The Jaguars fell to 0-2 in the preseason at the hands of the Saints on Monday night. The final score of 23-21 doesn't illustrate how poorly the Jaguars played in the first half, when they trailed 17-3. Urban Meyer's patented speed still hasn't shown up on the football field for the Big Cats. Even though it's only the preseason, it's hard not to feel like the Jaguars missed a big opportunity to show just what they're made of in front of a national television audience on ESPN. Same old Jags?
The Jaguars' first-string offense hasn't exactly performed at a high level to this point. It's looked disjointed and, for the most part, has been unproductive. They were without three of five starters for this one on the offensive line. Center Brandon Linder (tendonitis), left guard Andrew Norwell (elbow), and left tackle Cam Robinson (ankle), were sidelined and it showed. The Jags' O-Line failed to create push in the run game and was pitiful in pass pro against the Saints' starters. More concerning, the right side of the offensive line, which featured starters AJ Cann and Jawaan Taylor, didn't perform any better than the left. The Jags may need to look into adding some talent to the roster on that side.
The wide receivers lack speed without DJ Chark, but if your offensive game plan is that reliant on one performer, who has proven to be inconsistent and injury prone, it's probably not the best game plan.
Still, first overall pick Tevor Lawrence showed more than enough positives to come away from this performance with some optimism. He finished the game of 14-23 for 113 yards and picked up a first down on third down with a nine-yard scamper. He wasn't able to lead the Jaguars on a touchdown drive, but he did move the ball a good bit while missing four starters around him on offense. Lawrence had flashes of brilliance. His first-down run showed his speed and toughness. He threw a dart to the right side on the run backed up in his end zone for a big first down early in the game. There were a few more "wow" plays from Lawrence. But he still doesn't look comfortable back there in the pocket. Could it be rookie nerves? Poor O-Line play? Both?
First-round pick running back Travis Etienne has yet to get anything going and could now miss extended time. He suffered a lisfranc injury, according to Ian Rapoport. X-rays came back negative, but the Jaguars are waiting for further tests to find out how long he's expected to be out.
On defense, the Jaguars were outfoxed by Saints' quarterback Jamies Winston and head coach Sean Payton. Winston was on time and on target during his short time in the game. He free-agentuez Callaway, who was covered by big-money free agent cornerback Shaq Griffin, for two spectacular touchdown grabs. When the Jaguars' blitzed the former first-rounder, Winston knew who to target. When the Jacksonville defense sat back, he looked comfortable working through his reads. Winston was ready for everything defensive coordinator Joe Cullen threw at him. He was nearly perfect.
Shaq Griffin's preseason performance to this point has left much to be desired, but his history of success and play on the practice field give reason to believe his play will improve.
Second-round pick Tyson Campbell and veteran Sidney Jones appear to be competing for a big role on the defense behind Griffin and CJ Henderson at cornerback. On Monday, neither got the job done.
The Jaguars' run defense continued to impress, allowing just three yards per carry on 21 attempts. For a second straight week, the defensive front has been stout, just as they have been on the practice field. Creating pressure in the passing game is still a work in progress. And things will always be harder in the pass rush department without Josh Allen on the field. But the defense did start to get some penetration once Taysom Hill entered the game. Jihad Ward picked up 1.5 sacks and Dawuane Smoot chipped in with .5.
Rookie edge defender Jordan Smith continued to impress in the second half. He hasn't been creating much pressure, but against the run, he's been super effective, using his length and strength to set the edge and make plays at the line of scrimmage and in the backfield.
It might be time to start the discussion on who should be the Jaguars' number two option at quarterback. Even though Trevor Lawrence hasn't been named the starter, it's obvious that's the direction we're headed. But who should be his primary backup? CJ Beathard has outperformed Gardner Minshew with ease in both preseason games, while Minshew has been better on the practice field. The Jaguars' coaching staff will have some tough decisions to make in the coming days and weeks.
The Jaguars have a long way to go and a short time to get there. But this is a brand new experiment. Head coach Urban Meyer has never coached in the NFL before. Trevor Lawrence has never played in the NFL before. Defensive coordinator Joe Cullen has never been a play-caller at this level. There are a ton of new faces and young players being relied upon heavily.
These first two preseason performances haven't been pretty. But it's important to remember that these are just exhibition games. Sure, you'd like to see more. But with the injuries this team is dealing with and the freshness of everything, this experiment was never going to be perfect from the start. The Jaguars have just under three weeks to figure out how to win a game.
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