JACKSONVILLE – The bye has come at the right time.
And while it’s true few NFL byes seem to come at a “bad” time, this 2019 Jaguars bye is by any measure particularly timely.
The Jaguars are changing quarterbacks, replacing rookie sensation Gardner Minshew II with the now-healthy and now-eligible-to-return Nick Foles. They’re on the edge of the playoff chase – not in terrific shape, but hardly in horrible shape.
They’re beat up, but not too beat up. It’s late in the season, but not too late.
The Jaguars through nine games are 4-5 and have the decided feel of a team that has taken a tough shot or two. They’re stumbling a bit. But they’re not yet down, and they’re not out.
Not technically and not realistically.
It feels for the Jaguars like a perfect time for a reset.
Minshew did his job. He won four of eight starts, which is good for a backup quarterback and remarkable for a rookie sixth-round selection. The Jaguars are alive, and that was no guarantee when Foles sustained a broken clavicle in Week 1.
They Jaguars not incidentally also have something they haven’t had in long time – a quarterback with a proven late-season resume and the reputation that goes with it. That quarterback is Foles and he’s healthy, and his return could give them some late-season momentum.
The Jaguars must go 4-3 the rest of the way to finish .500. They must go 5-2 to have any realistic chance at the postseason and even that would guarantee nothing.
Can the Jaguars really go 5-2 or 6-1 and make a serious postseason run? That’s the goal and the thought here is it’s possible.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars must do to do it:
1.Have November/December Nick be November/December Nick. Foles proved the last two seasons with Philadelphia he can perform under late-season and postseason pressure. It’s the trait that revived his career. It made him an Eagles legend. It prompted the Jaguars to sign him last offseason. It’s a reason he’s starting over Minshew. The Jaguars acquired it in the offseason. They need it to be real now.
2.Stay together. This sounds cliché, but it matters. NFL teams late in the season either believe in the team’s direction and play like it, or they go the other way and some shoddy performances pop up. This shouldn’t be a problem for this team. The chemistry and fight have turned completely compared to the dispirited team that finished last season. This team has believed in itself all season. It must continue, which leads to No. 3.
3.Win the next two and three of the next four. You must win to keep believing --- and the thought here is the Jaguars must win at Indianapolis November 17 and at Tennessee November 24 to have a realistic chance at the postseason. The Jaguars split with the Colts last season and should have swept them. They beat Tennessee handily in Week 3. Those are winnable games. The Jaguars must win them and split with Tampa Bay and the Los Angeles Chargers. That would put them 7-6 entering the final three games. If they get there, they’re in it.
4.Get leads. This was a key through nine games, and it will continue. The Jaguars are inconsistent against the run. Part of that is because they are comparatively undersized defensively. They are not inconsistent rushing the passer. When they have led or been even in games, they have pressured the quarterback. The offense must get the lead more consistently moving forward. If they do, the pass rush is good enough to allow this team to pull away for comfortable victories.
5.Win the turnover battle. The Jaguars are 4-1 when they force a turnover and 0-4 when they do not. The lone time they forced a turnover in a loss was this past Sunday when safety Jarrod Wilson forced Texans running back Carlos Hyde to fumble at the end of a 58-yard run, so that didn’t feel like a turnover.
6.Find receiving options in the middle of the field. Maybe it’s getting tight ends more involved. Maybe it’s wide receiver Dede Westbrook in the slot. Maybe its wide receiver Chris Conley winning more matchups. Whatever the answer, the Jaguars must threaten the defense in the middle of the field. If they don’t, the Cover 2, single-high looks that bothered Minshew in recent weeks will work against Foles.
7.Get production from the tight end. This ties in with No. 6. Tight end has been invisible since a Week 5 injury to James O’Shaughnessy, and rookie Josh Oliver has two receptions in three games since returning from a hamstring injury that cost him the first six games of the season. Oliver must contribute more in the final seven games.
8.Run. Running back Leonard Fournette and the line can’t carry the team to the postseason; with Foles they shouldn’t have to carry the team. Foles’ presence should give Fournette more room. He leads the AFC in rushing through nine games. He must be even better for the Jaguars to push for the playoffs.
9.Stop the run. The Jaguars have been good here at times – and bad at other times. When they’re bad here, they don’t win. When they’re good, they have a chance in every game.
10.Believe in Nick. Right now, he’s the hope.