What's Wrong With The Jaguars?

By Simon Carroll

The Jacksonville Jaguars head over to London for their annual trip across the pond this week. Unlike years before, this visit will last two games, not one. But like every season since they beat the Ravens back in 2017, they arrive in the UK with a losing record.

2023 was supposed to be different. After ending the previous season on a tear, the Jags not only snuck into the postseason – they won a playoff game as well. Optimism was high in preseason, with Trevor Lawrence’s progress and the addition of Calvin Ridley expected to take this offense to the next level. And yet, performance levels after three games have not been to the levels expected – by the fans or the team. As they prepare to correct things against the Atlanta Falcons, Simon Carroll looks at some of the reasons for the Jaguars’ sluggish start:

Performance Versus Expectation

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Perhaps the Jacksonville Jaguars just can’t have nice things. Since their inception in 1995, they have enjoyed just nine winning seasons, and have an all-time record of 189-261. Three of those winning seasons ended in defeats in the AFC Championship game – none more heartbreaking than the 24-20 robbery by the Patriots six years ago, when MYLES JACK WASN’T DOWN. On the back of that injustice, the Jags spent the next four seasons wallowing in self pity and poor leadership – Firstly Doug Marrone, and then the infamous tenure of Urban Meyer producing just 15 wins in those four years.

Doug Pederson came in last season, and despite a 3-7 start rallied this team after the bye week – going 6-1 to sneak into the playoffs. A stunning comeback win against the Chargers, followed by a plucky defeat to the Chiefs, had Duval County dreaming of what could be in 2023. Hopes were high once again – had these fans learned nothing through this franchise’s 28 year history?!

The offseason brought more hype. Calvin Ridley officially joined the team last November, but fans got a glimpse of him in pads and memories of Jimmy Smith came flooding back. A big draft class added depth on both sides of the ball that previous regimes could only dream of. Did Trevor have a legitimate offensive line to work behind? Could the two-headed monster of Travis Etienne and Tank Bigsby run all over the NFL? And would the defensive line FINALLY get some pass rush? In an underwhelming AFC South, expectations of a division championship and deep postseason run were thrown around like popcorn after a Terrell Owens touchdown.

Overreaction, Or Reasons For Concern?

32 head coaches are happy with how their team looks in preseason; Player ‘x’ has taken the next step, player ‘y’ is in the best shape of his life – the usual tropes emanate freely from every football corner of the USA, long before a ball has been kicked or thrown in anger. In reality, nobody really knows how good a team is until they suit up and run into another team – and based on three games’ worth of evidence and a 1-2 record, the Jacksonville Jaguars aren’t as good as they thought they were.

But is that true? Can we judge a team after just 180 minutes of action? I hope not – I had grand dreams of heading to London this weekend and reporting back on the Super Bowl Champions elect – a franchise that really had the horses to challenge not just the AFC elite, but loft a Lombardi into the Las Vegas night sky next February. Call me a dreamer all you like, but there aren’t many teams in the NFL that can boast the offensive firepower that Pederson and offensive coordinator Press Taylor have at their disposal.

Regardless – the Jaguars have things to clean up if they are to be who we thought they were (to sloppily quote the late Dennis Green). Here’s what I’ll be looking for improvements in on Sunday:

Loosen Up On Offense

This offense, quite simply, is trying too hard. Cohesiveness is an obvious concern, and trying to determine if it’s because Press Taylor has taken over playcalling duties from Doug Pederson is problematic. Taylor hopped in and out of calling plays last season, and it wasn’t a problem. What’s changed?

Well, personnel for one. Trevor Lawrence will now be comfortable with Christian Kirk and Zay Jones. But Jones has been out the last two weeks and might miss Sunday’s game too. Calvin Ridley has become the focal point of the passing game, and suffered from some uncharacteristic drops against the Texans.

Lawrence, anointed as the next best thing since Andrew Luck, should have the ability to work through some of these connection issues, but it might take more than three games. Ridley will no doubt want to have a MONSTER game at Wembley against his former employers – keeping him loose might be easier said than done. The Falcons have the 4th best pass defense in the league through 3 weeks – this game will not be the cupcake predicted before the season started.

O-Line Maturity

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Doug Pederson noted his offensive line was ‘okay – not great’ in his Monday presser. Particular attention was paid to rookie Anton Harrison (RT) and Ben Bartch (LG) – with the Jaguars head coach acknowledging they will get better as they work through more reps. Up against an anemic Falcons pass rush (and former Jaguar Calais Campbell), the first leg of the London trip represents an opportunity to keep the backfield clean and build confidence amongst the unit.

As with most teams, the Jaguars will be determined to establish a run game this weekend and take the pressure off their passing attack. With Travis Etienne and Tank Bigsby in the backfield, the onus is on this O-Line to create holes and let them work. It might not be the explosive offense that Jags fans expect, but that comes after you show you can dominate on the ground. If they can run the ball and avoid Lawrence really challenging this talented Falcons secondary, then it’s half the battle won.

Getting Some PUSH

Finally – and this has been a bugbear of this Jaguars defense for years – it’s time for the pass rush to make its mark. Two years ago, Josh Allen had one of his best performances in the teal and black in London, helping the Jags beat the Dolphins at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. This team has thrown first round pick after first round pick at the edge rusher position – K’Lavon Chaisson, Allen, and first overall selection Travon Walker from 2022 – and the results do not match the outlay. Not even close. Walker in particular has a lot to prove considering Baalke selected him over Aidan Hutchinson; The Lions hitman has nearly three times as many sacks in his short career as Walker does. Desmond Ridder has been underwhelming through three starts this year, so putting him under pressure is a priority.

That said, the Falcons live and die running the football. They will ride Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier all game. Far from pinning their ears back, this defensive line will have to remain disciplined in their assault on the backfield, or they will pay the consequences. A tricky assignment, but there’s no more excuses – big plays change games, and the Jaguars need some of them.

It might feel a little dramatic to say, but the next two weeks at their home away from home look set to define the Jacksonville Jaguars’ season. The underachiever tag has hung from their necks far too long – if the Jags are legit, it’s time to prove it.

Feature Image Credit: Cooper Neill/Getty Images

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