By Jeff Moeller
JACKSONVILLE (Florida Sports Wire) – When the Jaguars take the field Sunday, it will be two weeks until they last played.
We’ll see if it was two weeks too long when they host Baltimore Sunday at TIAA Field. They last met the Chiefs in Kansas City on Oct. 13 and managed to stay with them in the opening half before Patrick Mahomes again did his magic in a 27-17 Chiefs’ victory.
It was another one of their seven losses in which they couldn’t finish.
If the Jaguars truly have begun to turn the corner, they should be in a tight game with Baltimore.
We’ll see what they have been working on for the past two weeks. Keep it close.
This will be a true test of where they are against a team that is generally underrated. It will also come down to putting the clamps on another instantaneous game changer. And they have to be ready against a Baltimore team that many have overlooked.
The resurgence of Mahomes and the Chiefs and the Bills’ latest Thanksgiving Day win have shifted the focus of the AFC back on them. There’s also the quiet rise of Bill Belichick and his Patriots, who have shown they can be there, and also the rise of Tua and the Dolphins to the South.
But these 7-3 Ravens have the league’s longest win streak at four and have won five of their last six.
After trying to corral Mahomes, the Jags’ defense now has to stop another one-man show in Lamar Jackson, who has primarily generated the league’s second-best rushing offense (162.1) per game.
He has rushed for 699 yards for a 6.7 clip per rush and thrown for 1,977 yards with 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Yet, he has fumbled four times.
Defensively, many also believe the Ravens’ unit has seen its better days. Still, the defense has the NFL-best streak of 12 games with at least one takeaway. It ranks second in total takeaways (19) and turnover margin (+9) through 11 weeks.
For the Jags, they have had a steady run defense all season long, one that once was as low as third in the league and currently is ranked 11th. The Jags have been consistently burned by their pass defense that is currently 24th.
The Jags have established a running game with the emergence of Travis Etienne, and it is now in his hands with the trade of James Robinson.
Trevor Lawrence has thrown for 2,998 yards with 13 touchdowns and six interceptions.
He is well on track to surpass last year’s yardage total of 3,641 yards when he threw 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. The improvement has been there.
The Jags now have a receiver complement for Lawrence with Christian Kirk, Marvin Jones, Evan Engram, and Zay Jones. Etienne also is surfacing as a pass-catching threat.
Rookie linebackers Devon Lloyd and Travis Walker have enhanced the defense with their play and fellow linebacker/edge rusher Foyesade Oluokun is having a Pro Bowl- type year with his 95 tackles.
At this point of the season with seven games to go, it is about winning or staying within striking range. Aside from the Kansas City defeat, the Jags’ previous four losses have been by eight or less points.
The wins may be few. If the Jags can stay close and contain Jackson Sunday, they may be able to pull the upset. They have to travel to Detroit next Sunday, and the Lions are suddenly playing the role of big-game hunters instead of being hunted.
From there, the Jags have two dates with Tennessee and a trip to Houston left in their divisional play along with a trip to the Jets and a home date with Dallas. You can figure out how they may do.
Sunday against the Ravens will be another test. The Jags are a better team, but they have to continue to prove themselves.
Avoid the blowouts and keep it close. That’s all we ask for at this point.
(Columnist Jeff Moeller covers the Jaguars, the NFL and other sports for SportDay and the Florida Sports Network.