JACKSONVILLE – This is Jake Luton's time.
Ready or not.
And it's fair to wonder if Luton is indeed ready for what he will face Sunday. The rookie quarterback not only will make his first NFL start when the Jaguars play the Houston Texans at TIAA Bank Field, he will take his first in-game NFL snaps of any kind.
Because all NFL preseason games were canceled in 2020, Luton – a sixth-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft – never has faced an opposing NFL defense.
There are other Jaguars storylines entering Sunday, of course – most notably whether the return of players such as weak-side linebacker Myles Jack and safety Jarrod Wilson could be boost a struggling defense to improve enough to keep an opponent under 30 points for the first time since Week 1. If the Jaguars can't do that, little else likely matters.
But that storyline will be minor Sunday compared to Luton.
Can the strong-armed rookie make throws downfield to open up the Jaguars' offense? Can he hold up against NFL pass rushes? Can he decipher and throw effectively into and over NFL secondaries?
Luton must answer those questions positively for the Jaguars to win Sunday.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars must also do for that to happen:
1.Protect Luton … He's a rookie. He likely will make mistakes. They will decrease the better the Jaguars protect him. The Jaguars' offense has allowed 23 sacks this season, but many were more the fault of quarterback Gardner Minshew II holding the ball too long than the fault of the line. This line has been more of a strength this season than many observers believe. It must be strong Sunday.
2. … and get a lead … This plays into protecting Luton. The sacks allowed are also related to the Jaguars trailing too much; a team playing from behind allows more sacks – and commits more turnovers – than one playing with a lead. The Jaguars have held just three second-half leads this season. They must get a lead Sunday.
3… and let Luton throw. Yes, he's taking his first NFL snaps Sunday. But what has been missing from the Jaguars' offense are velocity throws downfield into tight windows. The Jaguars won't want Luton making those throws too much Sunday. They do need him to make a few of them.
4.Win the takeaway-giveaway battle. The defining season-long statistic continues to hold true. The Jaguars have won takeaway-giveaway once. That was in their lone victory of the season – a Week 1 victory over Indianapolis.
5.Get wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. involved. It's not that Minshew wasn't trying to utilize the Jaguars' best receiver lately; Chark was targeted 21 times in the last two games. But Chark had just eight receptions for 71 yards and no touchdowns in that span. Luton must succeed here where Minshew could not.
6.Get crazy. Head Coach Doug Marrone made news last week saying he planned to try some crazy "stuff" after this past Sunday's bye. As if starting a rookie quarterback who never has taken an NFL snap isn't crazy enough …
7.Take advantage of opportunities. The Jaguars have had chances to win multiple games during their six-game losing streak. At Houston. At the Los Angeles Chargers. At Cincinnati. The offense squandered five red-zone opportunities and two more scoring opportunities in those games. This team's margin already is thin. It must turn opportunities into touchdowns.
8.Contain Deshaun Watson. It's not as if the Jaguars never pressure the Texans' quarterback. They have pressured him 36 times in Watson's five starts against them and sacked him 12 times. It's just that Watson always seems to escape at critical times and make big plays. The Jaguars must pressure him and contain him. And they must do it for 60 minutes. They haven't done it well enough yet. Watson is unbeaten at 5-0 as a starter in the series.
9.Defend the deep ball. Watson has struggled at times this season with the offseason loss former Texans All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. But he has been better lately, reducing turnovers and throwing for 300 yards or more in four consecutive games. Watson has worked the ball deep consistently to wide receivers Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks in recent weeks. The Jaguars can't afford to allow those sorts of big plays and force a rookie quarterback to match Watson big play for big play.
10.Run Robinson. Rookie running back James Robinson has been the Jaguars' best offensive player this season. They must run him early and stay close enough to run him late. And Luton must make some throws downfield to get the Texans' defense away from the line of scrimmage. If those things happen, Robinson will have a big game. And the Jaguars will have a very real chance to win.