Four Down Territory: Jaguars keys to victory in Dallas
By David Levin
The Jacksonville Jaguars face the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday in what could be described as a must-win situation for both NFL franchises.
While it is still early in the season, the Jacksonville Jaguars game against the Dallas Cowboys may have more playoff implications that you may think for both teams this coming Sunday.
A loss by the Jaguars would give them a two-game losing streak and possibly a one-game deficit in the AFC South should Tennessee beat Baltimore. For the Cowboys, a loss is not disastrous given the state of the NFC East, but it could be damaging, nonetheless.
Both teams bring sputtering offenses to the field, hoping to game some balance and momentum.
While the play of Blake Bortles has been the topic of conversation here in town, and not of the good variety, there are other issues this team must deal with.
Injuries have decimated the run game, the offensive line, and the tight end position. Even with the team signing free agents and addressing depth through their own practice squad, there are still major concerns. This team needs to play tougher against this solid defense.
Changes to the roster this week should help (the addition of running back Jamaal Charles), but if the passing game falters, it could of little consequence in Big D.
If Jacksonville is to win this week and change their fortunes, these four things have to happen on Sunday.
First Down – Build on turnovers
The Jaguars picked off Kansas Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes twice last week – the first two interceptions of his season. While it looked a lot worse, Jacksonville held the Chiefs offense to two touchdowns on the game.
Head coach Doug Marrone told the media on Wednesday he is well aware of the fact this team is not as far along as it was last season and building on turnovers is key for a win this week.
"“It’ll be very important. We ‘re minus seven right now [in the turnover differential],” he said. “We’re 3-2, but minus-seven, which is really tough to do – to be 3-2 and be minus-seven in the turnover ratio.It’s a trend that I talked about with the team today [Wednesday]. If we don’t change that, we’re going to be in trouble. We have to change that.”"
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It’s a good thing Dallas has been a run-first offense and has found little success in the passing game this season. Stopping the run forces the Cowboys into passing situations and could mean more interceptions, sacks, and turnovers.
Second Down – Establish the run early
There is a mixed bag of reaction locally about the team’s new running back, Jamaal Charles. While he is four years removed from his best years in the game and has had injury issues, he is a solid addition to this rushing attack.
His ability to catch the football is also crucial to what this offense wants to accomplish. Bigger picture, a veteran like Charles on the team helps provide support while Leonard Fournette continues to deal with a hamstring injury.
"“T.J. [Yeldon] will be a guy that will carry the load for us, but we brought Jamaal in and Dave Williams off of Denver’s practice squad,” Marrone added. “Jamaal, he looked good. He looked in shape, he looked like he was ready to go.”"
The Jaguars must go back to be a run-first offense to take some of the burden off the passing game. If Jacksonville can move the ball downfield on the group, the passing game will benefit greatly.
Third Down – Hello, Demarcus Lawrence
Dallas defensive end Demarcus Lawrence has 5.5 sacks this season and is one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL. Jacksonville had a hard time containing both Dee Ford and Justin Houston last week. Lawrence is better than the two players.
"“He has power, he has speed. He’s quick, has excellent counter moves. He can take over a game like a lot of those guys [can],” Marrone said. “Their front seven is pretty stout when you look all around, but he’s one player that can obviously change a game.”"
The left side of the line has a different look with Josh Walker in a tackle. Does he immediately become a target of the Dallas defense? Of course. Walker is a veteran who can provide adequate pass protection.
If Dallas decides to move Lawrence along the line, then Jermey Parnell must make up for his sub-par game a week ago.
Fourth Down – Take advantage of opportunities
This figures to be a low scoring game – unless Bortles finds a rhythm and airs the ball out. The Jaguars must put points on the board when they have the football. They must convert turnovers when they have an opportunity.
Playing against running back Ezekiel Elliott is cause for concern on the defensive side of the ball. Jacksonville must limit the chances Dallas has at getting the football on offense.
"“He’s probably the best running back in the league,” said Marrone. “Inside runner, outside runner, great out of the backfield, great hands, great in space. There probably isn’t a run that he can’t do. He can run people over, he can run by them.”"
Keeping Elliott on the sideline gives Jacksonville a better chance of coming out on top on Sunday. Field position will all be critical in this game as long possessions by Dallas means the Jaguars defense will be on the field longer than the coaching staff would like.