Jaguars vs. Raiders: 10 Keys to the Game for Jacksonville
A matchup between two 1-4 teams will not be highly-anticipated, but it may be highly-intriguing.
The Jaguars are coming off a much-needed bye week during Week 6. The last time that Jags took the field they were handled by the Chicago Bears, 41-3, in an embarrassing home defeat.
If Jacksonville wants to make anything out of this season, they will have to pick up a victory over the Raiders coming off a bye week.
Here are 10 keys for that plan to come into fruition.
1. Forget about the first five games
The first five games for the Jaguars were ones that they would definitely like to forget, but that is easier said than done, especially for a team that is not used to winning recently.
Being 1-4 is definitely an unenviable position to be in and making the postseason is highly unlikely with that kind of hole. But it is not impossible.
Although the Jags may have been written off by most football fans for postseason play, and rightfully so, the reality of the situation is that they're indeed still mathematically alive for a playoff spot.
That's the mentality head coach Mike Mularkey has to preach to the Jaguars heading into this week against Oakland.
They have to almost go into this game as if it is the start of a brand new season. The team has had two full weeks to digest the humiliation of losing to the Bears and store it out of the memory bank. Now it is time to move on and keep a positive mind set for the rest of the season.
2. Get Blaine Gabbert into a rhythm early
Running back Maurice Jones-Drew is the best offensive weapon for the Jaguars. That cannot be disputed.
But the reality is that they will not win many games if they cannot produce at least an average passing attack for opposing teams to at least be aware of.
Now I'm not saying the Jaguars should air it out, but some short, timing throws on the first couple of possessions could do a lot of good to help build up Gabbert's confidence throughout the course of a game.
It may take a lot to rebuild Gabbert's confidence, however, as he has had a horrible start to this season. Gabbert is currently 31st in the NFL in passing yards (796), tied for 26th in touchdown passes (five), tied for 29th in completions (80) and is 31st in completion percentage (54.8).
Getting him into a nice flow early can only be a positive step for the offense against Oakland.
3. Win third down
Converting third downs, or the lack there of, can win or lose teams games in the NFL. When you take a look at the third down stats for the Jaguars, they depict a team that is in fact 1-4.
The Jags are 27th in the league at converting only 31.3 percent of their third downs. But the Raiders are actually worse, converting only 29.7 percent.
Both teams are equally as futile at getting opposing offenses off the field on third down. The Jags get off the field only 43 percent of the time (25th) and Oakland is dead last at giving up third-down conversions at 49.3 percent of the time.
Six of the top 10 teams at converting on third down have at least .500 records.
At the end of the 2011 season, seven of the top 10 teams in third down conversion percentage were playoff teams (New England, New Orleans, Atlanta, New York Giants, Green Bay, Detroit, and Pittsburgh).
This is a very important statistic for teams league-wide and the Jags must win it if they want to win Sunday and any other game moving forward.
4. Slow down Darren McFadden
Fantasy owners love Darren McFadden and for good reason. He is the engine that gets the Raiders' offense going.
McFadden leads the team in rushing with 271 yards and is tied for the team lead in receptions with 21.
Any defensive coordinator's No. 1 priority when game-planning for the Raiders is to stop No. 20 and this week will be no different for the Jaguars.
In each of the Raiders' losses this season McFadden did not gain more than 100 yards rushing. The most he gained during a loss was 70 against the Falcons last week. Before that he had games of 22, 32 and 34 yards in losses.
On the flip side, during the Raiders' one win, McFadden ran for 113 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Quarterback Carson Palmer is not having a terrible season, but he has not been exactly lighting it up either.
The Raiders' offense goes as far as McFadden will take them.
5. Win the punter battle
Am I really going to talk about the battle of the punters?
Oh, yes I am. It's not just to go off the beaten path a little bit, however. It is a legitimate battle between both teams in which they can ill-afford to lose.
The battle of the punters is a battle of field position, and since neither offense has lit up the scoreboard this season, this will be an important battle.
This punter showdown features the old guard in Raiders' punter Shane Lechler and the young gun Bryan Anger looking to knock Lechler off his perch as the best punter in the game.
Anger has started his NFL career in very productive fashion as he currently leads the NFL in yards per punt (51.3) and is third in net average (43.9).
As good as Anger has been so far, Lechler is the gold standard of punters. Lechler is a seven-time Pro Bowler and a six-time First Team All-Pro.
His numbers aren't as impressive as his rookie counterpart this season, but Lechler could prove to be a vital weapon Sunday.
Giving a team poor field position can give even the best offenses problems, let alone one like the Jaguars.
Anger pinning the Raiders deep will put the defense in some positive situations, something that has not happened very often this season due to the ineptitude of the offense.
6. Find Justin Blackmon
Amid the many problems with the offense during the first five games, one major problem has been the lack of production from the much-hyped receiving corps, mainly Justin Blackmon.
Through five games Blackmon only has 13 receptions for 119 yards and has yet to score his first official touchdown.
According to KFFL.com, Blackmon has been targeted a total of 33 times through five games.
What do we attribute this to? For one, the lack of production from the quarterback will doom even the best receivers. For two, the offensive line has not done a very good job of keeping said quarterback upright so far. Lastly, maybe he's having a hard time adjusting to the NFL.
Whatever the case may be, it has to change against Oakland and moving forward.
Mike Mularkey needs to figure out a way to make Blackmon a focal point of the passing game. Not the entire offense, that's for Jones-Drew, but simply the passing game.
7. Protect Blaine Gabbert
Blackmon will not have many catches against Oakland if Gabbert is lying on his back most of the game. That is where Gabbert has spent a lot of his time during the first five games thanks to a rough a start for the offensive line.
When it comes to run-blocking, the Jaguars' offensive line is as good as they come, but when it comes to protecting the quarterback, the unit is inexplicable below average at best.
The O-line has given up 15 sacks in 2012 and Jaguars quarterbacks have been hit 28 times. That should change against the Raiders who have recorded four sacks in 2012 (31st in the NFL).
8. Pressure Carson Palmer
The Raiders have actually allowed Palmer to be hit as many times as the Jaguars through five games, which could help a pass rush, that has yet to even get out of the starting gate, finally do so.
Who's the one team in the NFL that is worse than the Raiders at sacking the quarterback? Sure enough it is the Jaguars who have only recorded three sacks thus far.
The Jaguars spent a second-round pick on Andre Branch just to solve this problem and him, along with the rest of the defense, have yet to live up to expectations.
9. Remained disciplined
The Raiders are historically a horribly-disciplined team that routinely leads the league in penalties, which is remarkable when you look at how many coaches and players have gone through the organization recently.
Surprisingly, both teams have been very good when it comes to penalties this season. For the Jaguars, that has to continue.
10. Silence the crowd early
The Black Hole is probably the most hostile of environments in football. Unfortunately, their team has not matched their hostility in the stands on the field.
Nonetheless, if you're not prepared for just how hostile that crowd can be, it can affect you, especially on offense.
The Jags must silence the crowd early and dictate the pace of the game. That will be the task of Jones-Drew to control the ball and consistently move the chains.
Moving the chains, especially on third down, is the quickest way to take a hostile crowd out of the game.
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