The New York Jets host the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday in a matchup of two of the worst teams in the NFL. This game features the #1 and #2 overall picks in the 2021 NFL draft in Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson. Both have struggled mightily in their rookie seasons. Previewing this matchup, Ryan O’Bleness of Big Cat Country was kind enough to answer a few questions about the Jaguars and help break down Sunday’s matchup. Many thanks to Ryan for taking the time to provide his insights.
1. For every team without a superstar quarterback, the eternal question is, can our current guy become a top quarterback in the NFL? What do you think about Trevor Lawrence? Are you optimistic he will be a long term answer at the position? Are you seeing anything that raises serious concerns?
Ryan: To be honest, Lawrence has really struggled this season, and has not lived up to his draft hype thus far. However, given the failures of his coaching staff, the complete lack of talent surrounding him and poor execution from the team as a whole, it’s not really fair to evaluate Lawrence in these conditions. He went into a situation with a dormant franchise that was set up for failure from the get-go, and his head coach was just fired, but hopefully he is the reason — or one of the reasons — why Jacksonville eventually turns things around.
Lawrence has certainly flashed his potential and showed off all of the coveted traits he was so well-known for in college. He can make plays with his feet, throws on the run well, has made some pretty eye-opening throws at times, is a leader even as a rookie for the team and has a calm and focused demeanor, among other things. But too much falls on his shoulders in Jacksonville’s offense. Lawrence tries to do too much, but he is not yet the kind of player who can carry a team himself. He needs help. His wide receivers can’t get separation, and when they do, drops have been an issue. Running back James Robinson is the only real play-maker on the offense, and he’s been banged up for most of the season. The Jaguars have suffered from injuries across multiple positions. The defense allows way too many points (28.6 points per game, 28th in the NFL) and the offense scores way too few points to keep up (last in the NFL at 14 points per game). The Jaguars may be the worst team in the league.
All in all, Lawrence has had a disappointing rookie season, to put it mildly. Many, including myself, expected to be further along by this point in the season. He has not thrown a touchdown pass in the past three games, and has just one touchdown pass in the past seven games, and just nine total touchdown passes on the season, compared to 14 interceptions. He’s completing just 58.1 percent of his passes and averaging a mere 210.4 passing yards per game. Some of that is on Lawrence himself, most of it is on Urban Meyer and the coaching staff for failing to develop him properly and failing to call plays to his strengths during games, and some of it is on his teammates for not helping him in any meaningful way on game days. Lawrence can’t do it alone.
Lawrence is still fixable. I still believe he is the team’s future, and so do most Jaguars fans as far as I can tell. He still has all the traits and potential in the world to one day be an All-Pro level quarterback, but it will depend on who the next head coach is, who the head coach hires as assistants to develop Lawrence and if the team can surround Lawrence with talented play-makers.
2. The Jaguars recently fired head coach Urban Meyer. Was that the right move? Who do you think the Jaguars should consider hiring at head coach for next season?
Ryan: I am usually of the line of thinking that firing a coach during the season doesn’t really do any good for anybody involved — it’s a distraction and big change for the team and given this team’s lack of talent, I’m not sure any coach would have been successful in Jacksonville in 2021. I was probably a little more patient with Meyer than most Jaguars fans, and for a while, I did expect Meyer to return in 2022. But, with that said, yes I will say it was absolutely the right decision to part ways with Meyer.
He was a distraction off the field and a disaster on the field, and the Meyer experiment was a complete and total failure. I think it was the right move to cut ties now. There were reports that he berated his assistant coaches and asked them to defend their resumes, yet, during games, Meyer often didn’t have answers to why certain players and personnel packages were or were not in the game in key situations, saying he didn’t want to “micro-manage,” which is kind of his job to make the final decision on things as head coach. There were multiple games of the same instance. There were other reports that he treated professional athletes like they were college students and that the players didn’t respect him. Whether that was true or not, I am unsure.
There were several other instances with Meyer — the viral video of Meyer and a woman acting inappropriately in his bar in Ohio; the fact that he hired Chris Doyle as director of sports performance after Doyle was fired from Iowa after being accused of racist behavior and bullying (Doyle immediately resigned); that he did nothing to help Lawrence’s development; and the news that most recently came to light before Meyer was fired, that he physically kicked former Jaguars kicker Josh Lambo during practice. There are other examples, too. Meyer’s short tenure in Jacksonville will forever live in infamy for its failure and many odd storylines.
