First things first: Jags must fix first down

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars want to run an up-tempo offense. They want to gain some momentum, get off a bunch of plays and have the defense scrambling around.

But to do that, they’ve got to be better on first down.

It was an issue in the season-opening loss to Kansas City, and it was nearly as bad on Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. The Jaguars gained 3 yards or fewer on 11 of their 23 first-down plays (not including a spike to stop the clock) and averaged just 3.7 yards on first down in the 19-9 loss.

"If we want to be a tempo offense, it’s important for us to keep the ball rolling just to call the plays we want to play," guard Will Rackley said.

The Jaguars gained just 86 yards and had four negative plays on first down, including a 9-yard loss on an end around by receiver Stephen Burton. It started early, too. The Jaguars’ first offensive snap was a carry by Maurice Jones-Drew that went for a 1-yard loss.

Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said earlier in the week that being productive on first down -- which roughly equates to getting at least 5 yards -- is the only way for the up-tempo offense to work. He said the Jaguars had 51 snaps against the Chiefs in which they had 10 or more yards to go for a first down. Gaining 426 yards in two games is a direct result of struggling on first down.

"It still all comes down to first down to get our offense going," receiver Ace Sanders said. "That’s all it really was. Once we get those positive plays we’ll be able to do whatever we want to do on any defense anybody shows us. We’ll be able to do what we want to do. We’ll be able to control the game and its tempo."

It’s no coincidence that two of the Jaguars’ best gains on first down -- passes of 17 and 22 yards -- came on the team’s only first-half scoring drive.

"We dwell on that a lot," Sanders said. "We talk about it a lot in meetings. That’s the down we’re trying to get better on. In order to get our offense going we need to get positive yardage on first down. We’ll just keep drilling that and keep drilling that until it starts happening."

The loss of five starters because of injury or suspension -- quarterback Blaine Gabbert, receivers Justin Blackmon and Mike Brown, tight end Marcedes Lewis and running back Maurice Jones-Drew -- certainly has an effect on what the offense does on first down. But coach Gus Bradley won’t use that as an excuse.

"We can’t afford to go there and I don’t want our guys to go there," he said. "We’re all professionals. We’re all in the NFL, and because of that then we’re held to a high standard. We have to execute at that high standard."