JACKSONVILLE – They have been impressive lately. Really impressive.
If they're to continue to feel good about themselves during next week's midseason bye, the Jaguars must keep being impressive in a place where they often have been just that.
The Jaguars play the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh, Pa., Sunday, with a chance to win a fifth consecutive game – and to move to 6-2 for their best start through eight games since they started 7-1 during the 1999 AFC Central Championship season.
They can also assure themselves of at least a game and a half lead in the AFC South entering their 2023 bye week.
Perhaps most interestingly – and oddly – is another stat:
The Jaguars with a victory can win a fifth game in as many weeks in a fifth different stadium. They beat the Atlanta Falcons at Wembley Stadium in London in Week 4 before beating the Buffalo Bills at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London in Week 5, the Indianapolis Colts at EverBank Stadium in Jacksonville in Week 6 and the New Orleans Saints at the Caesars Superdome in Week.
That's impressive stuff, the sort of stuff on which memorable seasons are built. It also shows a toughness for a Jaguars team that has won 10 of 12 regular-season games – and 11 of 13 overall – dating to last season.
The Jaguars face another tough task Sunday. While they historically have played well in Pittsburgh, the Steelers this season are a strong second half team that is just a half game out of first place in a strong AFC North.
This one for the Jaguars is about carrying momentum into next week's Week 9 bye and giving themselves a chance to separate from the division and push for postseason seeding in November and December.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars must do to make that happen:
- Protect the ball. This always matters, but it really matters against the Steelers. The Jaguars' 10 giveaways this season are a few more than Head Coach Doug Pederson finds acceptable. The Steelers thrive on takeaways as much as any team in the NFL. A sack/fumble could give away unchangeable momentum. Protection is paramount Sunday.
- Get Watt blocked … This is almost an extension of No. 1. Outside linebacker T.J. Watt sets the tone for the Steelers' defense. He can rush the passer. He can beat double-teams. He can create turnovers. He must be minimized.
- ... and get Highsmith blocked, too. Watt is the Steelers' best defensive player and maybe the best defensive player in the NFL. But outside linebacker Alex Highsmith makes the Steelers doubly dangerous off the edge. He has just two sacks this season, but had 14.5 last season and was tied for the NFL lead with five forced fumbles.
- Force turnovers. The Jaguars' defense leads the NFL in takeaways with 16. If anything has defined this Jaguars' season, it's their ability to take the ball away from the opposition.
- Run, Trevor, run. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence isn't overly dependent on the run. But when he has run this season, he has been very effective. His well-timed runs have given the Jaguars needed momentum, which they have parlayed into big scores at key times.
- Convert third downs. The Jaguars have converted 32 of 94 third downs this season. Within that statistic are long stretches of three-and-outs. The Jaguars' offensive inconsistency this season revolves around that statistic.
- Run ETN. This doesn't mean Jaguars running back Travis Etienne Jr. must dominate the game. He doesn't necessarily have to rush for more than 100 yards. But he must be effective at times and it's a big deal if he scores. He has seven rushing touchdowns through seven games, with two rushing touchdowns in a franchise-record three consecutive games.
- Get Ridley involved. Jaguars wide receiver Calvin Ridley caught one pass for five yards in a victory over the Saints last Thursday. The Jaguars' offense is best when Lawrence is distributing the ball organically. But as offensive coordinator Press Taylor said this week, Ridley "is somebody we feel needs to get the ball."
- Make a special teams play. Kick/punt returner Jamal Agnew may be the most overlooked key player on the Jaguars. He repeatedly in recent seasons has turned in big returns to change momentum when the Jaguars have needed it most. On such plays are difficult road victories built.
- Tame the towel. The Jaguars historically have been very good in Pittsburgh. They're 7-2 there since 1999, including two playoff wins. History aside, though, winning there is a tough task for the visiting teams. Handing the environment and crowd noise, particularly when the crowd feels momentum shifting in the Steelers' favor, is critical.
Down to business.📍View the top photos from the Jacksonville Jaguars' Wednesday practice ahead of the NFL Regular Season Week 8 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers ➡️