Jaguars trying to balance winning now with an eye to the future

Team is 3-7 and lacking consistency at bye week of Doug Pederson’s 1st season

Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson watches from the sidelines during the first half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) (Charlie Riedel, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It’s a bit past the halfway mark of Doug Pederson’s first year in Jacksonville.

There have been positives. There have been many negatives. There hasn’t been a lot of consistency.

The Jaguars are 3-7 and have dropped six of their last seven games after a 27-17 loss on Sunday against Kansas City. They are likely to be picking inside the top 10 of the draft for the 11th time in Shad Khan’s 12-year tenure as owner next April.

Barring a blistering finish over the next seven games, the Jaguars are building for the future. That’s evident in moves like a deadline deal for suspended receiver Calvin Ridley and more playing time for rookies like Buster Brown and Chad Muma.

“If we were 7-3, maybe it’s a different story,” Pederson said of balancing a win-now and a play-for-the-future mindset. “We’re 3-7 and we’re still trying to figure out some pieces and who can play and all of that and this is a great opportunity for those guys to get time, right.”

Jacksonville couldn’t build off its win over the Raiders in Week 9 against Kansas City. Even in a best-case scenario, that wasn’t a game on the schedule that the Jaguars would have been favored to win. But the frustrating part — like so many other games this year — was that Jacksonville was very much in it late in the second half.

Mistakes doomed the Jaguars, something that has been a theme of many Pederson press conferences this season. Jacksonville had three takeaways and also recovered an onside kick to start the game, yet managed just one touchdown off all of those.

Two of those mistakes Sunday came in the kicking game, a spot that has plagued the Jaguars since Josh Lambo’s post-injury slide in 2020. Riley Patterson had two brutal misses against the Chiefs, including a 41-yard shot wide left at the end of the first half that would have trimmed the deficit to 20-10 and given the Jaguars significant momentum going into the break.

Pederson said that despite those struggles by Patterson, there were no plans to bring in someone to replace him during the bye week.

“Those are missed opportunities that we just got to have, especially against good teams,” Pederson said. “You got to hit those balls through the uprights, and he knows that, he understands that. But no competition right now.”

The Jaguars have been in every game this season.

What they haven’t found out in that span is how to navigate those ebbs and flows more consistently. Pederson said that he planned on bringing some of the younger players in during the bye week to go over the first part of the season and to “reteach” and help them “relearn” some things.

“We’ve got to do better as an offense. We got to do better when given the opportunity. Whether it’s three or seven [points],” Pederson said. “… Those are again, those are opportunities that that we missed. And when you’re playing teams like the Chiefs, you can’t miss those opportunities.”

Pederson was talking specifically about the Kansas City game but missed opportunities could be the mantra for Jacksonville at the 10-game mark. The chances have been there in all seven losses. The ability to close games out hasn’t though.

Reasons for optimism are easy to spot.

Travis Etienne has developed into a legitimate No. 1 running back, on a track to be the team’s best since Maurice Jones-Drew. And Trevor Lawrence enters the bye week with two of his best games of the season. Etienne and Lawrence are at the forefront of what Jacksonville sees as its offense of the future.

“Yeah, I think “get it” is part of it,” Pederson said of Lawrence. “I think he’s understanding our system better. We’re recycling plays a little bit more, so the verbiage and everything is sort of easier to spit out in the huddle than Week 1 or even in training camp. All of that really helps him in his growth and really his development, and it’s all starting to come together for him.”

With 10 games of NFL experience for younger players, Pederson said the bye week is the perfect opportunity to reconvene with players during a calmer time.

The rookie class has been hot and cold.

First-round picks Travon Walker and Devin Lloyd started fast but have tapered off. Rookie center Luke Fortner has started all 10 games and been solid. Fifth-round running back Snoop Conner has yet to record a carry. On Sunday, fourth-round linebacker Muma had his most substantial playing time of the season, and in front of Lloyd.

Walker has 36 tackles, 2.5 sacks and an interception. Lloyd has 72 tackles, a pair of interceptions and two fumble recoveries, including one against the Chiefs. Pederson said the team wanted to get Muma some more reps before the bye week and it happened to come against Kansas City.

“In Devin’s case, too, just coming out of the game and seeing it from the sidelines, seeing a little different perspective and allowing Chad to get valuable reps. It’s a lot like Buster [Brown] playing and getting valuable reps at corner.”

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.