Jaguars at the break: Can they clear the hurdle and reach the Super Bowl?

From left to right, Travis Etienne, Josh Allen, Doug Pederson, Trevor Lawrence, Darious Williams and Calvin Ridley. (George Varkanis and AP photo, News4JAX and AP)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jaguars are 6-2 and riding a five-game winning streak at the bye week. Jamal St. Cyr and Justin Barney take a look at the team at the halfway point of the season and answer some big questions.

Did you expect the Jaguars to be where they are right now?

JSC: Going into the year, I had them at 5-3. I didn’t expect the loss to the Texans but I also didn’t expect wins over the Bills and Colts in Week 6. The biggest surprise for me is how the Jaguars have been winning games. I expected the Jaguars offense to be rolling and carrying the team, but the defense has been setting the tone.

JB: No. I projected Jacksonville to be 5-3 at the bye week, en route to a 10-7 finish, so I was off a game. I didn’t think the Jaguars would go 2-0 in London. I had them losing the Bills game. So Jacksonville is a game better than I thought they’d be.

What has been the biggest surprise of the first half?

JSC: The offense! I mean what is going on? The Jaguars offense has flashed. But they haven’t been the dominant group that we expected. Things have been fine at times but they have been far from consistent or explosive. This is far from the expectations we had for them going into the year. There is still time for them to get things fixed but by far the biggest surprise for me is the lack of consistency on the offensive side of the ball.

JB: The defense. I expected the offense to have the type of season that the defense is having. The lack of a premier pass rushing threat was the biggest issue entering the season, but Jacksonville has found ways to improvise. The run defense has been in the conversation as the league’s best. The secondary has been excellent. The pass rush issue is still concerning but the Jaguars have found ways to get pressure on the quarterback and let the secondary make plays. Can that continue during the grind of the second half?

What about the offense?

JSC: The O-Line has been the issue. At times, there have been injuries and bad play. The trade for Ezra Cleveland should provide a bigger boost to the O-Line than most are giving it credit for. An O-Line can be like building a house of cards. If one card is out of place, the whole thing falls apart. Tyler Shatley helped hold the line together for a while now Cleveland should help take it to the next level. If the O-Line gets it figured out that should help set the offense free. That will solve some problems. The other problem has been some bad turnovers. That is a tougher problem to solve, but they are moving the ball. Erasing bad turnovers is an easier fix than trying to figure out how to jumpstart a dead offense. The Jaguars should be fine. If the offense jumpstarts in the second half of the year, Cleveland could be the reason why, even if he won’t get the credit for it. The O-Line never gets any credit.

JB: I’m more concerned about that side of the ball than I should be. The team has not put together a consistent four quarters of football in any game this season. Trevor Lawrence is playing well, better than he was through the first eight games last year. But the offense hasn’t truly clicked yet, be it injuries or availability issues. Perhaps things fall in line after the bye week when players like Walker Little and Zay Jones can get back in the lineup, but I’d be lying to say I’m not a touch concerned. I hoped for a bit more from Calvin Ridley than he’s produced (451 yards, 2 TDs). He’s on pace for less than 1,000 yards. Evan Engram has been a catch machine (51 for 434 yards) but he hasn’t found the end zone. I’m optimistic, maybe a little too much, that the offense as a whole will play better when its full cast is on the field.

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) works to escape the grasp of Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones (95) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack) (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

How will the second half of the season go?

JSC: The second half of the year is tough. The easy games are really easy but the difficult games are really difficult. The AFC South games are tough just because they are divisional and the Jaguars have a bad history with the Texans and Titans. If the Jaguars lose more than three games in the second half I would be surprised. Mark the Panthers, Bucs, Browns and Titans as wins. That leaves the 49ers, Titans, Texans, Bengals and Ravens up in the air. The real question is do the Jaguars have enough steam to lock up the No. 1 seed?

JB: I projected 10-7 initially, but the Jaguars are a game better than I expected through eight weeks. So, I’ll adjust accordingly and tick them up a game and say 11-6 with an AFC South title. I do think the offense clicks at some point in the second half when players like Zay Jones and Walker Little return.

Who are your first-half offensive and defensive MVPs?

JSC: These are easy. The defense is Mike Caldwell! Coach has not gotten nearly enough credit for the work he has done. The Jaguars are playing like an elite group with one pass rusher of note. The offense has not done them any favors with some of their turnovers. Caldwell is going to get some interviews this year for vacant head coaching positions. He is easily my first-half defensive MVP. On offense, I agree with Justin. Travis Etienne has been carrying the load. The touchdown streak has etched his name into Jaguars history. Etienne has been a huge part of the Jaguars 6-2 start.

JB: Easy on offense, Travis Etienne. On defense, I’d lean Josh Allen, with strong honorable mentions to Darious Williams and Foye Oluokun. First up with Etienne. He’s touching the ball at a freakishly high pace and delivering. He had five rushing touchdowns last year and has eight total TDs through eight games. He’s done that despite an offensive line that has been less than consistent week after week. And, Etienne is taking care of the football. He lost three fumbles last year and put it on the ground more than that. Defensively, Allen is on pace for the best sack total in franchise history. He’s got nine through eight games. The big thing with Allen has been his ability to be more disruptive and finish plays, the latter being something he’s struggled with in his career. Williams and Oluokun have been incredible in their own ways. They’ve been worth every dollar Jacksonville shelled out for them in free agency last year.

Josh Allen #41 of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Travon Walker #44 celebrate during the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium on October 29, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Jaguars beat the Steelers 20-10. (Photo by Lauren Leigh Bacho/Getty Images) (2023 Lauren Leigh Bacho)

What does it take for the Jaguars to go to the Super Bowl?

JSC: Before the season, my stipulation was that Josh Allen and Travon Walker both had double-digit sack seasons, then the Jaguars were packing their bags for Vegas. That could still happen. But I actually see a simpler route now. If the offense just plays up to their potential, the Jaguars will be in that game. The defense has shown what they are about. The offense hasn’t held up their end of the bargain consistently … yet. If the offense can be the dynamic group that we expected, then pack the bags. The talent is there, they just haven’t put it together yet. There is still time and that is all they need.

JB: Going to StubHub and buying a ticket. That’s how they get there. I think the ceiling for this Jacksonville team is the AFC title game. I think it’s going to take another solid offseason to get this roster where it needs to be for the Jaguars to be able to clear the hurdle of teams like the Chiefs in the playoffs. But I do think Jacksonville can get there before that open window begins to close.

About the Authors:

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

Jamal St. Cyr is an award-winning sports anchor who joined the News4Jax sports team in 2019.