The 5-8 Jacksonville Jaguars are looking to keep playoff hopes alive as they host the 10-3 Dallas Cowboys this week. DraftKings Sportsbook has the Jags as 3.5-point underdogs at home.
These are the players I’ll be watching most on either side of the ball.
RB Travis Etienne
Trevor Lawrence was reportedly told by some teammates to get his act together following a brutal Week 8 performance in London. Since then, the sophomore quarterback has been dominant.
#Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence is the second highest-graded QB in the league since Week 9, according to PFF.— Demetrius Harvey (@Demetrius82) December 13, 2022
He has the best completion percentage among QBs with at least 60 dropbacks during that span at 71.8 %.
He has the second-highest quarterback rating during that time too.
Trevor Lawrence generated a career-high +18.0 passing EPA in the Jaguars' 36-22 victory over the Titans.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) December 11, 2022
Lawrence has earned a league-high 98 NGS passing score since Week 9, and ranks 2nd in EPA/dropback (+0.24) over that time frame.#JAXvsTEN | #DUUUVAL pic.twitter.com/FPAvedjgMZ
In that five-game stretch, Jacksonville played a bottom-12 ranked pass defense (by DVOA) in every game besides Baltimore, and they faced a bottom-12 run defense just once in Detroit.
Dallas’s defense will be the toughest test for Lawrence and co. since Denver in Week 8. The Cowboys rank first in pass defense DVOA and sixth in run defense DVOA.
If there’s a weakness in Dan Quinn’s unit, it’s explosive runs. The Athletic’s Ted Nguyen wrote last month:
The Cowboys rank ninth in success rate against the run (62.6 percent), but they’ve given up 40 runs of 10 or more yards, which is tied for fourth-most in the NFL. So Dallas doesn’t give up efficient runs consistently but gets gashed by big runs.
...The Cowboys are an aggressive single-gap team. They fire off the ball and get upfield, which can be disruptive, but teams can create explosive runs if they can get past the first level.
Dallas now ranks fourth-best in success rate against the run and seventh-worst in runs of 10-plus yards allowed. Meanwhile, Travis Etienne ranks middle-of-the-pack in success rate this season but top-15 among all non-quarterbacks in rushes of 10-plus yards.
Jacksonville’s other 2021 first round pick out of Clemson needs to have a big game on Sunday in order for the Jaguars to keep up with the ‘Boys.
DEs Dawuane Smoot and Arden Key
Jacksonville’s latest first-rounder, Travon Walker, is listed as questionable with a high ankle sprain. It’d be surprising to see him suit up after being held out of practice all week.
With Walker either out of the game or playing at less-than-100%, edge depth will be as important as ever on Sunday. Not including Walker or Josh Allen (who went without a sack for two straight months until last week), veterans Dawuane Smoot and Arden Key are the only Jaguars with multiple sacks this year.
Dave Halprin of Blogging The Boys told us in this week’s Q&A that “the Cowboys are not as comfortable on grass fields as they are on turf” and there could be some rustiness from the offensive line. Tyron Smith is returning from a hamstring injury to play right tackle after Terence Steele tore his ACL last week.
If Jacksonville’s edge rushers aren't able to take advantage of Smith’s first start at right tackle in a decade, or rookie blindside protector Tyler Smith, Dallas is going to score a lot of points. The Jaguars can’t hope for three turnovers in back-to-back weeks.