JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jaguars are looking for answers this season.
A hot start has given way to a tough reality for Jacksonville as it approaches the halfway mark of a disappointing season that is positioned to end with yet another very high draft pick. The Jaguars (2-6) are consistently inconsistent and searching for stability under coach Doug Pederson.
Yes, things are more stable across they board than when the Jaguars were 2-6 after eight games last year under Urban Meyer. Even if the arrow is pointed up under Pederson — metrics, chemistry and overall feel strongly suggest that — the wins have been elusive.
They enter Sunday’s home game against the Raiders (2-5) mired in a five-game losing streak that Pederson and players explain the same way after losses.
Inconsistency. And it’s come from all over the place.
One side of the ball plays well and the other doesn’t.
There’s a killer turnover at the wrong time or a defensive lapse in crunch time.
Pederson said that it’s a finite margin for players between staying focused and not trying to force things and do too much. His message to players has been a simple one — keep playing hard.
“That’s a challenge. You don’t want guys to press. You still want guys for the game to come to them and make plays that come their way. It’s part of my job to keep communicating that,” Pederson said.
“Creating opportunities that show up in the game and just being able to handle those, making those plays that come their way. Don’t go searching for stuff. There’s a lot of plays in a football game and just understanding that when they come to you, it’s your job to make them.”
A big reason for the disappointment has been second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s struggles. Lawrence looked like he’d turned a corner in the first month of the season. He’s regressed since then, especially in the red zone. Lawrence has thrown two horrendous end zone interceptions (Texans and Broncos) in games that the Jaguars lost by a combined 11 points.
“It’s part of the job. No matter who you are, you’re going to face criticism, especially when you don’t feel like you’re not playing your best. That’s just kind of where we’re at right now. I don’t feel like I’ve played my best the past couple weeks. From my standpoint, it’s just, every week trying to put the best plan together and prepare the best, so I can go play my best on Sunday. That doesn’t change this week no matter what the criticism is, good or bad. When we’re playing well, I’m going to get too much credit, and when we’re not playing well, we’re losing some games, sometimes I get too much blame. Sometimes though, it’s warranted. I know I haven’t played my best.
Against the Raiders, the Jaguars face a team struggling in its own right. Vegas has two wins, victories over the Broncos and Texans, teams that have beaten the Jaguars. They’re coming off a 24-0 loss to the Saints in Week 8.
Those struggles are intriguing because of the talent on Vegas. Derek Carr is one of the league’s better quarterbacks and he’s throwing to Davante Adams, a top 10 receiver. Add in running back Josh Jacobs and tight end Darren Waller and Vegas has the pieces in place to be far better than it is.
“All three of them are great players. A lot of production in the league, then throw in Derek Carr,” Pederson said. “It can stress a defense because you’ve got to think about resources on defense, where are you going to put them? Who are you going to try to take away? It’s a challenge defensively. It’s something I know our guys are ready for.”
Like the Jaguars, closing games out has been an issue. Vegas has four losses by six points or less. All six of Jacksonville’s losses have come by eight points or less.
Pederson said that even at 2-6 and dealing for suspended receiver Calvin Ridley (he won’t be eligible to play until next season at the earliest), no one has given up on competing this season.
“No, I really don’t [think anyone has started looking ahead to 2023]. There’s nine games left. There’s a lot of football. Anything is possible here in the second half of the season,” Pederson said.
“We’re just about halfway. We’re obviously not where we thought we would be and probably could be a little bit different here and there, but these guys are still practicing hard, they’re playing hard. We just need an opportunity for the ball to bounce our way and get that first one. A lot of opportunities we’re still focused on this week and this season, trying to get things turned around.”