The Jaguars are set to take on the New Orleans Saints tonight in a Preseason Week 2 Monday Night Football matchup that will draw a national audience.
For Jacksonville, it will be head coach Urban Meyer’s second look at his team against an actual opponent, and an opportunity for players to earn spots on the 53-man roster as the team gets set to cut an additional five players on Tuesday.
Last week, the Jaguars prepared for the Saints in a similar way to that of a normal game week during the regular season. During practice on Thursday, the team spent time simulating crowd noise along with using a playsheet for the Saints’ offense and defense.
With just three games for preseason, this year instead of four, Meyer and his assistant coaches moved up the schedule, game planning this week.
“This is basically an in-season schedule modified because of the training camp rules still,” Meyer mentioned on Thursday. “We want to get them a feel. Plus, our coaches are game planning from 5 o’clock until 10 o’clock every night, and then bang, you go in the morning. I like it. It’s kind of more of a schedule I’m used to anyways.”
There will be plenty to watch tonight, and we have already given you some Keys to the Game this morning, but what are the five things to watch for in tonight’s matchup?
Who starts at quarterback?
While the Jaguars selected Trevor Lawrence first overall this year, the rookie quarterback has yet to officially earn the job as the team’s starting quarterback. Starting last week against the Cleveland Browns was not a surprise, but it wasn’t a lock either.
Third-year QB Gardner Minshew II has earned plenty of first-team reps throughout training camp, and head coach Urban Meyer has not been shy to say the competition is ongoing.
Tonight will be another opportunity for Lawrence to be put into the fire first, and Meyer has said recently he would like to see the rookie see more in-game reps.
“More time than [the first game],” Meyer said when asked about how much Lawrence could play against the Saints. “It’s just going to depend on the health of our team, still have a lot to evaluate, so we’ve talked, but not in depth yet. That’s [a] tomorrow conversation; health of the team and then also we have to get him some reps.”
The Jaguars are down a couple of offensive linemen in center Brandon Linder and guard Andrew Norwell. How much the first-team plays tonight could largely depend on the protection.
Will Travis Etienne be more involved?
The Jaguars made it a point to get more speed on its offense this year by selecting standout Clemson running back Travie Etienne in the first round this year. During camp, that speed has certainly been realized, however, Etienne wasn’t able to get too involved against the Browns.
Tonight will be another opportunity for the rookie running back to earn some reps and touches as he adjusts to the speed of the game in the NFL.
Jacksonville has plenty of competition across its entire roster, however, besides the quarterback position, none of it seems more intense than the safety position. The Jaguars currently have at least three players competing for the second starting safety spot next to Rayshawn Jenkins.
For Josh Jones, Jarrod Wilson and Andre Cisco, that competition remains ongoing. Jones, the fifth-year safety, has earned more starting reps than the others, however, both Cisco and Wilson have made it through the team’s rotation.
When asked about the rookie safety, Wilson gave a glowing review, calling Cisco a “reall good talent.”
“I really like him, just all—overall player,” Wilson said when asked about Cisco on Wednesday.
“I think I like his personality and his approach, first off. [He’s] willing to learn, but also just [his] natural ability to play man coverage on tight ends, covering the deep half and also be physical enough to come down and hit someone in the run. So, I like to see a guy like that. He’s really good and he should be a promising player in this league.”
Tonight will be yet another opportunity for the Jaguars to see what Cisco, and the other safeties, have in them. On Thursday, Meyer mentioned that Cisco was certainly “in the hunt,” for a starting spot, and that could be realized sooner rather than later.
Will the offense get off to a fast start?
Meyer minced no words following last week’s contest against the Browns when speaking about the team’s slow-moving offense. He wants to see a more fast-paced, normal offense rather than one that wallows.
While he did back off from some of the comments he made last week, he reiterated on Thursday he would like to see a bit more action.
“I get the first game [being slow], but now I want to try to have a little bit of success.”
Tonight will be another opportunity for the offense to get off to a fast start, scoring in the first half with its would-be starting unit.
While it remains to be seen how long Jacksonville keeps its starters out there, it will certainly be more of a true look at what the Jaguars’ offense will look like moving forward.
Pass rush needs to show up
With Allen being placed on the team’s reserve/COVID-19 list earlier today, the Jaguars will have a great opportunity to see what they have as far as the depth at key pass rusher positions.
Thus far in training camp, Jacksonville has rotated plenty of players on its defensive line and could utilize Dauwane Smoot, K’Lavon Chaisson or Jihad Ward in place of Allen.
Last week, Jacksonville showed off plenty on the defensive side of the football, playing a variety of coverages and demonstrating its blitzing prowess. Now, they’ll have to continue to improve and show defensive coordinator Joe Cullen more as the team heads into the regular season.
“[On] the strong side, we brought five, we played single-high, we played two-deep, we played three-deep,” Cullen said last week of the game against Cleveland.
“So, I mean, we kind of did a lot of things and the big thing that I was really impressed with going back, Cleveland is one of the best running teams in football. I don’t care who they had lining up, they had 26 carries for 41 yards. That’s 1.6 a carry. So, we have got to continue to develop that.”
Now, Jacksonville will have an opportunity to compete against another impressive rushing attack, led by RB Alvin Kamara, who is perhaps one of the most dynamic offensive players in the NFL. Without Allen, the Jaguars will have their hands full, but if last week’s numbers are to be relied on, they shouldn’t have too much of an issue.