The Jaguars enter week one of the 2021 regular season with nearly an entirely clean bill of health. The lone player on the 53-man roster expected not to play is cornerback Tre Herndon, who is dealing with an MCL sprain. Everyone else is good to go for the Jaguars' season opener against the Texans in Houston at 1 pm on Sunday.
Trevor's First Game...
Trevor Lawrence, ever heard of him? The first overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft is set to make his debut, and his team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, is favored to win by three points on the road in Houston. Lawrence impressed throughout training camp and the preseason, and he's coming off his best performance in preseason week three against the Cowboys. He completed 11/12 passes for 139 yards and two scores in Dallas and dropped dimes all over the field. But this is different. The intensity and strategy will ramp up in week one, and Lawrence will need to be ready. All signs point to him being just fine, but this is a massive moment for one of the most talented young QBs to enter the NFL ... well ... ever.
Another debut for the Jaguars: Urban Meyer's first NFL regular-season game as a head coach. Meyer took over as the football czar in Duval during January of 2021, and he's made his mark so far. He's made headlines again and again. Unfortunately, much of the attention has been on some of his mistakes — hiring Chris Doyle and singing Tim Tebow — but Meyer has done a ton of good in Jacksonville, too. He's upgraded sports performance and training and was the catalyst behind the new sports performance center being built adjacent to TIAA Bank Field. He's held players accountable and has rewarded them for their hard work. This team is unmistakably Urban Meyer's. Will his brand of football work at the highest level?
Jaguars' defensive coordinator Joe Cullen has been roaming NFL sidelines as a coach since 2006. But this is his first opportunity to be the leading man on the defensive side of the ball. He'll need to win the chess match, coach situationally, and manage substitutions. Cullen hasn't skipped a beat in his transition to defensive coordinator so far, but his first regular-season game will be a crucial test.
The Losing Streak
The Jaguars have lost 15 straight games overall and six straight to the Texans. These are not the 2020 Jaguars, but to earn respect, they'll have to show it on the field.
The Texans are hardly recognizable. There's no Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, JJ Watt, or Bill O'Brien. Instead, first-year head coach David Culley leads the way. Tyrod Taylor will start at quarterback, and beyond that, there are very few name-brand holdovers. They've still got LT Laremy Tunsil, EDGE Whitney Mercilus, LB Zach Cunningham, and S Justin Reid. On paper, this looks like the worst team in football. GM Nick Caserio said that success in 2021 will be defined by development and process, not wins and losses.
Speaking of turnovers, Lovie Smith's defense led the NFL in turnovers forced during the preseason. Smith's defenses are defined by toughness and forcing turnovers. They're not going to run a ton of exotic blitzes or coverages, but they'll be mentally tough and opportunistic. Can the Jaguars take advantage?
Special, Special Teams
The Jaguars, thanks in large part to Urban Meyer's love of the game's third phase, spent plenty of capital on special teams this offseason. They brought in Pro-Bowl return man Jamal Agnew, and special teams ace Rudy Ford. Meyer made it clear that you must contribute on special teams to be a backup on this team. With Agnew, Ford, punter Logan Cooke, and kicker Josh Lambo, the Jaguars expect to have an elite special teams unit.
Protecting the Investment
The biggest question for the Jaguars' offense is how they'll protect Trevor Lawrence. In 2020, Cam Robinson played like an average starter at left tackle, while Jawaan Taylor struggled greatly in pass pro at right tackle. Can these talented young linemen improve their consistency? If not, we'll probably see a ton of Chris Manhertz chipping in to slow down the opposing pass rush.
The Jaguars' offense around Trevor Lawrence looks really impressive. Usually, first overall picks aren't surrounded by a ton of talent. But giving Trevor Lawrence a legit three-down back in James Robinson, a talented group of interior offensive lineman, Marvin Jones, Laviska Shenault, DJ Chark and Tyron Johnson at receiver, plus a couple of sure-handed tight ends in James O'Shaughnessy and Jacob Hollister, should set the rookie quarterback up for early success.
The biggest question on the defensive side of the ball is how the secondary will hold up. The top two cornerbacks look solid with Shaquill Griffin and CJ Henderson, but this group is a bit sketchy after that. Tyson Campbell struggles to cover down the field, and the only other healthy cornerback in this one will be second-year speedster, Chris Claybrooks. Can the Jaguars' cornerbacks survive?
BONUS: The Jaguars like safety Andrew Wingard. So much so that he's in the starting lineup next to Rayshawn Jenkins. Joe Cullen says Wingard is tough, reliable, and physical. I hope putting Wingard in instead of rookie stud Andre Cisco doesn't hurt the team early. But I have very little confidence in Wingard on defense.
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