The Jaguars are across the pond and in dire need of a win.
Not a moral victory. They’ve had several of those already this season. Jacksonville needs a win, win.
The four-game losing streak the Jaguars (2-5) are currently mired in has knocked them from the top spot in the AFC South and put them back in the high draft pick conversation. They face the similarly struggling Broncos (2-5) on Sunday morning at Wembley Stadium in London (9:30 a.m.), a game that will be televised on WJXT Channel 4.
The Jaguars are 4-4 all-time in London games.
The last time Jacksonville was in London, Urban Meyer was in charge and the Jaguars lugged a 20-game losing streak there. Doug Pederson was tasked with cleaning up the Meyer mess and rebuilding a franchise beset by poor performance on the field and drama off it. No doubt that Pederson has helped shore up the locker room and regained the trust of players. The product on the is better, too, but the victories still haven’t been consistent enough.
“Coach has been really good just from the way he leads. I think obviously there was an interesting dynamic after last season going into the offseason, a lot of uncertainty with players, coaches, staff, everything coming into OTAs,” said quarterback Trevor Lawrence. “The way he was able to just kind of smooth everything over, came in, really gained the guys’ trust.”
Pederson and the Jaguars are still struggling to find ways to finish games, an issue that has plagued the franchise for years. They had the solid start, including a shutout of the Colts and a 38-10 romp at the Chargers.
Things have spiraled from there.
The Jaguars have been in every game this season. Take away the five-turnover game in terrible conditions against the Eagles and Jacksonville could realistically be 6-1 at this point. But the defense let them down in games against the Commanders and Colts. And Lawrence couldn’t orchestrate final drive wins against the Giants or Texans.
As simple as it sounds, the Jaguars just haven’t been able to stack the offense and defense together when they’ve needed to. Lawrence has been excellent in the final minutes against the Colts and Giants, only to have the defense fail to get a crucial stop. When the defense has played well (a 13-6 game against Houston) Lawrence and the offense have been anemic.
There are flickers of bright spots.
Running back Travis Etienne has emerged as the player who the franchise had in mind when they took him in the first round last year. Etienne missed his rookie season with a Lisfranc injury, but has become the No. 1 back the Jaguars envisioned. He rushed for a career-high 114 yards and a touchdown in last week’s 23-17 loss to the Giants. Etienne’s growth made James Robinson expendable. The team surprisingly dealt him to the Jets for a conditional sixth-round pick earlier in the week.
“You look at the way Travis has been playing, I think he’s up for the challenge,” Lawrence said. “So, we’ll have to do a good job managing that. I think he’ll do a really good job taking care of himself.”
Even though the wins have been elusive, Lawrence has also shown growth.
Lawrence has not played well during crunch time of games during his NFL career. The last two weeks have been a step forward for Lawrence in an area that he’s lagged in.
That’s a positive.
“You’re always learning something. There’s so many clips, even just from this last game, some stuff that I could’ve done differently, we could’ve done differently as an offense at the end of that game that we’re looking at,” Lawrence said. “Obviously, you’re frustrated you didn’t get it done, but there are so many things from tape, some things in this game, too, that it’s a lot easier to learn from it when you experience it.”
Lawrence’s first NFL win came last season in London, a 23-20 win over Miami that helped Jacksonville shed a 20-game losing streak. That final drive by Lawrence had been his signature NFL moment entering this season. With time running out, he had two quick passes to Laviska Shenault, the final one a play Lawrence timed perfectly to get the Jaguars in field position for the game-winning field goal.
“Trevor is another one that is learning our system, growing in our system. He’s got that growth mentality,” Pederson said. “He wants to get better every time he takes the field. I think these last couple weeks he’s kind of proven that. He’s a great leader in the locker room, on the field. A great communicator with us as a staff, and he really has embraced, I think, just new staff.”
Jacksonville’s defensive struggles have popped up again.
Sacks and takeaways have vanished. Quarterback pressures just aren’t getting there. After sacking Matt Ryan five times in Week 2, Jaguars rookie Travon Walker said the team was ready for an encore against a sitting duck in the pocket. Ryan wasn’t sacked and passed for nearly 400 yards in a 34-27 win.
The Jaguars have eight takeaways this season, but none in the last three games. Sacks came in waves to start the season (nine in the first four games) but the Jaguars have notched just two since then.
“I think it’s frustration amongst the group. We got to the quarterback early on in the season, and we haven’t been getting to the quarterback now. We just have to understand that it will come,” said defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell. “Just continue to trust what you’re doing. Go out to practice every day and work on your craft and the pressure will come.”