The Jacksonville Jaguars are winding down the team’s time overseas, and nearing ever closer to Sunday’s heavyweight fight.
As the Jags prepare to take on the Buffalo Bills, both teams will be at almost full strength, as a handful of Jaguars are going to be healthy and back in action this week.
Receivers Jamal Agnew and Zay Jones both “had a really good week of preparation and practice” according to coach Doug Pederson. Pederson also said the team is “optimistic” they will both play.
Rookie safety Antonio Johnson is practicing as well, and should be active for the first time this season.
Coming off of suspension, left tackle Cam Robinson had a “good week,” as did former left tackle Walker Little at his new position of left guard.
“We will get through tomorrow and see where he is at,” Pederson said of Robinson during his Friday availability. “Physically he had a good week. Walker had a good week at left guard.”
With Robinson coming back, Little will have to change positions yet again, and with only about a week’s worth of preparation.
Pederson did say it was a bit of a scary change for the coaching staff, but one they feel more and more comfortable with the more reps Robinson and Little can get beside one another.
“That is a real concern,” Pederson said of his lineman switching positions. “But going through the week and preparation, those two guys working together, it gives you a little more comfort knowing we have seen. We do feel comfortable.”
As for if the change is permanent, Pederson said it will likely be a week-to-week scenario.
“We will see,” Pederson said. “We will make sure we are all on board and comfortable with making a move.”
The team will not be getting defensive lineman Dawuane Smoot back this week, though the veteran pass rusher looked “really good” in his first week of practice.
Coming off the PUP list, Pederson said he doesn’t anticipate Smoot to play on Sunday, but said he is “really close.”
“He gave Anton (Harrison) a great look this week,” Pederson said. “That is what we needed out of Smoot and he did a great job.”
Pederson said his team has handled the full week of practice in London seamlessly, and spoke highly of how his team has gotten ready.
“It has been a great week for us,” Pederson said. “I can’t say enough good things about our stay here. Our preparation has been good.”
Pederson spoke mostly on his offense during his final media session of the week, noting how poorly his team has played on third down and how well the Bills’ defense plays on third.
No team in the league forces teams into more third-and-11-plus situations than Buffalo.
“Third down has been an issue for us,” Pederson said. “They are getting teams in third and longs. We have to do our best to stay out of that.”
One way the coach said his team is going to try and avoid long third downs is by establishing the run early and often. Likely, a lot of that will have to do with the arrival of the team’s tone-setter in Robinson.
“We have to be able to run the ball effectively and efficiently and stay out of third and longs,” Pederson said.
If the run game works, that can lend itself to fewer possessions for the Bills. Fewer possessions for the Bills means a smaller likelihood of points, which the Bills seem to put up at ease.
If the Jags can also put up a clean sheet in turns of turnovers, as they did last week, Pederson likes his squad’s chances.
“Probably no different than playing Kansas City, good teams like that,” Pederson said. “Good teams that have explosive offenses. You have to be efficient in the passing game and play ball control. The number one thing is you can’t turn the ball over. You can’t give this team any more opportunities.”
Trevor Lawrence, who celebrated his 24th birthday in London, received praise from his coach for his performance through four weeks.
Pederson noted that Lawrence is executing his game plan, and for him to be even better, needs the entire team to execute around him.
“Trevor is playing good. He is improving every week,” Pederson said. “There are probably a few throws, obviously in the Houston game and the Chiefs game, that we learn from. He is a great leader and he is throwing the ball extremely accurately right now and seeing the field really well. There are some things that affect that, things that are sometimes out of his control. Overall he is improving each week.”
The Bills’ Josh Allen is someone Pederson likened Lawrence to, in terms of how quarterbacks can improve in one system.
Allen had many of the same troubles Lawrence faced early in his career, but for the most part, has eliminated errors from his game and is in perennial contention for MVP status.
“You see what happens when teams and players stay in the same system for years,” Pederson said. “You develop chemistry and rapport.”
It will take more than just Lawrence to win on Sunday. Calvin Ridley, Travis Etienne, Evan Engram and Christian Kirk among others will all have to play to the level their coach knows they can play in order to go undefeated abroad.
“When it’s clicking it looks good, but we still have to make some adjustments and (there are) some areas of improvement in order to be the offense we want to be,” Pederson said of his offense.
The whole offense will be up against one of the NFL’s best defensive units on Sunday. The unit got even stronger this week, as Pro Bowler and assumed future Hall of Famer Von Miller said he is going to play. The 34-year-old Miller is officially listed as questionable for Sunday’s game, after recovering from an ACL injury.
Von Miller gave it 94.5% chance that he plays on Sunday. He said it’s “a safe bet” that he’ll be out there.— Alaina Getzenberg (@agetzenberg) October 6, 2023
“This team is number one in a lot of categories on defense,” Pederson said. “It starts with that front. They roll eight, nine guys through there. If Von (Miller) plays, there’s another weapon for them on the edge. It is a really good group. They know it all.”
Pederson said on Wednesday that his team might have a slight upper hand when it comes to having already been in London for some time now. The Bills got to England on Friday.
However, it will take more than a little bit of jet lag to beat the Bills. It will be a team effort in every sense of the phrase.
“This is a good football team regardless of travel,” Pederson said. “We have to go play.”