JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Doug Pederson didn’t have to wait long to find the perfect word.
At 6-2, the Jaguars are riding a five-game winning streak and have a three-game lead in the AFC South. It’s tied for the second-best start in Jacksonville history, just behind a 7-1 open during the unforgettable 1999 season.
Unlike that 14-2 regular season and run to the AFC championship game, this year’s Jacksonville team has done things a bit differently.
The Jaguars have been very, very resilient. For a team that made a habit of navigating massive deficits (27-0 against the Chargers in the playoffs!) and engineering wild comebacks last year, Jacksonville has found a blueprint that works this season.
“Yeah, that’s a good word to use. A resilient group. It’s how you come back after a setback and how you respond,” Pederson said. “I’ll say this too, it’s different than a year ago. A year ago, we were playing from behind a lot, at least now it feels like we’re playing more now with a lead and the defense is keeping that lead or keeping the offense in the game, then the offense somewhere is going to be break out and score a touchdown.”
The 6-2 start has been an excellent encore for Pederson. In some ways, it feels a bit disappointing because of how close the Jaguars are to an unbeaten mark. In others, it’s a major accomplishment for a team that hasn’t played close to its best in any game this season.
The two losses are grating because of how they happened. The Jaguars played about as good of a defensive game as possible in a Week 2 showing against the Chiefs. They lost 17-9. The following week, Jacksonville was primed for a bounceback game against the young and rebuilding Texans. Houston annihilated the Jaguars 37-17.
“As a coach, looking at our schedule and looking at the season and how things started out is a little rough. But to be here at 6-2, I expected that. The guys expected that, I think that’s the confidence that the guys have in their ability,” Pederson said.
“We just stick to our process, we stick to each week is different and each game is different. It’s a just a credit to the players and how they work during the week. It’s that resiliency that you talk about, no matter what happens during the game, they’re going to find a way to win.”
The defense has largely been responsible for the massive shift this year. It has forced a league-high 17 turnovers, despite a secondary that was an afterthought in the preseason. The anemic pass rush that wasn’t addressed in the draft or free agency still looms large, but Jacksonville has been able to window dress a bit of that with an exceptional run defense and just enough pressure from its line. Edge Josh Allen, whose career-high 10.5 sacks came as a rookie, already has nine. While last year’s No. 1 pick Travon Walker still hasn’t become the dominant sack player Jacksonville expected, he’s matched his rookie total (3.5) just eight games in.
The offense has been the most disappointing aspect of the team, simply because of its inconsistency. How much of that has to do with the offensive line? Starting left tackle Cam Robinson missed the first four games due to a performance-enhancing drugs suspension. When he returned, Robinson’s replacement, Walker Little, left after just 11 snaps in Week 5. Factor in the ups and downs of rookie right tackle Anton Harrison and Jacksonville’s growing pains up front has been one of the biggest storylines of the first half.
Trevor Lawrence has been good, but he hasn’t necessarily taken a seismic step forward from Year 2 to 3. He’s been good, but, as many pundits like to say, not quite generational. The offense has room to grow and the most room to do so. Consider that Jacksonville’s offense hasn’t been a complete unit at all. After the bye week, the Jaguars should be in position to get receiver Zay Jones and Little back in the lineup.
With so much returning on the offensive side of the ball, Pederson thought the roles this year would have been flipped. The offense, on paper, should be leading the way.
“You would think so, with the weapons and the fire power [on offense],” he said.
That’s what makes Jacksonville’s fast start so much more fascinating, and sets the table for what should be one of the most exciting second halves in franchise history.