The Jacksonville Jaguars are one of the hottest teams in the NFL right now. After falling to 1-2 to start the season, the Jags have since rattled off three straight wins in convincing fashion. They now sit atop the AFC South and seem to have finally hit their stride on both sides of the ball.
However, with the team being on a short week, and with Trevor Lawrence nursing a knee injury, Jacksonville’s Week 7 road contest against the New Orleans Saints on Thursday Night Football is shaping up to be a true test of the team’s mental fortitude.
If they can keep their focus in the face of less-than-ideal circumstances, the Jags could leave the Superdome with their fourth win in a row. Here are three X-factors that could help that scenario come to fruition tonight.
Travis Etienne currently leads the NFL in carries through six weeks with 113. If you pace that out through a 17-week season, Etienne would finish the year with a whopping 320 carries, which has only been eclipsed four times since 2018. That type of bell cow usage isn’t traditionally sustainable for agility backs like Etienne, so it’s likely that that workload will need to be divvied out a bit more at some point this season.
This week feels like the perfect opportunity to finally get Tank Bigsby going in the offense. The team’s third-round pick from this past draft cycle hasn’t been much of a factor to this point. After making some tough rookie mistakes in Week 1, it felt like Bigsby was dog-housed a little bit, as his snaps fell in each of the next three contests.
However, it does seem like Bigsby is finally starting to earn back some trust as he just registered a season-high 17 snaps against the Colts on Sunday. With Lawrence not at 100% and Etienne in need of some help with the workload, Bigsby has a chance to step up against the Saints in what should be a run-heavy game plan.
Tyson Campell left the Jag’s Week 6 game against the Colts early with a hamstring injury and is set to miss tonight’s game. In his stead will be second-year corner Montaric Brown. The 2022 seventh-rounder immediately became the focus of Indy’s passing attack, as he was targeted eight times in his 54 snaps. He allowed five receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown on those targets in a tough game for the young defensive back.
He is now set to get his first start of his career against the Saints and it is not an easy matchup, to say the least. Chris Olave and Mike Thomas are tough assignments for anybody, let alone somebody getting their first start, so it will be important for the rest of the Jaguars defense to keep him protected from being on an island this evening.
That means Mike Caldwell’s game plan will likely need some tweaking in order to avoid throwing Brown to the wolves. Whether that be having the safeties cheat a little more to his side, or simplifying the scheme to keep him in zone looks for the most part, it will be on Caldwell to ensure that Montaric Brown is put in a position to succeed in a tough circumstance tonight.
#Jaguars defense is playing fantastic football.— Demetrius Harvey (@Demetrius82) October 16, 2023
They lead the league in turnovers with 15, next are the Bills and Jets with 13 a piece.
Last year, the Jaguars' defense ranked 6th in turnovers with 27. On pace to crush that (it'll average out eventually).
Regardless of Trevor Lawrence’s status for tonight, the offensive line needs to have a good day in order for the Jaguars to take care of business on the road. If Lawrence does play, which feels likely from the reports we’ve gotten throughout the week, then it is vital that the offensive line keeps him protected to ensure he puts no extra stress on that knee strain. If he doesn’t play, then the game plan likely shifts to a run-heavy approach, which will be up to the O-line to open things up in what will likely be a stacked box from Dennis Allen’s defense for a bulk of the game.
Either way, the offensive line is set to play a huge role tonight. If they are able to control things in the trenches, then the Jaguars should be able to execute at a high level as they look to stay in the upper echelon of teams in the AFC playoff picture after Week 7.
Who are your X-factors ahead of kickoff tonight, Jaguars fans?