JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The wins are nice. They haven’t come often enough for the Jaguars. But can they keep on coming as the stakes increase?
That’s the message Doug Pederson keeps stressing as the Jaguars segue from NFL bottom feeders to the upper tier of the league this year.
The Jaguars (2-1) are one of the league’s best stories.
They just shed an 18-game road losing streak Sunday in a blowout of the Chargers. Their defense has been sensational. In its last two games, Jacksonville has outscored its opponents 62-10. For a team that has been a running joke for years for its performances on the field the personnel moves off it (Urban Meyer, trading Jalen Ramsey, drafting CJ Henderson, Taven Bryan and more) the positive turnaround has been a long time in the making.
Whatever the Jaguars and Pederson are doing, it’s working. And it needs to keep working as the season heads into October with the stakes getting higher.
“Obviously it is heading in the right direction because these last two victories. But it’s not so much how you begin the season, it’s how you finish and so we have to make sure that [we continue this level of play],” Pederson said Monday.
“There’s going to be dips in the year. Again, it’s a lot of ball ahead of you and then there’s going to be dips, but it’s how you manage those. Again, you want to be playing your best football not necessarily now, but in December and January and hopefully through the post season.”
Jacksonville heads to Philadelphia in Week 4 to face Pederson’s former team, the Eagles (3-0). Had anyone forecast this to be a matchup of division leaders when schedules were announced would have been scoffed at.
But Jalen Hurts has Philadelphia on a tear and atop the NFC East. The Jaguars will try and cool him off with a defense that has been relentless at the line of scrimmage.
“It’s a race to the quarterback each time. With Arden [Key] out there, with Travon [Walker], with Josh [Allen] it’s a race,” said defensive end Dawuane Smoot. “We’re just trying to get there as soon as we can because we know the next guy is going to be right behind us.”
Smoot had a sack of Justin Herbert on Sunday that forced a fumble. The Jaguars have seven sacks through three games, but the pressure is what’s causing so many problems for teams. The team has picked off six passes, most of those set up by pushing the pocket backwards.
“We are [feeling good], obviously the way we’ve won, the way the guys have come together to win, we’re healthy, relatively healthy as a football team. [There’s] still a lot of football ahead of us.” Pederson said. “You never look past the current week you’re in, the current situation you’re in, but I’ve been pleased with the direction, the leadership of the team, and where we are as a football team right now.”
Pederson said the changes across the board began in the offseason and carried over. When the Jaguars struggled to close out Washington in the season opener, the coaching staff found the issues, got in the classroom, showed the players and fixed them.
“Yeah, because you learn so much from losses, failures, not only in the game of football but in life. You learn from them, and you move on,” he said. “We’ve minimized penalties, we’ve created more turnovers, we’ve done better on third down, still have to fix the red zone a little bit, but I think overall you’re seeing the things that showed up in Week 1, we’ve been able to correct.”
The biggest of those changes have come in two areas — penalties and protection for quarterback Trevor Lawrence. The Commanders sacked him twice in the opener and kept him uncomfortable throughout the game. Lawrence hasn’t been sacked since. The Jaguars were called for 13 penalties for 90 yards against Washington. They’ve drawn just five (for 29 yards) since.
Lawrence has passed for 772 yards (13th in the league), six touchdowns and just one interception. He’s been sacked just twice, tied with Patrick Mahomes for the fewest in the league among quarterbacks who have played three games.
“Really, we’ve just been honing in on our time of possession, and I feel like we’ve been doing good with our time of possession these past two games,” said right tackle Jawaan Taylor. “We’re just trying to control the line of scrimmage, control the front four, whoever we’re going against, and I feel like we’ve been doing that pretty well.”