No team in the NFL has gone through the type of gauntlet the Jacksonville Jaguars have these last three weeks. And maybe no team but the Jags could.
The Jags have now won their last four games, all within a 19 day stretch covering two countries.
The Jags could have folded, or let the excuses fly. But they didn’t and came out better than when they started.
“It is a challenge,” head coach Doug Pederson said of his team’s four-game stretch. “You are crossing five different time zones to get from Jacksonville to London and back. Nineteen days and four ball games. That is extremely hard on the guys. My credit goes to the players on how they handled the last three weeks.”
Last season, the team went winless in the month of Oct. This year, they are 4-0.
“Even though we are young, I feel like we are a veteran team,” Pederson said. “There is a no-quit mentality. We are in it to the end. We are excited, happy where we are.”
A large catalyst for the team’s early season success has been on the shoulders third-year running back Travis Etienne. The former Clemson star has six touchdowns in his last three games, and seven total on the year, eclipsing his total of five from the year prior.
“I put a lot of credit to the offensive line, that is where it starts,” Pederson said. “One of the things (Etienne) does is he knows how to get small, he knows how to get skinny inside the two, the one. It is nice too because he is also scoring from further out. He does a nice job anticipating where the hole is going to be and squeezing through there.”
Etienne leads the NFL in touches with 127, so early wear and tear on the back has been on Pederson’s mind. Etienne has the hot hand though, and will continue to get fed.
“Travis is a tough kid,” Pederson said. “We have to be mindful of not overworking him. Right now, especially on third down, we like (Etienne). We just have to keep the other guys coming. (Etienne) has the hot hand. But we are mindful of the wear and tear.”
Pederson’s offensive line put up a monster performance on Thursday against the New Orleans Saints, not allowing a sack and only letting up four pressures.
To date, the coach said it was one of the best games he has seen since taking over the team.
“It is one of the best performances,” Pederson said. “Brandon Scherff was beat up going to this game, amongst other guys. But the offensive line put it on themselves to keep Trevor (Lawrence) clean in the pocket. It was a really good performance not only by the offensive line, but the guys around Trevor helping him out.”
In terms of injuries, Scherff and the rest of the team left the Big Easy as healthy as can be expected.
Safety Andre Cisco was held out of the game late as a precautionary measure due to cramps, but is expected to be fine.
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence came out “extremely well” while playing with a brace.
The team now has 10 days before traveling to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and players will get increasingly healthy as the days go on.
Lineman Walker Little and receiver Zay Jones are key among those players.
“The timing of this is good for these guys to get some extra rest,” Pederson said. “Expect Walker and Zay to get on the practice field this week.”
Considering last year’s roster is essentially the same as the one this season, Pederson said his team is learning from past mistakes and understanding how to win.
In year’s past, a short-week game after a trip to London could have easily been seen as an automatic loss. That is not the case anymore.
“Definitely a product of learning how to win,” Pederson said of his team’s October winning streak. “Last year we would have made an effort, but come up short in a game like this. Now, what we have been able to accomplish, these guys are locked in for 60 minutes. They are learning how to play and play together. Nothing shocks this team.”
A layer of the game the team has drastically improved on, even from the start of this season, is in penalties.
In one of the loudest environments in football, the Jags did not incur any procedural errors on the road, and utilized Lawrence’s skill at the line to keep the stat sheet clean.
“It was loud,” Pederson said of the Superdome. “Credit to the guys. We worked on a silent cadence all week. We pride ourselves on controlling the line of scrimmage with cadence. Credit the guys for no false starts, things of that nature. And playing a clean game.”
Pederson said having a quarterback like Lawrence that is adept at using a silent count is just another weapon the team can utilize.
“We are getting more comfortable with different cadences that we have,” Pederson said. “That is a weapon for the offense. All other 10 guys have to focus on the cadence and be smart about it. Trevor is definitely using his power to keep defenses guessing.”
A weapon that fell by the wayside against the Saints was receiver Calvin Ridley.
Ridley only caught one ball for five yards, but the credit there largely goes to the Saints defense.
“They rolled coverages his way,” Pederson said. “They did a good job of neutralizing Calvin. We still have to try to get him involved and more opportunities to catch the football. He is a big part of the offense and we will continue to try and get him the ball.”
Defensively for the Jags, the team utilized their weapons at linebacker to practically stall out much of the Saints offensive game plan.
Backers Devin Lloyd and Foye Oluokun recorded a combined 25 tackles, three pass breakups and Oluokun housed a pick.
“The game is slowing down for (Devin),” Pederson said. “He is not overreacting and running himself past gaps. We all know his speed and physicality. He has settled in. Foye is the leader out there. Happy for him with the pick-six. You can’t say enough good things. You are starting to see exactly who he is as a leader. It has been a really good duo. It is exciting seeing these two guys playing this well together.”
Playing in the place of usual starter Tyson Campbell at corner was seventh-round man Montaric “Buster” Brown.
Considering the circumstances and who he was lined up against, Pederson was extremely impressed by Brown’s performance. It was Brown who was targeted on the Saints’ final offensive play, but Brown broke up the pass to seal the win.
“There is a reason we took him a year ago,” Pederson said of Brown. “We like his skillset. He is a long corner. You can see some of the lack of experience, but he played tough and played physical. Obviously the fourth-down in the end zone was huge. It will give him a lot of confidence moving forward. He held up nicely.”
Pederson ended his Friday presser discussing the team’s fake punt, a play that almost wasn’t run.
Punter Logan Cooke and receiver Tim Jones almost were not on the same page for the play, but ended up connecting.
That play can be considered a microcosm of this season: it may not be pretty, or exactly how it was supposed to go, but it works.
“It wasn’t exactly how we worked it in practice, but sometimes you love it when a plan comes together,” Pederson said.