stay consistent.We begin here because second-year quarterback Blake Bortles remains the Jaguars' big preseason story. He looked good in the first two games, and has shown progress after putting in a ton of time in the offseason. Yes, you would like red-zone touchdowns, big plays, etc., but if you keep seeing steady play and progress from the quarterback then the preseason is a success.
2.Protect Bortles.The offensive line has kept Bortles remarkably clean throughout the preseason. That's a huge difference from last season. Keep doing that and No. 1 is far more likely.
3.Run block.We didn't mean to skim over the offensive line in No. 2. The group looks dramatically better, and aside from Bortles, that was the Jaguars' primary offseason/preseason issue. The group not only has pass-blocked well; it has run-blocked well, too. Yes, it's only preseason, but it looks as if the progress could be real. Keep making it look that way.
Take a look at images from Tuesday's practice as the Jaguars prepare for the Detroit Lions.
4.Pressure the passer.If there has been an area of concern in the first two preseason games, it has been the pass rush. How big a concern? It's not the regular season yet, so it's not major, but the Jaguars got good pressure from the defensive line last season. That hasn't happened yet. The absence of Sen'Derrick Marks and Chris Clemons hasn't helped, but it needs to be better.
5.Stay healthy.The Jaguars sustained at least seven injuries against the Giants Saturday, including a broken collarbone that ended wide receiver Arrelious Benn's season before it began. Aside from Benn, the preseason injuries haven't been season-ending, but this team doesn't need more. Get out of Preseason Week 3 healthy and move on.
6.Create turnovers.This was a major area of offseason emphasis – particularly forcing interceptions – and it hasn't happened in the preseason. It's tough to force turnovers without a pass rush, but this team still needs to do it.
7.Catch the ball.A few drops against the Giants last week – particularly one by Allen Robinson and another by Allen Hurns – would have been tough catches. Some of the drops in the preseason opener would have been tough catches, too. But tough catches can be the difference between winning and losing and the Jaguars' receivers expect to make tough catches.
8.Score touchdowns.The first-team offense has moved well, scoring on five of six possessions. Four of those scores have been field goals. Two preseason games is far too early to say the Jaguars have a "red-zone problem," but a touchdown or two from the first-team offense would make what looks like a good preseason even better.
9.Stop the run.This is a key area, one the Jaguars believe will improve with the offseason additions of end Jared Odrick and Otto linebacker Dan Skuta. The Giants didn't test the Jaguars on the ground too much early Saturday, but with the exception of one early run, this area appeared strong. The better the run defense, the more good situations for the pass rush. The Jaguars must be stout here.
10. Win.The Jaguars are 1-1 in the preseason, but the first-team offense has looked good and gained confidence in each game. That made each game feel like a victory. A victory on the scoreboard Friday isn't a must, but the Jaguars need a winning feeling against the Lions' first team. That would mean as much or more than a scoreboard victory.