Everyone knows what is at stake as the Jags face the hottest team in the AFC. In terms of traveling though, the Jaguars have the slight upper hand over the Bills, as the Bills will arrive in London on Friday morning.
To coach Doug Pederson, any advantage his team can have is a net positive.
“Back-to-back games, the advantage is that we are here,” Pederson said at his Wednesday press conference. “I try to keep it as normal as if we were in Jacksonville. We understand what that travel is like.”
While players had Sunday afternoon and all of Monday off, Pederson didn’t take a second away from studying his upcoming opponent. Living out of a hotel halfway across the globe is a challenge normally, let alone trying to coordinate an entire NFL team while doing so.
Pederson said the challenges of the Jags’ stay in London have been mitigated to this point, and must continue to be that way as the week goes on.
“The biggest thing is somehow, some way eliminating distractions,” Pederson said of living temporarily in London. “It is just not the normal routine. You have to continue to stay in your game plan books, and continue to watch film. That is one thing that concerns you, the preparation.”
Bills’ quarterback Josh Allen has accounted for nine touchdowns this year, and his 72.6 QBR is third in the league. The Jaguars are already 5.5-point underdogs ahead of Sunday.
“This is a great football team, great quarterback obviously,” Pederson said. “Well coached. It is a challenge for us. It is something we can maybe learn from the Chiefs game — preparation, hard work — going into this game. Just know that our guys will be ready.”
Aside from not having to travel from America to London this week, the Jags too are coming off a big win, albeit in a much smaller fashion.
After a 23-7 victory over the Atlanta Falcons, the team is back in its high spirits and in a solid headspace. Pederson said the air around the team is far lighter than it was in the previous two or so weeks.
“Anytime you win, the week following is a better week,” Pederson said. “The guys are in better spirits, I am in a better mood. But it’s short-term memory. It will still take a solid week of preparation.”
The Jags will be returning to almost full strength during this week of practice, as receivers Jamal Agnew and Zay Jones have returned to the fold.
Both are “day-to-day,” but practiced Wednesday, and will continue to be monitored as the week progresses.
While all five guys returning are huge for the Jags moving forward, the biggest might be the addition of Robinson.
Pederson said his veteran left tackle is ready to go, and all signs point to him being ready to play on Sunday.
“He is in a really good frame of mind,” Pederson said of Robinson. “He has prepared himself for this moment. He knew all along what he needed to do to get ready. I know he is mentally ready. The physical part is sort of natural to him.”
While Walker Little has done an admirable job filling in on the left side, there is something about getting Robinson back, and adding him to the starting lineup, that the team feeds off of.
“There is a physicality and a mindset he brings,” Pederson said. “There is stability with the offensive line. My hats off to Walker Little. He is somebody you can count on. But Cam brings that leadership, and maybe some more stability.”
At least for this week, there are likely to not be any major lineup shake-ups across the offensive front.
Pederson said the center spot is still Luke Fortner’s, and potentially moving Walker Little to left guard to free up Tyler Shatley will not impact that.
“Luke is solid in there,” Pederson said of his center. “We have no issues with Luke at all. He has done an outstanding job.”
As for Smoot who is coming off an Achilles tear, the team is taking his conditioning slow, though he was activated on Wednesday.
“We want to see where he is physically from a football standpoint,” Pederson said. “He is obviously cleared and ready to go. Excited for him to get back with the team. We will monitor that day by day.”
Smoot eventually will join a defense that has been predicated by takeaways in the secondary.
That unit will have its hands full with the likes of the Bill’s Allen, who only has one interception since Week 1.
“He is a tremendous player,” Pederson said of Allen. “He is obviously one of the top quarterbacks in the AFC, top quarterbacks in this league. He is big and physical. He can run. He has a big arm. Can’t fall asleep on the receivers and his ability to extend plays. He does a nice job of finding his targets.”
The Jags are coming off a game where the defense forced three turnovers and scored a touchdown. Pederson said his unit has progressed nicely in their second year under defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell. Their biggest test comes this week against Allen, and receivers Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis.
“It started back in the spring,” Pederson said. “What I saw was a level of communication, second year in the system. That is what you are seeing. Guys are in the right spots at the right time. Obviously opportunistic, getting their hands on these footballs and making plays. We have to continue to do that.”
The last time Pederson faced Allen was in 2019 as the coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. While Pederson was coaching a different team, and the Bills were not nearly what they are today, Allen did throw two touchdowns and lead his team in rushing in a 31-13 Eagles win.
In 2023, the Bills are still relying on Allen’s dual-threat ability, while also utilizing an opportunistic defense of their own to slow teams down.
“You look at what Buffalo has done for their defense to start,” Pederson said. “They are bringing a lot of pressure to help jumpstart them.”
Ridley caught the Jags’ only touchdown against the Falcons, while also being a captain against his former team.
“He has done a nice job,” Pederson said of Ridley. “He has really learned our offense. I think (offensive coordinator) Press (Taylor) has done a good job incorporating him. He is a tremendous worker and continues to improve and get better. A really good leader on the team.”
Pederson’s team is back on track with last week’s win, especially after two tough losses in the two weeks prior.
It will take the entire team to defeat the Bills this week, but if the Jags stick to the script they used against the Falcons, they will have a solid chance.
“We didn’t turn the ball over,” Pederson said of Sunday’s victory. “We didn’t shoot ourselves in the foot with penalties, negative plays. We created explosive plays. There is still a lot of work to do. But playing more of a clean game was a step in the right direction.”