It is game week once more.
The Jaguars are back at home on Sunday, taking on the San Francisco 49ers in a matchup of two of the league’s best.
Both teams are coming off bye weeks, with the Jaguars winning their last five heading into the break while the 49ers have lost their last three.
The bye can be good and bad for both teams. Only time will tell which will be the case for the home squad.
“It is a hard reset,” head coach Doug Pederson said about his team’s bye. “Not necessarily all the way back to square one, but the bye is good for getting guys healthy, the rest, clearing your mind.”
Pederson said the bye hasn’t stalled his team’s momentum, though it did probably help the 49ers recapture their flow.
“Sometimes the break comes at the right time,” Pederson said. “That is what the bye is for, to look at the good and the bad and figure out why. Sometimes it leans towards the team that hasn’t been playing well, but we are still riding that wave of emotion from the last five games.”
Sunday’s game will be the first at home since the middle of October when they defeated the Colts. Shockingly, the Jags are just 1-2 at home, losing their first two home games of the season to the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs.
After Sunday, the Jags have four more games at home, and will certainly look to stack wins there to add to their undefeated road record.
“The schedule gets a little more normal for us in the back half of the season,” Pederson said. “We haven’t played our best football at home, which is crazy. Those two early games, we didn’t play very well. If you want that home field advantage (in the playoffs), you have to do it at home.”
When asked if this week’s game is a measuring stick for the season, Pederson didn’t necessarily see it that way.
In Pederson’s eyes, the 49ers are not the only team the Jaguars will play this season. They are just simply next on the schedule.
“I don’t think it’s a measuring stick, you are playing a great football team. We have played some really good football teams already,” Pederson said. “Our guys have battled and hung in there. It is going to be another one of those tough, physical games. It is one of 17 games.”
Even if the Jags win by 100 points, it still won’t mean too much in the grand scheme of things.
“We haven’t done anything yet,” Pederson said. “We aren’t there yet.”
The bye week did provide the Jaguars time to self study and get healthy. The main problem that the team will have to fix on both sides is converting third downs on offense, and stopping third down conversions on defense.
“Both sides of the ball, we have to get better on third down,” Pederson said. “Offense, the turnovers. That is something we have to eliminate. There is not a whole schematic change. The plays work, we are just failing to execute. We have to tighten up as a team.”
Following the team’s bye last season, they closed the year on a 6-1 regular season run, winning the AFC South title and a playoff game along the way.
Since the Jaguars are already in a prime spot prior to the break, Pederson said the team can only draw on that experience so much in the 2023 season.
Whereas most of the year last season was spent coming from behind, this year’s team is getting out ahead.
“Our team has figured out that we are always going to be in every game,” Pederson said. “We have played with leads more and that is always a positive. You can lean on some of those experiences from a year ago, but there are a different set of circumstances this year. If you want to be a good football team, you have to maintain.”
Helping the Jaguars out on offense could be receiver Zay Jones, who was “back out there, limited” at practice on Wednesday.
Jones was the major injury holdout, whereas offensive lineman Walker Little is slated to start again at left guard.
Pederson didn’t say if Little is an upgrade necessarily over incumbent Tyler Shatley, but will be giving the nod to Little when Little is healthy.
“Hopefully it generates a little movement up front,” Pederson said of Little on the interior.
While Jones has been sidelined, Christian Kirk and Evan Engram have done the bulk of the damage on the outside.
Kirk leads the team in receiving with 520 yards, followed by Calvin Ridley with 451 and Engram with 434.
Ridley’s yardage has come in bulks, and when he is double covered like in the New Orleans Saints game, it springs Kirk and Engram free.
“I think you realize that when the offense is clicking, it runs through both of them,” Pederson said of Kirk and Engram. “Calvin is being taken away by double coverages and Trevor (Lawrence) seems to find Evan and Christian somewhere. It is no surprise. There is a comfort level with Trevor.”
The Jags offense will have its hands full with the 49ers, boasting two of the game’s best pass rushers in Nick Bosa and newly acquired Chase Young.
The Jags faced off against Young in the opener last year, and played against Bosa’s brother Joey and Khalil Mack with the Chargers. Pederson said that the Chargers game is a solid precursor for what they will face this weekend.
“We have film on Chase in Washington and of course with Bosa, we know the type of player he is,” Pederson said. “It is a challenge to have two edge rushers like this. A lot of respect for both of them.”
Behind Bosa and Young is an All-Pro linebacker in Fred Warner, who has 43 tackles, two sacks and two picks this season.
“There is no shortage of talent on defense that is for sure,” Pederson said. “(Warner) is smart, gets the defense lined up. He can carry a receiver deep down the middle. Solid football player and somebody you give a lot of respect to. You have to play 11 on 11. It is our pieces against their pieces.”
Offensively, the list is equally as long for the ‘9ers. The biggest priority for the Jaguars defense will be stopping running back Christian McCaffrey.
“You can put him anywhere. He is that type of player,” Pederson said of the versatile back. “Overall solid player, you have to account for him. And it is hard to get him on the ground.”
The talent the 49ers possess is well documented, and they have only gotten healthier since the last time they played.
To Pederson, the team cannot worry about the big names they are playing against. The game cannot be won beforehand due to the amount of All-Pro players coming into town or recent playoff success.
Pederson said his team has to suit up and play like they have done eight other times this season. The rest, in front of what should be a sell-out crowd, will take care of itself.
“These guys are going to make plays,” Pederson said. “They are going to get a tackle for loss, they are going to get a sack. They may break up a pass. But it doesn’t keep you from continuing to try. You still have to play.”