The Jacksonville Jaguars returned home with a win on Sunday, beating the Pittsburgh Steelers 20-10 at Acrisure Stadium. Signing off with a press conference on Monday before the team’s bye week, head coach Doug Pederson was asked just how resilient this team has become in the first half of the season:
“It’s a good word to use. They’re a resilient group. It’s how you come back from a setback, how you respond. And i’ll say this - last year it was different. We were playing from behind a lot. This time we’re averting that - the defense has to come in and help us keep a lead, or help keeping the offense in the game. And then you know the offense somewhere is gonna break out and score a touchdown. It’s a little bit of a different mindset that way, but this is a resilient group. There are going to be opportunities that the offense might squander in the redzone. It’s unfortunate, but when you have that type of setback we know the defense is going to go out and perform. And vice versa - the defense gives up a touchdown, the offense goes out and tries to get those points back. That’s the resilient part of this team.”
Sunday’s victory puts the Jaguars at 6-2 on the season, which also includes a five game winning streak. Is this where Pederson envisaged his team would be heading into the bye week?
“The expectation? Honestly, yeah. And it’s just confidence in our guys, confidence in the team. As a coach looking at our schedule and how things started out, it was a little rough. But to be 6-2, I expected that, the guys expected that. And that’s a self belief in their own ability. Each week is different and it’s a credit to the players on how they prepare each week. And it’s that resiliency that you talk about that no matter what happens during the game you find a way to win.”
The aforementioned five wins in a row means that the Jaguars went through the entirety of October undefeated - a stark contrast to last season, which saw them lose every game in the same month. Pederson gave his thoughts on the growth of the team in that 12 month period, and what it means for the rest of the season:
“The football season is not how you start, it’s how you finish. Last year we were 2-7, 3-7, and we were getting better as a team, and figured some things out at the back end of the year. Now, it’s a confident team, guys understand what to do. We’re making more plays, playing for sixty minutes, which is a direct result from last year. We focus on the one week of a time mentality. Hopefully the whole season will be the month of October. When you play in the NFL you lose track of days and time, and just play the game. That’s a credit to the guys of being able to stay in the moment.”
The performance in Pittsburgh
While speaking with Dewey, I couldn’t help but hear Rayshawn Jenkins discuss George Pickens’ “Hope Defense” comments with another reporter.— Mia O'Brien (@MiaOBrienTV) October 29, 2023
So, I had him & Dewey react to it together.
#Jaguars | #DUUUVAL pic.twitter.com/ObzYdXHAX8
Maybe for the first time this season, the Jaguars look like they’ve come out of a game with no further injury concerns. Pederson is hopeful the week off will have his team as healthy as it has been all season:
“Knock on wood, we came out good. Talked to Ferg [Jeff Ferguson] this morning and no setbacks with anybody. This is a good time to get some guys healthy for San Fran.”
As has been the case all season, it was the defense that led the way on Sunday, bailing out the offense at key moments. Pederson identified the culture between the two units as a main factor in what he considered ‘complimentary football’:
“I think it’s that mindset of ‘defense, we have your back’ and ‘offense we have your back’. There’s always going to be a change in games, and offensively you’re going to try and minimize the turnovers, and sometimes it might be fourth down decisions that I make that means the defense has to go back out there. But you know, defensively, it’s what we communicate with them. They’re not going out there unprepared; they know we’re going to be aggressive, go for it on fourth down, try to make those tough throws, so there could be change. The defense has always responded, and they have this year. That’s a real positive for us - to hold a team to three points or force a punt. That’s the complimentary piece we’ve been trying to add this year.”
Fans and the Jacksonville media alike have been pleasantly surprised to see the defense leading the way in 2023 - and it appears that the coaching staff were also anticipating the offense being the reason why this team is 6-2. Pederson was keen to point out that there is plenty of room for improvement:
“You would think so, with the weapons and the firepower out there - and we missed some opportunities yesterday which could maybe have blown the game open. And you have to take those chances and minimize the turnovers, which you can’t have - that’s just taking points off the board. Games are going to be different, but that’s what we’re seeing. As the second half of the season comes, we’ve gotta do our best to take care of the ball.”
Despite the offense maybe not quite firing on all cylinders, the Jaguars head coach admitted that addressing a unit that is still getting the job done is preferable to the alternative:
“Yeah, because when you’re struggling to move the ball, you do things out of character, outside of who you are as a football team. You can correct that. Turnovers, you can correct that. I’d rather be the team that is still scoring points, but can be even better. And that’s kind of where we are.”
A timely respite
With almost two weeks until the Jaguars next take to the field, the team has an opportunity to rest, recover, and prepare for the second half of the 2023 campaign. Considering all the good work and the position the team sits, Pederson was keen to see his players handle the break professionally:
“It’s huge. Huge from the standpoint we don’t want any distractions. We don’t want anything to set us back right now. Yes, I want them to get away, to rest, to heal. But at the same time I want them to think about the next game, the next nine games, and how we continue what we have started. We got a long season ahead of us still, and I just don’t want what we’ve worked hard for to go by the wayside.”
With that in mind, was Pederson confident in his team being able to uphold the standards expected?
“I gotta trust them. They’re gonna do the right thing. They know it. Where they are, what they’ve done, the work they’ve put in, and I trust them to do the right thing and they’ll come back in the right frame of mind and they’ll be excited - as they should be. It’s something we can continue to build on.”
Whilst the playing staff have some well earned time away from the facility, the front office and coaching staff have a convenient, clearer schedule to take a good look at the roster. With the league trade deadline on Tuesday, could Pederson and GM Trent Baalke be in the market for any potential acquisitions?
“You look and see if there’s a player who can help you. You don’t go searching just for anybody. You gotta make sure it’s the right fit who can add value. A piece that maybe you’re missing. We are getting guys back healthy in the next few weeks, which is a part of it. We’ll take a look, and if it’s a no brainer then we’ll pull the trigger. If not, we’ll stick with the guys that have got us here.”