JACKSONVILLE – This is a long way from easy.
In fact, it might be the Jaguars' toughest task of the season.
The Baltimore Ravens are good. Really good. They're a smart team that knows how they want to play, and they don't beat themselves. They protect an efficient quarterback who doesn't turn the ball over often. They run well, rarely fumble, and the strength of the offense is a dominant interior line.
Defensively, they stop the run and pressure the passer, and if all of those things make them sound like a team that will be very tough to beat on the road … well, that's true.
Oh, yeah – they're playing for a playoff spot, too.
The Jaguars are young, and dealing with inexperience on offense. That makes it tough to play an experienced team that probably won't give you much.
That's not to say the Jaguars can't win. They need to pressure the passer and reduce mistakes, and they must somehow, someway squeeze points from a struggling offense.
Is it doable? Sure, it's doable. It's just a long way from easy.
And here are 10 things the Jaguars must do to beat the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland, Sunday:
1.Protect the ball.This stays in this spot. The loss to Houston Sunday didn't turn on Blake Bortles' interception, but that play made a tight game suddenly one-sided. That's what turnovers do. Avoiding them is No. 1, and probably will stay there the rest of the season.
2.Play two halves.The Jaguars haven't done this in a while. Maybe they're too young to do it. Either way, it's a must. The talent isn't developed enough to overcome long lapses. Especially lapses that come in the second half.
3.Give the quarterback time. For the thousandth time, this isn't all the line. That group can play better – and it did last week at times. Bortles can play better. Communication can improve. Blitz pickup can improve. It's many, many things … and it all comes back to one central theme. Defenders are too close to Bortles on too many plays, and it's hard to play quarterback when that's true. Especially as a rookie.
4.Keep Marqise Lee confident.His improvement in recent weeks has been marked. That's good for him, and good for the team. He's the Jaguars' most explosive offensive weapon right now and has gone quickly from a question mark to a strength. Keep that trend going.
5.RU-U-U-UN!The Jaguars haven't run effectively since the Week 11 bye week. Part of it is the pass offense, which hasn't been effective enough to force defenders out of the box. So, first, the pass must improve … then the run … That's a lot of improvement in a short time, but that's what's needed.
6.Catch the ball.Bortles wasn't perfect against Houston, but at times, he played as loose and free as he did early in the season. In the first half, he actually did it a lot. And that was good. As a rookie, he won't do that every play, but his good plays must be rewarded. The ball must be caught. Explosive plays are rare for this team. When the opportunity is there, they must happen.
7.Pressure Joe Flacco.This won't be easy. Flacco has been sacked 16 times this season, the second-fewest in the NFL. This is strength versus strength, because the Jaguars are third in the NFL in sacks. The Jaguars' strength must win Sunday.
8.Force turnovers.Only seven NFL teams have committed fewer than the Ravens' 16 turnovers, so making them uncomfortable won't be easy. Easy or not, the Jaguars have only been good this season when they have disrupted opposing quarterbacks. That must happen Sunday. Somehow.
9.Stop the run.The Jaguars couldn't do it Sunday and haven't done it enough in the last six weeks. That hurt a lot against Houston because the Jaguars weren't in enough pass rush situations. If you don't stop the Ravens on the ground, you won't have the ball much and you won't be rushing Flacco much. That's not a formula for consistent victory.
10.Defy the odds.The Ravens are favored big, and that's warranted. But if the Jaguars have been defined by anything in Head Coach Gus Bradley's tenure, it's believing in themselves even when others don't. They'll need that belief Sunday.