JACKSONVILLE – Perspective, please.
Maintaining it might seem all-but impossible during this Week of Great Hype. Still, it’s also true that for all the buildup around one of the biggest regular-season games in the Jaguars’ 24-season history, Sunday also is something else:
Just another regular-season game.
At least that’s how Jaguars players and coaches have approached it this week – because that’s how they must approach playing the New England Patriots at TIAA Bank Field Sunday at 4:25 p.m.
That won’t be easy. And will be all-but impossible if they allow the outside noise, buzz, buildup and hoopla around Sunday to become part of their inner dialogue. That stuff is for the fans, the media and even those of us here at jaguars.com.
Myles Jack Wasn’t Down? Revenge? Statement Game?
All undoubtedly are storylines – and there’s reality to the statement-game part. The Patriots, after all, are the perennial AFC favorites; a victory would go far toward showing the Jaguars are capable of playing with – and beating – any team in the NFL.
But the Jaguars can’t think that way. That must remain part of the pregame storyline. It must remain periphery because there are other on-field things they must do to beat the defending AFC Champions.
Here are 10:
1.Win turnovers. Once more with gusto: When the Patriots force more turnovers than they commit in Bill Belichick’s 19 seasons as head coach, they are 143-15. When they lose the turnover ratio, they’re 37-42. When it’s even, they’re 35-17. Yes, it’s that important.
2.Run … The Jaguars lost the AFC Championship Game in January because they couldn’t run when they needed to run. The Jaguars won’t win Sunday solely running. But there will come a time when they want to run and the Patriots will know they want to run. If the Patriots win those plays, the Jaguars are in trouble.
3…. and run some more.A second look? Yes, this is that important, too. Expect running back Leonard Fournette’s hamstring to make him a game-time decision. Whatever his status, the Jaguars must run. The guess here is you’ll see offensive coordinator Nate Hackett scheme the unexpected here. Such as? We’ll see.
4.Score a defensive touchdown. This has become a calling card of this defense – and this franchise. The Jaguars must use it again.
5.Hit Brady early. And often.Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is one of the NFL’s best players of this or any era. That doesn’t mean he’s oblivious to pressure and punishment. In fact, it has been known to bother him a great deal. The Jaguars must bother him Sunday. The key here? Stopping the run first. If you stop the run, the pass rush has a better chance of getting to Brady.
6.Protect Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles. The Patriots’ pass rush was a dominant factor in a Week 1 victory at Houston. Does that point to a strong Patriots front? A weak Texans offensive line? Either way, this is an area the Jaguars must win. The offensive line is too important to the Jaguars’ success to be weak Sunday.
7.Win the hidden-yardage battle. This isn’t the sexiest category, because it’s about punt return yards – and kickoff return yards. The Jaguars lost the AFC Championship Game in part because a short punt set up a point-blank drive for the Patriots’ game-winning touchdown. Improving punting and coverage was a major offseason priority. That focus must reap benefits Sunday.
8.Chase and tackle. A major reason the Jaguars’ defense is elite is the unit’s speed. It allows the defense to turn potential positive plays for the opponent into difficult down-and-distance – i.e., obvious passing – situations. Every yard counts against a team as good as New England. Every play counts. If the Jaguars chase the Patriots down and secure tackles once they get there, Sunday should be very difficult for a Patriots offense that’s struggling to find receivers.
9.Hit two deep passes. The Jaguars’ downfield offense went largely silent after an early pass to wide receiver Keelan Cole in Week 1. The Patriots were effective stacking the box against the Jaguars in January, so they figure to try that again. The Jaguars must make them pay for the approach at least a couple of times.
10.Feed. Off. The. Crowd. The Jaguars must not get lost in the hype, but make no mistake: the ‘Bank will reach a pitch it hasn’t reached in a long while. #DWTD #Duval (and, oh yeah