JACKSONVILLE – Close isn't enough and hasn't been for a while.
The Jaguars (2-6) emphasized that last week, just as they did the week before – and it remained an emphasis this week as they prepared to play the Las Vegas Raiders (2-5) at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville Sunday at 1 p.m.
It's a matchup of two-victory teams, a matchup that feels like a must-win for both teams if they are to stop struggling and scrape back into the playoff chase.
For the Jaguars, the storyline remains what it has been throughout a five-game losing streak that began when they were 2-1 with high hopes after back-to-back one-sided victories over the Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Chargers. That storyline:
- Find a way to close games, because not doing so defined the maddening month that was October 2022 for the Jaguars.
- All five losses in their current streak were by a score or less, with the defense allowing the go-ahead touchdown in the final six minutes of each of the last four games. They have struggled during the last five weeks to force turnovers, to protect the ball in scoring opportunities and to make game-winning plays late in games.
- The result? What began as a season of optimism is now a frustrating one. And there's no better way to put such a month in the rearview than opening the next month with a victory.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars must do to make that happen:
- Reduce mistakes. This is about the entire Jaguars team, particularly about quarterback Trevor Lawrence. He needn't play perfectly as he develops in his second season, but he has thrown key red-zone interceptions three times in the last five games. He must dramatically reduce those disastrous, avoidable mistakes.
- Stop the deep ball. The deep pass has hurt the Jaguars in recent weeks, with cornerback Shaq Griffin allowing a last-minute winning touchdown on a deep pass in a Week 6 loss to the Colts and his replacement the last two weeks – Tre Herndon – allowing a deep pass that set up the Denver Broncos' winning touchdown in the last two minutes Sunday. Which leads to …
- Contain Davante Adams. The Raiders' veteran receiver is one of the NFL's toughest wide receivers to cover one-on-one, and probably the best receiver the Jaguars have played this season. He can wreck a game by himself. Will the Jaguars "float" cornerback Tyson Campbell with Adams? It's possible.
- Get Crosby blocked. Defensive end Maxx Crosby is the Raiders' best defensive player. The Jaguars must get him blocked to give Lawrence a chance to improve on one of his most difficult career games last Sunday in a loss to the Broncos.
- Protect.The.Ball. The Jaguars' 10 turnovers this season isn't a ridiculous total, but four of those turnovers have come in the red zone. They probably would have won one, two or three of those games without the turnovers. It's loose plays in big moments that have an improved team two games under .500.
- Keep feeding Etienne. Second-year Jaguars running back Travis Etienne Jr. is making the spectacular routine, with runs of at last 48 yards in each of the last three games and 356 yards rushing during that span. He has emerged in the last month not only a starter but as the team's best offensive player – and a potential star.
- Pressure. Pressure. Pressure. The Raiders' offensive line has struggled at times this season, and Raiders quarterback Derek Carr can be forced into mistakes if pressured. The Jaguars' three sacks last Sunday were their most since Week 2. They must maintain that momentum.
- Stop Josh Jacobs. The Raiders' running back has been key to their offense, but the Jaguars have stopped the run well when they haven't had to worry about the opposing quarterback. This matchup could favor the Jaguars, but they can't underestimate Jacobs.
- Beware the motivated team. The Raiders were shut out by the New Orleans Saints last Sunday. An embarrassed team one week is a dangerous team the next.
- Protect the lead. Six Jaguars losses this season, six leads lost, four in the second half. Defense in the NFL these days is about getting off the field in big moments. This defense must start doing that. A sack. A pressure. An interception. If the Jaguars get a late lead – and recent history suggests they will – they must somehow, some way close the game.
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