JACKSONVILLE – Ah, yet another Wednesday …
And while the Jaguars indeed will spend this Wednesday doing what they have done the last four Wednesdays – looking ahead after a disappointing loss – this week also has what has become an annual international feel.
As in, the Jaguars' annual international game at Wembley Stadium in London, England.
The Jaguars have lost their first two games at Wembley – to San Francisco in 2013 and to Dallas last season. With a home game in London each season likely for the foreseeable future, winning and playing well in Wembley against the Buffalo Bills Sunday is important.
More important to the Jaguars in the short term: getting a victory, period. They have been close or ahead in the fourth quarter in four of their five losses this season, but missed opportunities have plagued them. They lost a 14-10 fourth-quarter lead by allowing three touchdowns in less than four minutes in a 31-20 loss to Houston this past Sunday.
Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley talked early this week of the need for all players to focus for 60 minutes, and to eliminate lapses. Too often this season, a play here or there has meant the difference in winning and losing.
With that in mind, here are six questions as the Jaguars begin preparations to play the Bills Sunday:
1)Can the Jaguars go international?OK, we know they can go there, but can they win there? They have lost in one-sided fashion the last two years in games in which they were clearly outmanned. That shouldn't be nearly as much the case this season. Playing in London is a reality for this team and will continue to be. Figuring out how to win there is essential.
2)Will the Jaguars run?This area has been sporadic this season at best and ineffective at worst. Blake Bortles and the passing game have been effective enough that teams shouldn't be playing eight players in the box quite as often as in years past. The Jaguars need to take advantage of that and get T.J. Yeldon/Denard Robinson going.
3)Who's getting pressure?The Jaguars need more production from Leo ends Chris Clemons and Andre Branch. Because it hasn't happened, there's a feel this week that the team will blitz more. How creative can Jaguars defensive coaches get? How well will the defense handle the risk that comes with sending more rushers? That's a huge storyline this week.
4)Can Blake stay clean?This isn't about Bortles staying upright in the pocket, though that's key. It's about Bortles eliminating or reducing key mistakes. He has improved this season, but his history of costly interceptions showed up again last week with a red-zone interception ending one drive and a pick-six giving the Texans seven free points. Those things happen with a developing quarterback, but it's hard to win when they do.
5)Can the Jaguars close?If there is a theme this week, this is it. The Jaguars have been close far more often than not this season but have closed out just one game: a Week 2 victory over Miami. Lack of focus, mistakes, missed opportunities, key errors at key times … all are ways of saying the Jaguars didn't make key plays when needed. All teams make mistakes, but the Jaguars have to figure out a way to play well enough to overcome them.
6)What will be impact of Julius Thomas?We began to get a glimpse of this last week, with Thomas catching seven passes for 78 yards and a touchdown against Houston. That was his full workload of the season after missing the first four games with a hand injury and playing limited snaps against Tampa Bay in Week 5. How will his role evolve as he becomes comfortable with Bortles? How will that help second-year receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns? The answers to both should be "significantly," and the result could be a more dynamic passing offense. Stay tuned.