By Brad Carroll
So this is what it feels like to be a New York Jets fan with something to look forward to. After two straight embarrassing losses to open the season, and with little reason to believe things would get better, the Jets went out last week and thoroughly dominated the Miami Dolphins, not only winning their first game of the season, but giving their fanbase hope as well.
It’s just one win, of course, but with the Jets hosting the Jacksonville Jaguars this Sunday and then traveling to Cleveland for a game against the Browns next week, there’s a better than solid chance this left-for-dead team could be 3-2 just about a third of the way into the season.
Now, all of this could lead to nothing more than a six-win season, which would hurt the team more than if they went, say, 1-15, but there’s no reason to put the team in the grave until absolutely necessary. There are those who want the team to lose every game so they can finally get a franchise quarterback in the building, but there’s never a good reason to give up on a current season until you have to.
The Jets, in that regard, are very much alive, that is until they crash and burn again, which if they do so against Jacksonville Sunday, well, then it’s pretty much over.
Let’s take a look at three keys to a Jets victory Sunday against Jacksonville.
Keep Leonard Fournette In Check
The Jaguars rookie running back had a stellar debut, rushing for 100 yards and a touchdown, while adding another 24 through the air, during a 29-7 win over the Houston Texans. But he hasn’t been as good the last two weeks, rushing for 40 yards and a touchdown in a 37-16 loss to the Tennessee Titans in Week 2 and picking up 59 yards and a score during a 44-7 win over the Baltimore Ravens last week. While he’s scoring consistently, the Jets have to make sure they follow the blueprint laid out by the Titans, the lone team to beat the Jags this season. Fournette averaged just 2.9 yards per rush in that meeting, and the Jets are going to have to figure out a way to do the same. The Jets run defense was a disaster in the first two weeks, but came up big against the Dolphins ground game last week, allowing just 30 yards on 15 carries. Jay Ajayi had 16 yards on 11 carries. If the Jets can slow Fournette and the ground attack, it will be one huge step closer to getting their second straight victory.
Continue Passing The Ball
Most will say the key to beating the Jaguars is to run the ball, which is what the Titans did in Week 2, picking up 179 yards on the ground and scoring three touchdowns. But the Jets don’t have DeMarco Murray or Derrick Henry on their team, so they need to stick with what got them in the win column last week … throwing the ball. The Jets opened up the offensive game plan last week, using the passing game to set everything in motion, especially in the first half. Quarterback Josh McCown had by far his best game as a Jet, and finished 18-of-23 for 249 yards and a touchdown. He hit Robby Anderson for a 69-yard touchdown pass in the first half that opened the game up and set the Jets toward a victory in their home opener. It would be nice if Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire to get going on the ground, but the Jets need to pass the ball first and then worry about the run game. They proved they could do it last week.
Force Blake Bortles Into Turnovers
The Jaguars quarterback is a turnover machine, and can be downright terrible a lot of the time, so the Jets must make sure that doesn’t change against them. In this his fourth season, Bortles has thrown 11 interceptions that were returned for touchdowns. Not just interceptions, but pick-sixes. The Jets defense need one of those in the worst way. Bortles, the king of building his stats in the fourth quarter when the game is already decided, has been good this season, completing almost 60 percent of his passes for 592 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions. He’s also fumbled once. Bortles is probably coming off the best game of his career, when he threw for 244 yards and four touchdowns in a rout over the Ravens last week. But the week prior is the quarterback the Jets are hoping to see. In a loss to the Titans, Bortles threw two interceptions in a 21-point loss. The Jets defense must force a turnover or two or three, and getting a pick-six, however unlikely it is, would be all the better. If anyone can hand the Jets defense a pick-six, it just might be Blake Bortles.