This one’s about finding a way.
Few nationally believe the Jaguars will do that, because they’re 0-1 this season and went 5-11 last season and because their opponent, the Houston Texans, were AFC South Champions last season, are 1-0 and looked very good in the opener.
In the NFL, Week One results are seen as more than one week of results. They’re seen as a trend, correctly and incorrectly – often the latter more than the former.
That’s why the lead-up to this game has been about the Texans extending an early lead in the division, and it’s why very few national prognosticators give the Jaguars a chance Sunday.
The Jaguars’ defense struggled at times in the regular-season opener, and the Texans have a very good offense, and that’s another reason why few give the Jaguars a chance Sunday.
The Jaguars also are beat up, and while that’s one more reason few give them a chance, the NFL isn’t about prognosticating, or about last season or last week. It’s about what you do on a given day, and that’s why Sunday is important for the Jaguars.
For the Jaguars, there is a belief that this team is headed in the right direction and one victory Sunday can not only help verify that, it puts them in first place. One victory, and the Week One loss is seen as a Scrappy Team That Fought Hard, and the upcoming schedule suddenly looks navigable.
It will be tough. The Texans are good. They are a team that knows what they are offensively, and they are a team improving defensively.
The Jaguars are still young, and they’re hurt, particularly on the offensive line. That’s not ideal, not against a team coordinated by Wade Phillips, but important division games aren’t supposed to be easy, and important tone-setting games are supposed to come in difficult circumstances.
So, that’s what must happen Sunday. The Jaguars must fight. They must play like a team that believes in itself when others don’t. That’s OK, because after Mike Mularkey’s training camp, it’s exactly what they are. They must make plays offensively consistently that last week they made in spots, and they must play defense better than against Minnesota last week.
This one’s about finding a way, even when few believe you can, and with that in mind, here are 10 things the Jaguars must do to beat the Texans Sunday:
1) Stop the run. This is a must any week. It’s particularly big against the Texans, one of the few teams in the NFL that can consistently reel off big-play runs. The Texans didn’t finish the game as well on the ground in the opener against Miami as they usually do. They’ll want to reestablish this area Sunday. Don’t let them.
2) Tackle better. This has become an ongoing theme. It started in the preseason. It continued in the opener, and cost the Jaguars significantly. This team tackled well last season. It needs to start doing so again this season, and needs to start Sunday.
3) Forget last week. The loss to Minnesota hurt. It’s over. The Jaguars are 0-1. If they slip to 0-2, they’re two games behind. If they’re 1-1, they’re tied for first and last week is forgotten.
4) Sack Schaub. This is easier if the Jaguars accomplish No. 1. The Jaguars’ pass rush was better last Sunday than many – including this senior writer – initially thought. It has to be even better Sunday. The Vikings can “sort of hurt you” through the air. The Texans can put you away in a hurry.
5) Survive up front. The Jaguars’ offensive line, even as injured as it is, can be effective. There are enough good, experienced players up front to do it. That’s true if it doesn’t sustain any more injuries. If another lineman or two get injured, it’s a crisis.
6) Stay diversified.
7) Run Jones-Drew. He was good last week with no work in the preseason. He should only get better. The Jaguars threw more than expected in the opener, and that’s good. You have to do that in the modern NFL, but Jones-Drew can turn four-yard gains into eight. Keep taking advantage of that.
8) Get Blackmon going. He played OK last week, and had one very impressive play early. He can play better, and will play better as time goes on. Sunday is a good time to start it. He needs to become the go-guy sooner rather than later.
9) Thrive off the crowd. By kickoff, the fans at EverBank Field will have long forgotten the opener. This is about now. This crowd will be ready. Take advantage of it.
10) Close the deal. Make the plays. The Jaguars had their hands on several passes defensively Sunday. They didn’t get an interception. Those types of plays turn games. Against a veteran team that believes in itself, which the Texans are, you must make big plays. There will be opportunities Sunday. Take advantage. Find a way.