Honestly, there are many different ways the Jaguars could go to hire as the next head coach. I don’t yet know who it will be, or really if I have a personal favorite at this point, but I think it would be great to bring current Buccaneers offensive coordinator, and former Jaguars quarterback, Byron Leftwich back to Jacksonville. Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy or Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll would also be intriguing hires. However, the issue with any of those four is that they have no head coaching experience, and I’m not sure owner Shad Khan would go that route again after the Meyer experiment went so poorly. So, if Khan is looking for guys with previous NFL head coaching experience, Doug Pederson, Jim Caldwell or Josh McDaniels all come to mind.
3. People always want to talk about the quarterback, for obvious reasons, but what about the rest of the roster. What are the strengths of this roster? What are the weaknesses? Best guess as to how long until the Jaguars are back in the playoffs?
Ryan: It’s hard to really call any position a strength on this roster. I do think the offensive line is solid, and better than a lot of Jaguars fans give it credit for. Jacksonville has dealt with some injuries there throughout the year, and has had ups and downs with the unit, but according to Football Outsiders, ranks 10th in the NFL in adjusted line yards, 13th in stuffed rate and 16th in power success rate. The Jaguars also rank sixth in the NFL at 4.6 yards per rush. In pass protection, the Jaguars have allowed 28 sacks this season, which is the 12th best total in the league, and Jacksonville’s 5.7 percent adjusted sack rate ranks 10th in the NFL, per Football Outsiders. Defensively, the Jaguars are fairly strong against the run, which I’ll get more into in the next question.
The weaknesses are all over the roster: wide receiver, pass rush, secondary, overall depth of the team, etc. Certain players such as Trevor Lawrence, James Robinson, Jamal Agnew (before he was injured and lost for the season), Josh Allen, Myles Jack, Shaquill Griffin, Tyson Campbell and others have certainly flashed their potential and had their shining moments, but nobody on the team is doing it consistently. When you look at the roster as a whole, it isn’t too surprising that this is a two-win team right now.
The Jaguars are a long way off from the playoffs. There will obviously be changes to the coaching staff in 2022, but there also needs to be a lot of changes to the roster itself, as it needs a serious infusion of talent. I’m guessing it will be at least another two years before Jacksonville is even competitive again, and at least three years or so before we see the Jags back in the playoffs. Then again, the Jaguars went from 3-13 in 2016 to 10-6, and later made a run to the AFC Championship, in 2017. So quick turnarounds aren’t impossible, but aren’t likely in this scenario.
4. If you were coaching an opposing team, how would you attack the Jaguars on offense and on defense?
Ryan: Defensively for the Jets, it’s pretty simple: take away James Robinson and the rushing game, pressure Trevor Lawrence and force him to throw before he is ready and force him to throw into tight windows. The Jaguars will probably make their own mistakes with penalties, dropped passes and overall poor execution, but the Jets shouldn’t let Lawrence get in a rhythm or get comfortable. Neutralizing the running game and forcing the wide receivers to create separation (something they’ve struggled with), and forcing Lawrence to beat you through the air, will be key.
On offense, for the Jets, control the clock and make the defense get tired. In the passing game, keep pressure off of Zach Wilson and attack the open spots in the zone. The Jaguars will show multiple looks and mix up some zone looks with some man-to-man looks, but have seemingly been playing more zone concepts as of late to better fit the personnel. As mentioned, the Jaguars are actually solid against the run, ranking fourth in the NFL in yards per carry allowed (3.9) and 17th in rushing yards allowed per game (112.8). If the Jaguars shut down New York’s rushing game, Wilson needs to take care of the football and build confidence, so I would call some quick throws for easy completions to take pressure off, and then take shots down the field after the defense starts creeping up, but limit the gambles.
5. Who are the guys Jaguars fans may know about but outside fans might not be too familiar with that might have a big impact on the game on Sunday? If possible, tell us about one guy on offense and one on defense.
Ryan: Offensively, as I mentioned, the Jaguars lack playmakers, but tight end James O’Shaughnessy has recorded four receptions in back-to-back games, catching eight passes for 81 yards the last two weeks. He could be somebody Lawrence looks for often on Sunday, even if he isn’t a household name. With that said, the Jaguars designated fellow tight end Dan Arnold to return from injured reserve this week. It’s unclear if Arnold will be active for Sunday’s game against the Jets, but if so, he will likely take back over the No. 1 tight end spot, and was one of Lawrence’s favorite targets prior to the injury.
Defensively, I briefly mentioned rookie cornerback Tyson Campbell above, but he has been playing really well as of late. The second-round pick out of Georgia had some struggles early on and missed a couple of games with injuries, but he locked up a starting spot as an outside cornerback almost immediately and has had a strong stretch over the past several games. According to Pro Football Focus, Campbell has allowed less than 35 yards in coverage in six straight weeks, which is incredibly impressive for any cornerback, let alone a rookie.