With just one very important game left against the Titans, it looks like the Jaguars will most likely win the AFC South to make the postseason for the first time since 2017. This was very possible early in the season when they were 2-1. Nevertheless, things changed as the year went on.
Jaguars Recent Run
Jacksonville sits at 8-8 before the week 18 deciding matchup against Tennessee. I am quite surprised that they are even in this position. Before their week 11 bye, they were 3-7 in contention for a top 5 pick in the NFL Draft again. However, a 5-1 run has changed the course of their season. There were some convincing wins in this run. They beat Baltimore, Tennessee, and Dallas. A lot of this has to do with the team’s chemistry. Trevor Lawrence and his receivers just look like they are on the same page, most of the time. Like Christian Kirk for example. Kirk always finds a way to get into open space when the pocket collapses on Lawrence. Christian Kirk has been an amazing addition to this team with over 1000 yards and 7 touchdowns in his first year with the Jaguars.
The Offensive Development
Kirk is not the only good pass catcher on this team. Zay Jones and TE Evan Engram have also been amazing off-season additions, both hovering around 800 yards. These three guys are very reliable and always seem to help Trevor out when needed. Yes, even Evan Engram whose catch percentage has gone up 12.3% than his average with the Giants.
The offense in general is fun to watch when they are on. I wanna take a look at this 5-1 run they have had. Against Baltimore, a top 3 scoring defense, they put up 28 points in a 1-point victory. Trevor had 3 touchdowns while the running game could not do anything. In a 36-22 win over the Titans, Trevor had 4 total touchdowns in another very efficient game. Lastly, against Dallas, he had 4 touchdowns and 1 interception. This was his third 300-yard game of this run and Zay Jones had 109 yards and 3 scores. The last two weeks have been a different story, it has been Travis Etienne and the running backs on offense. The run game has run for over 145 yards in each game.
Travis Etienne is quite a story. First-round pick under Urban Meyer, gets hurt and misses his whole rookie year, new coaches come in, and nobody knows his role with James Robinson. Well, after Robinson was traded because Etienne looked great, he is now the star back for the Jaguars. Currently, he has over 1100 yards and looks to be the future with Trevor.
Doug Pederson and Trevor Lawrence
Although they have had their offensive inconsistencies, this unit is cohesive and can do some damage with Doug Pederson as their coach. Pre-snap motions, forcing mismatches, the west-coast style, and just finally feeling like a group rather than one guy trying to do it all have made them a much more efficient offense. The team ranks ninth in offensive DVOA, eighth in passing, and nineteenth in rushing. Compared to last year with Urban Meyer, those numbers drop down to twenty-seventh, and thirtieth, and rushing goes up a rank but is down 2.9%.
Trevor’s growth in year 2 has a lot to do with Pederson. This evolution reminds me of Peyton Manning, as both had very similar numbers in their rookie years and came back in big ways their second season in the league. While the Colts had a much better record, the development is similar. Not saying Trevor is going to be the Sheriff, there is just a similarity. Trevor so far has 3,901 24 passing touchdowns, 5 rushing, and 14 total turnovers. He also is PFF’s thirteenth-best passer with a grade of 72.9 and has the sixth lowest INT% at 1.4%. There is an argument that he has played like a top-10 QB this year if you ask the right people.
The Jaguars’ Defense
The Jaguars’ recent run is not only due to their offense. The defense has done its part to be a mostly average unit. They rank twelfth in points allowed, eleventh in rushing, and tied for fifth in turnover percentage. They do allow a ton of passing yards though, that is their biggest downfall. Even with the breakouts of players like Tyson Campbell and Rayshawn Jenkins in the secondary. Jenkins has been a very inconsistent safety for the team. At times he has looked amazing.
Campbell has been great all year with a PFF coverage grade of 79.3, seventh in the league. He is also a second-year player, picked 33rd overall in the 2021 NFL draft, and has come alive this season as one of the surprising breakout players on this Jaguars’ defense. The rest of the secondary has not been great. Shaquill Griffin has been out since October, Darious Williams has not played great, Jenkins is inconsistent as I said, and Andre Cisco has played fine at safety.
The great part of this defense is their run defense. Josh Allen is ranked as the best edge defender against the run, and Davon Hamilton and Ray Robertson-Harris have done their part on the inside of the line as well. Trayvon Walker has had a weird rookie season, but we cannot forget that he was drafted based on pure potential and athleticism so having an inconsistent rookie year is to be expected and next year he will be a lot better. Another rookie defender, Devin Lloyd, has been disappointing, He started the year off well but he hit the rookie wall mid-way through the season and has not been the same.
His partner, Foyesade Oluokun has played well though. He is decent enough in every aspect of being a linebacker, leading the league in tackles. Tackles can be a misleading stat but it is still worth noting. Having him on this defense has been good for them because it gives them someone who can make the tackle when needed, as his league-leading 67 stops among linebackers would suggest.
Overall this defense is not bad it basically just gets the job done and nothing else. They have made some big plays, like a game-winning OT pick-six, as well as creating a ton of turnovers.
Why are the Jaguars Scary?
You may be asking, the team is average on both sides of the ball and has a .500 record, how can they be scary in the playoffs? Well, there are a few simple answers to that. The first is that they are guaranteed a home playoff game, and we know how much home games matter in the playoffs. Teams fight to get the one seed so that they can be guaranteed to have the conference run through them. Favorable matchups for the offense are the biggest reasons though.
If the Jaguars play the Chargers…
As of right now, their wildcard matchup is against the Chargers in Jacksonville, a team they smacked down in week 3 38-10. The Chargers have always been inconsistent, as any Brandon Staley-coached team should be. They lose very winnable games and barely win some games that they should blow teams out of the park in, like Denver, Cleveland, and Arizona. This matchup is not that bad for Jacksonville, given that Etienne can have a field day against a team that allows 5.4 YPC, the worst in the league.
While they just got Joey Bosa back, he has never been a great run defender. The Chargers are definitely a scary team but this is a very winnable game for Doug Pederson and crew. The last time they played Trevor had 3 touchdowns and the running game did well. We also know the Chargers come up short in big moments the last couple of seasons so I would not be surprised if it happens again.
If the Jaguars play the Ravens…
There is also a chance they play Baltimore, who they just beat. Lamar will be healthy but there still is nobody to throw to besides Mark Andrews, Mark has not played great outside of 1 game in his past 9 games 4 with Lamar and 5 with Huntley. The Ravens’ defense has been pretty good, third in PA, third in rushing, but their passing defense is twenty-fourth. It is a tale of two different styles of football depending on who they play, ground and pound or air it out. Either way, I think Jacksonville gets a favorable matchup against either team. Their balance offense can go out there and play either of these teams with any game script.
If the Jaguars go to the Divisional Round…
I really like their chances to make it to the divisional round and scare the team they play then. Whether it is KC, Cinci, or Buffalo, they could put some fear into the hearts of their fans. Trevor Lawrence can keep it close. LA and Baltimore are not perfect teams by any metric, both have lost to the Jaguars this year. They have had their weaknesses exposed multiple times throughout the year, even in wins. Jacksonville can take them down with their home crowd cheering them on. It is not an outlandish idea.
The efficient, clean, cohesive group they have on offense is enough to win a playoff game and show fans why they should be excited for years to come. Trevor is here and will only continue to get better into next season and teams should be scared of that.