Through three weeks of the 2022 season, one thing has become clear for the Jacksonville Jaguars — this team has exceeded the (rather low) preseason expectations from fans and pundits thus far.
Prior to the opening week of the 2022 NFL season, the Jaguars’ win/loss total was set at 6.5, according to the DraftKings Sportsbook. It seems that Jacksonville could easily reach the over on that, and could certainly compete to win a weak AFC South Division. In fact, as of right now, the Jaguars are currently in sole possession of first place in the AFC South.
It’s still early with just three games having been played, but the 2-1 Jaguars (one could argue that the team should be 3-0) already seem to have found an identity and turned around the culture under head coach Doug Pederson.
Jacksonville is young, but confident. It believes it can compete with any team in the league. Something about this team feels different and it has many Jaguars fans feeling the most optimistic they’ve been since probably 2017 (when the Jaguars reached the AFC Championship Game). And to be fair, why shouldn’t they be at this point?
The Jaguars did drop the first game of the season, 28-22, on the road against the Washington Commanders. However, after being down 14-3 at halftime, Jacksonville fought back and eventually led 22-14 in the fourth quarter. The Jaguars couldn’t finish it off, but the team competed and set the foundation for the next two games.
The Jaguars have outscored opponents 84-38 so far this season, and the 46-point advantage is second-most in the NFL, behind only the Buffalo Bills (53). Over the last two games, the Jaguars defeated the Indianapolis Colts 24-0 and beat the Los Angeles Chargers 38-10. Combined, Jacksonville has outscored its last two opponents 62-10.
Yes, during this past weekend’s game, the Chargers dealt with a lot of injuries to key players, including quarterback Justin Herbert — who played the whole game at less than 100 percent. However, the 2022 Jaguars did something no team in franchise history had ever accomplished — winning on the road against the Chargers (either in San Diego or Los Angeles). In fact, it was just Jacksonville’s fourth ever win on the West Coast (in 19 games).
And the Jaguars didn’t just beat a good (although beat up) team in Los Angeles, Jacksonville absolutely bullied the Chargers. Something about the 2022 Jaguars feels different, and is reminiscent of that beloved 2017 team.
There is a lot of football left to be played. But to this point, Jacksonville has been one of the best teams in the NFL. In fact, the Jaguars are the only team in the NFL to rank in the top-five in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metrics, which “measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every single play to a league average based on situation and opponent.” The Jaguars rank second overall in DVOA (45.9 percent), fifth in offensive DVOA (20.9 percent) and fourth in defensive DVOA (-24.6 percent).
Probably the biggest reason for Jacksonville’s resurgence is because it now has an actual NFL head coach and leader who knows what success looks like — Pederson has won a Super Bowl as both a player (XXXI) and as a coach (LII). He knows what success is and what it takes, and he has his players completely bought in. Pederson is happy with the results thus far, but knows there is still work to do.
“We are (feeling good), obviously the way we’ve won, the way the guys have come together to win,” Pederson said at Monday’s press conference. “We’re healthy, relatively healthy as a football team. (There’s) still a lot of football ahead of us. You never look past the current week you’re in, the current situation you’re in. But I’ve been pleased with the direction, the leadership of the team, and where we are as a football team right now. (We) still have room for improvement obviously, and I think that’s the exciting thing that everybody embraces their role and their opportunities when they get them.”
Perhaps another reason for the Jaguars’ success thus far, as Pederson mentioned, is that the Jaguars have remained healthy through three games, without any major injuries. That is unheard of at this stage in the season, and probably quite lucky, but having everybody available has paid dividends.
Another huge reason for the success thus far has been the play of quarterback Trevor Lawrence, and others on the offense such as running back James Robinson, wide receiver Christian Kirk and the offensive linemen, among others. Lawrence, though, is blossoming under the tutelage of Pederson and is seemingly becoming the star that he was projected to be when he was drafted No. 1 overall in 2021.
Lawrence has not turned the ball over in each of the last two games, and has picked apart opposing defenses while surgically executing the game plans from Pederson, offensive coordinator Press Taylor and quarterbacks coach Mike McCoy. Through three games, Lawrence has completed 77 out of 111 passes (69.4 percent) for 772 yards with six touchdowns and just one interception. He also has a quarterback rating of 103.1.
Lawrence was also getting the ball out of his hands incredibly quickly against the Chargers, averaging just 2.39 seconds from snap to throw, according to the NFL’s Next Gen stats.
Trevor Lawrence averaged a career-low 2.39 seconds time to throw in the Jaguars 38-10 victory over the Chargers.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 25, 2022
Lawrence was efficient on quick passes (less than 2.5 seconds), completing 19 of 23 attempts for 162 yards & TD (+9.4 passing EPA).#JAXvsLAC | #DUUUVAL pic.twitter.com/8GIyCksk9U
Don’t forget about the other side of the ball, though. Under defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell, Jacksonville’s defense ranks first in the NFL in rushing defense, according to ESPN, allowing just 165 total rushing yards through three games, and allowing an average of just 55 rushing yards per game. The Jaguars also rank seventh in total defense (306.7 yards allowed per game). However, Jacksonville doesn’t fare as well against the pass, ranking 21st in the league (251.7 passing yards allowed per game). The team also ranks fifth in points per game allowed (12.7).
Additionally, the Jaguars are feasting on turnovers. This was a major issue for Jacksonville during the 2021 season, as the team struggled to generate takeaways and ranked dead last in turnover differential at minus-20 (-20). In 2022, however, under Pederson and Caldwell’s direction, the Jaguars rank first in the NFL in turnover differential at plus-seven (+7).
Jacksonville is tied for first in the league with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Baltimore Ravens for most takeaways with eight (five interceptions and three fumble recoveries). Offensively, the Jaguars have only turned the ball over one time this season — a late-game interception thrown by Lawrence against the Commanders in the season opener while trying to win the game.
So, are the Jaguars for real? Is the team a true playoff contender? Can Jacksonville really keep this up? Honestly, the only answer to each of those questions is that time will tell. However, if the team continues to play at its current level, that should not only be the goal, but the expectation.
Before getting there, though, there is still a lot the team needs to get better at, and consistency in the process will be important. Pederson expanded on his thoughts about the team’s trajectory on Monday.
“Obviously it is heading in the right direction because these last two victories,” Pederson said. “But it’s not so much how you begin the season, it’s how you finish, and so we have to make sure that (we continue this level of play). There’s going to be dips in the year. Again, it’s a lot of ball ahead of you and then there’s going to be dips, but it’s how you manage those. Again, you want to be playing your best football not necessarily now, but in December and January and hopefully through the postseason.”
For now, it’s safe to say the Jaguars are much better than most fans, observers and analysts predicted, and Jacksonville seems to have a lot of momentum. However, there is still a lot to prove. At the very least, this team isn’t going to back down from any opponent and will compete.
Perhaps Jacksonville’s biggest test of the season thus far will come against the 3-0 Philadelphia Eagles this weekend, as Pederson prepares to play against his former team. This game will be the real measuring stick for where the Jaguars stand this season.
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