JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – We usually give you four takeaways after a Jaguars game, but since Saturday night’s win over the Titans clinched the AFC South and a spot in the playoffs, let’s change it up with four takeaways from the regular season since there is more work to do.
Big picture assessment
Before we dive into the details, let’s take a step back and consider what the Jaguars accomplished this season (so far). Compared to last year at this time, you couldn’t find a more dramatic change. As the 2021 season closed, Jaguars fans turned their social media avatars to clown faces. They wore rainbow wigs and red foam noses to TIAA Bank Field to demonstrate their displeasure with the Jaguars organization.
Then, with one decision (and around $260 million in free agent spending), the Jaguars transformed from Urban Meyer’s circus ride to Doug Pederson’s Kings in the South. The new additions (we’ll get to them in a moment) blended with the existing players in the locker room and after a 2-6 start, won seven of their last nine games to cap an improbable turnaround from consecutive seasons with the worst record in the league to hosting a playoff game. Remarkable.
New faces make a difference
Let’s run down the key offseason signings by the Jaguars.
- Guard Brandon Scherff solidified the right guard position and provided veteran leadership on the line. He is playing through injuries at the tail end of the season and hasn’t been as stout, but the Jaguars’ line did not allow a sack in six games this season. That is commendable.
- Wide receivers Christian Kirk and Zay Jones both caught over 80 passes, becoming the first Jaguars tandem to do so since Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell. The Kirk signing was criticized around the league at the time of the move. Not now. He also surpassed 1,100 yards receiving and both were leaders in the locker room.
- Tight end Evan Engram enjoyed a career year. His 73 receptions and 766 yards were both career highs Engram bet on himself with a one-year contract and now he’ll likely get a large multi-year offer from the Jaguars. Engram says he wants to stay here. He created matchup problems all across the field. He was a difference-maker.
The three new pass catchers all reaped personal rewards for their seasons:
#Jaguars WR Christian Kirk added $1.5M for surpassing 80 catches & 1,110. yards this season. A once eyepopping free agent contract now holds plenty of value moving forward.— Spotrac (@spotrac) January 8, 2023
Teammate Zay Jones earned a $250k bonus for 80+ catches, while TE Evan Engram added $200k for 700+ yards.
- Defensive linemen Foley Fatukasi and Arden Key played key roles for the Jaguars. Fatukasi was solid if not spectacular on the line when healthy. Key added 4.5 sacks, the second-best season of his career. Key told me after the win over the Titans that it came down to signing with Kansas City or Jacksonville and that he thought he could be a part of a big story with the Jaguars. He was right.
- Linebacker Foye Oluokun came from Atlanta where he led the NFL in tackles. All he did in Jacksonville was lead the NFL in tackles again. He also served as the quarterback of the defense that often included three rookies in the front seven along with Oluokun. He wore the captain’s patch all year and deserved to.
- Cornerback Darious Williams started the year as the nickel back but when Shaq Griffin left with an injury, Williams was moved outside. Without him, who knows if the Jaguars make the playoffs? Williams made key pass breakups against the Titans, Cowboys, Jets (twice) and again against the Titans in Week 18 to help the Jaguars win. The Creekside alum was well worth the investment.
That’s a pretty darned good return on investment, regardless of how much salary cap room the Jaguars had to work with.
What needs to improve?
In the last three games of the regular season, the Jaguars’ offense wasn’t as explosive as it showed in November and early December. The Jaguars scored 19 points on a rainy, windy night in New York against the Jets, then scored just one touchdown against the Titans. In between, they scored two offensive touchdowns in the first half before against the Texans before some starters began to be pulled.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how you win in the playoffs, but it’s likely going to take more than one touchdown by Trevor Lawrence and company to win in the playoffs.
Some of that improvement must come from the interior offensive line. The Jaguars didn’t get much push in the running game against the Titans and most of the pressure on Lawrence came from up the middle. Tennessee’s defensive front is more physical than most, but the Jaguars will want to see better play from the line going forward.
As a result of the Ravens’ loss to the Bengals, the Jaguars will host the Los Angeles Chargers in the wild-card round. The Jaguars beat the Chargers in Week 3 in Los Angeles. In that game, James Robinson ran for 100 yards. He’s no longer on the roster, so it will be up to Travis Etienne to fill the gap.
Lawrence also enjoyed a big game, completing 28 of 39 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns. The game will feature two of the best young quarterbacks in the league in Lawrence and Justin Herbert. Herbert had another big year throwing for over 4,500 yards. It will be the fifth home playoff game in franchise history.