JACKSONVILLE – Sometimes, the obvious storylines are the right storylines.
That seems very much the case for the AFC South-leading Jaguars (3-2) as they prepare to play the Los Angeles Rams (3-2) at EverBank Field Sunday at 4:05 p.m.
Yes, the division-leaders thing is a storyline. Also prominent in the discussion throughout the week has been a pressuring, opportunistic defense.
The emerging force that is rookie running back Leonard Fournette? That has been a topic, too.
But the main topics have involved the Jaguars' return to EverBank Field, and the need for this team to win back-to-back games for the first time this season.
The Jaguars need to establish home-field advantage because they haven't won enough at the 'Bank in recent seasons – though the obvious caveat there is that Jaguars haven't won enough anywhere in recent seasons.
They also need to win consecutive games – something they haven't done since early October of last season, and something that has been an issue this season with one-sided victories in Weeks 1 (Houston), 3 (Baltimore) and 5 (Pittsburgh) and losses in Weeks 2 (Tennessee) and 4 (New York Jets).
The incentive for a home victory and a second consecutive victory Sunday? A continued hold on sole possession of the AFC South, something the team gained Sunday in Pittsburgh.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars must do for that to happen:
1.Run.This team thrives on it. With Fournette and veteran running back Chris Ivory the focal points of the offense, it's obviously not going to stop trying to do it. It must be successful doing it.
2.Stop the run.This team has been successful doing it at times and not so successful at other times. It lost when unsuccessful against the Jets and Titans and it won when successful against Houston, Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Stopping Rams running back Todd Gurley isn't easy, but it's possible (see: Indianapolis, Seattle).
3.Stop Gurley.Didn't we just cover this? Not completely, no. Gurley is a very dangerous runner, but he is equally dangerous as a receiver. He doesn't just catch the ball out of the backfield in the flat; he can run patterns downfield and beat linebackers deep. Just stopping him as a runner isn't enough.
4.Get an early lead.The Jaguars have won three times this season when leading at halftime. They have lost once when tied at halftime and lost once when trailing. This team doesn't appear built to be a comeback team. So far this season, that appearance hasn't been deceiving.
5.Take the ball away …The Jaguars have 15 takeaways in five games after having 13 all of last season. They're unlikely to average three a game this season, but this defense and team thrives on takeaways. They need to force opponents into mistakes. They got five against Pittsburgh Sunday; they probably need at least two Sunday.
6. … and score when you do it.The Jaguars have been stunningly effective scoring off turnovers this season. Not only do they have four defensive touchdowns, 74 of their 139 points have come directly off turnovers. That's a difficult pace to maintain, but they need their defense to create opportunities.
7.Pressure Jared Goff.This is key because this is where turnovers happen. Pressuring the second-year veteran into mistakes hasn't been easy. He has been sacked just six times and has thrown just three interceptions. Still, he's a young quarterback and young quarterbacks make mistakes if pressured. Figure out a way.
8.Neutralize Aaron Donald.The Rams' defensive tackle may be the league's best interior defender, and he has the ability to "wreck a game." What that means is he can create negative offensive plays whether the opponent is running or throwing. Guard Patrick Omameh can't be left alone on Donald. No Jaguars offensive lineman can. As Jaguars offensive coordinator Nate Hackett said this week, every Jaguars offensive player must be aware of Donald.
9.Test the Rams deep.The Jaguars' offense must somehow, some way back Rams defenders off the line of scrimmage to make room for Fournette and Ivory. The way to do that is to test the Rams' secondary. That doesn't have to mean completing deep passes. But it does mean showing the Rams they're willing to try. Test the secondary. Spread them out. (Then run Fournette some more.)
10.Feed off the crowd.Jaguars fans have seen the team win from afar. They haven't seen it this season in Jacksonville; the Jaguars lost their lone game at EverBank , 37-16, to Tennessee in Week 2. The city's fans have waited a long time for a winner. They're believing they can see one this season. Prove them right. In person. Feed off a hungry home crowd.