On Sunday, the Jacksonville Jaguars will look to win their fifth straight game.
With a mini-bye now behind them, head coach Doug Pederson is ready for his team to get back to business and hit the ground running once again.
“We have to get right back on it,” Pederson said. “(The Steelers) have beat some really good football teams this year. They play hard, they play physical. If you are not ready for this one, it is going to be a long day.”
The extra days the Jaguars got off from playing on Thursday has given the team much needed time to get healthier prior to Sunday.
Wide receiver Zay Jones and offensive lineman Walker Little are both “doing something (Wednesday) in practice” and are doing “great” while dealing with knee injuries. Pederson added that Jones is essentially day to day.
Corner Tyson Campbell received the same designation as Jones and Little.
“We are anticipating some of our guys, whether it is this week or after the bye, getting healthy and getting back on the field,” Pederson said.
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence will continue to be monitored, as he wears a knee brace moving forward.
Pederson joked that the brace is pretty much up to Lawrence, but was serious when saying the team will continue to try and protect him as best as possible.
“We will be aware of that every week,” Pederson said of Lawrence’s knee. “You just don’t want too many hits. Trevor is getting more healthy every day.”
The Jaguars’ offensive line did an NFL-best job against the Saints in protecting their franchise quarterback. The unit allowed just an 8.6% pressure rate, the lowest pressure rate posted by a defense this season.
This week the team will certainly have its hands full, accentuated by linebacker T.J. Watt.
Watt is second in the NFL with eight sacks.
“He is a great player,” Pederson said of Watt. “You have to understand that this is a great player and give him the respect he is due. You have to spend some resources in that direction. We have to know where he is at.”
When asked if a team should ever go one-on-one with Watt, he kept his answer short.
“Never,” Pederson said.
Watt’s big play ability leaves teams more likely to leave fellow linebacker Alex Highsmith one-on-one.
Highsmith has two sacks and two forced fumbles so far this season
“Highsmith is another one that can rush the passer,” Pederson said. “It is a two-headed monster with these guys. As an offense, you have to be very aware.”
Not to be forgotten on defense is safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, a three-time First-team All-Pro selection.
“He is a really good blitzer, good tackler,” Pederson said. “They move him around a good bit. Understanding where he is at is critical.”
On offense, Pederson pointed to receiver George Pickens as yet another player he and the team will have to key on.
He admitted the Jags even made a concerted effort to evaluate Pickens ahead of the 2022 draft.
“We took a hard look at him,” Pederson said. “He is a dominant player. They do a great job of throwing the back shoulder fade. He can run past you. There is not a lot he really can’t do. He is playing at a high level.”
Pederson is well aware of what it takes to play and coach against a Mike Tomlin led team, a coach that has not posted a losing season since taking over the Steelers in 2007.
“I know Mike pretty well and have coached against him several times,” Pederson said. “I have a lot of respect for what he has done there. He does a great job of getting his team prepared. They are a disciplined group and always have been.”
There is no hiding that this season, the Steelers are known much more for their defensive prowess than their offensive capabilities.
For the Jags defensively, Pederson hopes his team can maintain its effectiveness in generating takeaways against an offense that is 26th in the league in points per game.
“It is big for our team,” Pederson said of takeaways. “It is opportunistic. The team we are playing Sunday is the same way. When they have two or more takeaways, they are winning. When they have three or more sacks, they are winning more of these games. So we have to continue that. And offensively we have to take care of the football.”
Currently, the Jags lead the NFL in takeaways with 16. Nine of those turnovers have come through interceptions.
This year, Steelers’ quarterback Kenny Pickett has five touchdown passes and four picks and a 35.3 QBR.
“Takeaways come in bunches and waves,” Pederson said. “You just continue to emphasize it. Guys are doing a great job attacking the football. Tipped passes turn into interceptions. You hope it is sustainable.”
Looking to win its fifth straight game and go undefeated in the month of October was not so much a surprise to Pederson, but an expectation.
After going winless last October, the coach said his team has clearly improved from a year ago, but still has plenty of work to do.
“Quite honestly you expect to be in this situation,” Pederson said of his team’s 5-2 start. “We can still play better. There is a lot left out on the field each weekend that we can learn from and improve. It is a credit to the players. Guys have stepped up and played well. Pleased with where we are.”
While the stat sheet may not always reflect it, Pederson noted that receiver Calvin Ridley is a player who has stepped up in every game for the Jags.
Pederson was asked about Ridley’s “mediocre” showings on paper, but was quickly defended.
“I wouldn’t use the word mediocre, because defenses know Calvin Ridley,” Pederson said. “Go back to the last game where they inverted a lot of coverages to him. Defenses understand what Calvin can do. Having Zay (Jones) on the field opens up more things offensively. Calvin continues to be a big part of the offense and the success that we have will be because of Calvin’s success on the field.”
At the end of the day, winning is the most important to Pederson.
When the team takes the field in Pittsburgh, Pederson needs his team to channel the success it has had in Oct. for one last time.
“We have to minimize the lulls and maximize the opportunities throughout the football game,” Pederson said.