JACKSONVILLE – Another week, another major challenge.
Another division-leading opponent.
And yet another big-time quarterback.
The still-confident Jaguars (3-7) return from a Week 11 bye to face the AFC North-leading Baltimore Ravens (7-3) at TIAA Bank Field Sunday, the Jaguars' second consecutive game against a division leader. They lost a road game to the AFC West-leading Kansas City Chiefs (7-3) a week before the bye.
Of particular concern to the Jaguars Sunday:
Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, a player – very much like Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes – capable of making huge, game-winning plays even when defended well and capable of beating a defense with his legs as well as his arm.
The Jaguars enter Sunday having lost six of seven games. Despite being third in the AFC South four games behind the division-leading Tennessee Titans, Jaguars players this week talked of still having a chance to win the division and make the postseason.
"We haven't lost sight of what we're trying to do," quarterback Trevor Lawrence said.
That's a tough task. They likely must win six or seven games to make that happen, which makes beating one of the NFL's most-consistent franchises Sunday critical.
Here are 10 things they must do to make that happen:
- Contain Jackson. This doesn't say "Stop Jackson" for a reason. You likely don't "stop" him, at least for an entire game. If you can contain him, keep him in the pocket relatively consistently and keep him around 50 yards or fewer rushing, that's success.
- Keep believing. Jaguars players pretty much unanimously talked this week of believing in their chances to win the AFC South and make the postseason. That few outside believe doesn't matter as long as they believe. That belief has kept them competitive in most games this season. They need it to push them to victory Sunday.
- Maintain consistency. Lawrence turned in two of his most consistent NFL performances in two games before the bye. He had no red-zone turnovers in the two games, no interceptions and completed 76 percent of his passes. That's the sort of progress the Jaguars need for his long-term future – and their short-term chances.
- Score in the red zone. This is a weekly entry in this space. The Jaguars rank ninth in the NFL in yards and 19th in points, with the statistical gap at least partially explained by struggling at times to score touchdowns in the red zone.
- Protect the ball in the red zone. This, too, is a weekly entry because the Jaguars too often this season have cost themselves too dearly close to the red zone. They have four red-zone turnovers this season and turned the ball over on downs in another game. All those games were one-score Jaguars losses.
- Get Etienne in a rhythm early. The Jaguars' offense felt at its best this season when running back Travis Etienne Jr. was at his best in a three-game stretch from Weeks 7-9. The Kansas City Chiefs limited Etienne early in Week 10 and the Chiefs' big lead limited Etienne's chances late. The Jaguars need Etienne to be effective early to stay in the game. This will be difficult against an improving Ravens defense.
- Contain Jackson … Yes, this was No. 1. It could be Nos. 1-10. Limiting Jackson is that important. And that difficult. It's of particular concern for the Jaguars, who have struggled against offenses with run-centric quarterbacks – specifically the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants – his season.
- … catch opportunities. Jackson is as dangerous as any quarterback in the NFL and is annually one of the league's most valuable players. But if pressured and forced to throw, he will throw intercept-able passes. The Jaguars must take advantage of those opportunities.
- Stay alert and have stamina. Jackson is dangerous and persistent. You can contain him for 58 minutes only to have him make a play late to win the game. That can be as much of a mental challenge as physical.
- Win the turnover battle. The Jaguars had eight takeaways though Week 3 and were 2-1. They have six since. It's hard to see the Jaguars beating a confident Ravens team that has won four consecutive games if they don't win giveaway-takeaway. They may need to win it by two.