JACKSONVILLE – The Jaguars need this one.
That's not just because they're favored to win Thursday's prime-time, nationally-televised game, though that is indeed true for the first time in a long time.
And it really doesn't have all that much to do with the record of the Jaguars' opponent, though the 2-12 record of the Tennessee Titans indicates that Thursday's game at EverBank Field indeed is a game the Jaguars have a very real chance to win.
The Jaguars need it because … well, they just do.
They need it because they need to win an AFC South game, and because they've played well enough in recent weeks to win – and they need some reward for that. They need it because they've stayed together as a team this season through a lot of tough losses – and they need some reward for that, too.
They need it because they're frustrated, and a victory would ease some of that.
They need it because a young offense and a young quarterback have struggled in recent weeks, so they need to play well and score points and show themselves that by doing those things you can win in the NFL.
They need it because overall they have played better this season than last season, even though the record thus far doesn't reflect it.
So, yes, the Jaguars need it. And they can get it.
And with those things in mind, here are 10 things the Jaguars must do to beat the Tennessee Titans at EverBank Field in Jacksonville Thursday:
1.Dirt the ball.If there's a Hot Jaguars Topic of the Week, this is it. The 62 sacks allowed are an issue. The line is part of it, but so is blitz pickup and communication. And so is quarterback. Blake Bortles can do a better job in the pocket getting rid of the ball to avoid sacks. That needs to start Thursday.
2.Protect the ball.This moves down this week from No. 1, but only because Dirt the Ball – i.e., the act of getting rid of the ball to avoid a sack – is No. 1 with a bullet. Still, this team must avoid turnovers to have a chance.
3.Protect the passer.Make no mistake: an offensive line that allows 62 sacks is not blameless. The group must get stronger and maybe even nastier. Maybe that doesn't happen until the offseason, but we're not talking offseason right now. We're talking Thursday and on Thursday the line must block better. Yeah, Bortles should "dirt it" more, but the line must keep him from having to do it so often.
4.Punt protect.Special teams errors have been too costly this season. A team struggling like this one on offense can't give away points in other areas.
5.Force turnovers …Whoever the opponent, the Jaguars' offense probably isn't going to score enough to pull away. This team needs turnovers to do that.
6. … and score off them.The Jaguars have been best when the defense has not only taken the ball away, but put it in the end zone. Or at least come darned close to putting it in the end zone. The Titans are starting a reserve quarterback Thursday. Reserve quarterbacks can be prone to mistakes. That means opportunities for the defense. The Jaguars must take advantage.
7.Score touchdowns!!!Obvious? Yes. Easily done? Hardly. The Jaguars have two offensive touchdowns in the last four games. There are a ton of reasons, not the least of which is narrowly missing on a few plays that were nearly touchdowns. There are other reasons, too. Sacks. Dropped passes. And, of course, a rookie quarterback with rookies, rookies, rookies everywhere else. Forget the reasons. This is not an elite defense coming to EverBank Thursday. This is not the Ravens and there is no J.J. Watt. Take advantage of matchups. Score touchdowns.
8.Catch the ball.Cecil Shorts III and Marcedes Lewis kicked themselves after key drops Sunday. That's fine, but drops have happened too often this season. From those two veterans in particular. The Jaguars need production from those two – and they need to be able to rely on them to catch the ball.
9.Stay strong.This has a defensive slant. This defense has played very well in recent weeks – with no payoff. Human nature is to let frustration set in. Human nature is say, "Oh, well …" The defense has played too well too long to slip up. That unit has to keep doing what it has been doing because what it has been doing is impressive. Now is no time to let down. Stay strong.
10.Keep believing.There has been no hint of give up in this team, and that's remarkable at 2-12. There's no reason to see any now. This is a winnable game. This is still a team pulling in one direction. It must keep pulling and get a victory. Because it sure is needed.