On the 30th birthday of Jacksonville being granted a franchise, head coach Doug Pederson spoke with the media about his team’s impending Monday night game.
Through the years, the team has not often played on Monday night. The last time they did was back in 2011.
With one of the bigger national games in history for the team on the horizon, Pederson spoke about what it means for his squad and the franchise.
“It is very exciting because it’s Monday night,” Pederson said on Thursday. “You are the only game that day and playing in front of every team and they are watching you. It is exciting. We are hopeful that we have more down the road. You have to earn that right to play on Monday night. The guys have earned that for this game.”
Only 20 players on the Jags currently have ever played on Monday night. Evan Engram is the only consistent starter who has done so multiple times.
With essentially a team full of players who are new, or newer, to the bright lights of MNF, Pederson said the process is all about controlling what you can control.
“One of the things that I will keep talking to these guys about is controlling emotions,” Pederson said. “Staying in the moment, doing your job this week. You don’t have to go out of your way. Just do your process.”
The Jags look to be at almost full strength for Monday, as running back Travis Etienne and corner Tyson Campbell are “doing well” and practiced Thursday.
Etienne suffered a chest injury last week, while Campbell has been in the rehab process with a hamstring injury.
An upside of the Monday game is that the team does have one extra day to help get everyone back to full health and ready for the Cincinnati Bengals.
“A Monday game gives you extra rest days,” Pederson said. “It is the next week that poses the problem. I don’t think the guys think about it any differently than a Sunday. Big moments, we haven’t had many. It’s just about how to handle that and approach it.”
A key injury for the Bengals is obviously quarterback Joe Burrow, who is out for the season with a hand injury. In his place has been journeyman Jake Browning, who started his team’s 16-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers last week.
There is simply not a lot of film on Browning, who has only thrown 41 passes in his career which have all come this season. Pederson said he expects the quick game from the Bengals to get Browning in a rhythm.
“You just have to watch all the clips and see his body of work and see how they are using him in this system,” Pederson said. “Obviously there are not a lot of reps in the offense. You just have to continue to do your job and what you are assigned to do. You can’t go chasing plays. I am sure they are going to get the ball out of his hands quickly.”
Someone the Jags hope to deploy to attack Browning will be linebacker Josh Allen, who is coming off a 2.5 sack game against the Texans.
It has been a career season for the fifth-year pro, with Pederson attributing that to all of Allen’s skills coming together at the right time.
“He is affecting the quarterback obviously,” Pederson said. “He is playing physical and using a lot of his pass rush game to affect the quarterback. It is a combination of everything.”
Cincinnati’s defense is not without its fair share of playmakers, however.
Defensive end Trey Hendrickson has 10.5 sacks this season, and corner Cam Taylor-Britt has four picks. With an inexperienced quarterback, the onus will likely be on the Bengals’ defense to create turnovers and big plays to set up Browning in favorable positions.
“It is a good defense,” Pederson said. “When you look at them, they are creating takeaways, those opportunistic moments for their offense. It is a really good, solid, sound. They have really smart, talented, physical guys. There are a lot of moving parts, but it’s not chaos, they are in sync with one another. They play really, really well.”
The Jags will yet again have another offensive line combination on Monday, as Walker Little is being slid back over to left tackle to replace the injured Cam Robinson.
While Little struggled on Sunday in replacing Robinson, he is slowly regaining his form at his natural position.
“He has bounced around the offensive line this year,” Pederson said. “It is not easy to play offensive line in this league. But I think for him his natural position for him is the tackle spot and there is a lot of familiarity out there. Getting used to that in practice will help him.”
In the 30 years of the team’s existence, this year’s team may end up being one of the best. Their coach attributes the team’s on the field winning to their off the field relationships with one another.
“I listen to their conversations in and around the building,” Pederson said. “I listen from afar. But hearing what they are saying, doing and when there are days off and there are guys in the building, they really like this place. That is what cultivates culture and the bond this group has. They genuinely like each other.”
Much of this year’s team was on the roster last year when the team turned a lackluster start into an AFC South title and a playoff win.
There are differences in the margin, but when Monday night rolls around, Pederson said his team can take plenty from last year’s run and big moment games into this season and beyond.
“Obviously it is a different set of circumstances,” Pederson said. “Now you are in the lead in the AFC South and you look up at the AFC and there are bigger things for this team. Our focus has to be just that. Leaning on our experiences from a year ago, definitely can help us in these moments.”