Four takeaways: Defense remains the story; where are the offensive TDs?

Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Arden Key, center, sacks Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mitch Trubisky, right, during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Saturday, Aug. 20, 2022, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough) (Gary McCullough, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jaguars lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 16-15 in the third, and most important preseason game. The Jaguars again struggled to find the end zone, a theme that has shown up in each of the preseason games this year. Here are my four biggest takeaways from the game:

The defense has been the story

Until the final drive of the first half, the Jaguars starting defense allowed only 73 yards and no points. They held the Steelers to eight yards rushing and only one third-down conversion. Then, on the last drive of the half, with rookie Kenny Pickett in at quarterback, Pittsburgh drove down the field, gaining 63 yards in less than a minute. Aside from that drive, the Jaguars defense was excellent, even with three of the anticipated starters (Shaq Griffin, Darious Williams and Devin Lloyd) on the sidelines, the defense played winning football. If they can keep it up when they face top quarterbacks during the season, the Jaguars will have a chance to contend.

Where are the touchdowns?

The Jaguars offense has struggled to find pay dirt in the preseason, regardless of whether it was Trevor Lawrence or someone else under center. The Jaguars didn’t score a touchdown with the first team on the field and didn’t cross the goal line until there was 12 minutes, 23 seconds left in the game and Lawrence was on the sidelines. Here’s how the Lawrence-led first-team offense has performed in the preseason: six drives, one touchdown, three field goals, one missed field goal, one turnover on downs. I’m not counting the end of half drive that was just a running play to get to halftime. The good news? No fumbles or interceptions. The bad news, not enough scoring. That has to change when the season begins.

Hello, Christian Kirk

Making his Jaguars preseason debut, Christian Kirk was targeted eight times in the first half, resulting in five catches for 54 yards. Five of the eight targets came on third down. He converted three of them. The Jaguars made Kirk the highest paid receiver in team history. He’ll be counted on to move the chains and to score touchdowns, something he has yet to do in a Jaguars uniform.

What’s next?

The Jaguars will officially break camp on Monday, then on Tuesday the second line of cuts from 85 to 80 are due. The team will head to Atlanta for combined practices with the Falcons on Wednesday and Thursday, and then face the Falcons on Saturday in the preseason finale. The final cuts are due Aug. 30 and then the regular season begins on Sept. 11 against the Washington Commanders.