JACKSONVILLE – The Mania is coming home.
The Jaguars will play the New Orleans Saints at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville Sunday at 1 p.m. – and while it won't be Jaguars rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew II's first start at home, it will be his first start there since the attention and mania around him really started building.
When the rookie started Week 3 against the Tennessee Titans, he was making his second NFL start. He had yet to win a game. He was something of a curiosity locally and nationally, but the whole Minshew Mania thing was just getting started.
People are still curious about Minshew.
But now that curiosity has fueled Minshew Mania into a full-throated roar – and the questions aren't so much whether the mustachioed, headband-wearing cult of personality can succeed in the NFL. Rather, it's just how good can this kid become?
The thought here is he can be really good, and the thought here is Minshew will keep playing at least close to the level he has reached in his first few starts. If that happens, the Jaguars may have a difficult time returning to veteran Nick Foles as the starting quarterback.
More importantly for the Jaguars, that scenario would almost certainly mean they're winning more than they're losing.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars must do to work toward that by beating the Saints Sunday:
1.Get a lead. The Jaguars have trailed by double digits in four of five games this season. They rallied from that situation to beat Denver in Week 4 – and nearly rallied to beat Houston in Week 2 and Carolina this past week. All that rallying shows resiliency. But as Head Coach Doug Marrone said this week, it would be better to lead early and win than to have to show all that late-game resolve.
2.No, really … get a lead. This is important enough this week to mention twice. The Saints have won three consecutive games with Teddy Bridgewater starting in place of quarterback Drew Brees. They have controlled all those games by taking early leads. How will Bridgewater fare trying to rally the Saints? The Jaguars must make the Saints find out.
3.Keep letting the kid grow. Minshew has gotten better by the week as offensive coordinator John DeFilippo has grown more and more comfortable with what he can do. DeFilippo has given Minshew more freedom each week. That needs to continue.
4.Protect the ball. Minshew has shown few flaws, but a tendency to fumble has been one. For all else that went wrong against Carolina, Minshew's three lost fumbles led directly to 14 points. He must protect the ball better. You can make magic and not fumble.
5.Protect the quarterback. The protection won't be perfect every week. That's true. It's also true that you can't have offensive guards forcing fumbles on their own quarterback.
6.Stay in your lanes. The Jaguars' defense got gashed by Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey last week because defenders got out of gaps in their gap-control defense. This is a matter of trust and discipline. Jaguars defenders must trust their teammates to do their own job and not try to make every tackle. They must let the system work and play the system.
7.Stop Alvin Kamara. The Saints' running back isn't a clone of McCaffrey, but he's similar enough – elite out of the backfield, hard to tackle one on one – that the approach to stopping him will be similar to the approach the Jaguars took a week ago. They must be better. Much better.
8.Cut.Down.The.Penalties. We say it every week. That doesn't make it unimportant.
9.Create takeaways. This is has taken on a real urgency this week. The Jaguars' defense has forced just one takeaway this season. This ties in with not playing with enough leads because it's easier to get takeaways if you know the other team is throwing. Whatever the reason, this team won't win consistently forcing one turnover every five games.
10.Feed off the crowd, which will feed off the Stache. There's a buzz around this team. Fans are excited. That's what hope at quarterback and hope offensively does. The 'Bank will be ready. It will be hyped. The Jaguars must take advantage of the energy.