The Jacksonville Jaguars are one step closer to Sunday Night Football.
With almost the entire week of practice now behind them, and two straight losses, head coach Doug Pederson said on Friday that his team is full speed ahead and ready to face the Baltimore Ravens.
“They have had a good week,” Pederson said. “I felt like they have been locked in and focused. They have had a couple good days.”
The Jags are actually closing in on having a healthy roster for Sunday’s game, highlighted by the improvement to Andre Cisco and Tyson Campbell’s statuses.
Both of the defensive backs are “doing well,” according to Pederson. The coach noted that Cisco has “done OK, but (Friday) and (Saturday) will be big” for the safety.
Corner Tre Herndon has cleared his concussion protocol. Receiver Jamal Agnew is in the same boat as Cisco, after being activated off of injured reserve. Linemen Walker Little and Ezra Cleveland are also still being evaluated.
The team will need all the help it can get defensively to stop Ravens’ quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Jackson has passed for 2,934 yards this season and has the 10th best QBR in the league.
Known for his first couple years in the league as a run-first quarterback, Jackson has reinvented his image as a pure passer. Pederson said that in 2023, Jackson is using his legs more to find open passes instead of strictly to run.
“He is definitely looking to throw, but he doesn’t hesitate to run either,” Pederson said. “That is part of playing the quarterback position. He is very dangerous outside the pocket with his speed and elusiveness. He is looking to throw the ball down the field and he has some guys that can get open, so that helps.”
As for the Ravens’ defense, the unit is one of the best in the league.
The team is also getting healthier, as star safety Kyle Hamilton returned to practice on Thursday and Friday after suffering a knee injury.
“He is a great player for them,” Pederson said of Hamilton. “He will line up all over the field. Good player.”
Along the defensive front, Justin Madubuike has dominated for Baltimore.
The defensive tackle has 11 sacks this year, and if he records on sack on Sunday, he will have recorded at least a half-sack in 11 straight games. He then could tie the mark set by Chris Jones in 2018 for the most sacks over an 11 game stretch by an interior defensive lineman.
“This entire front rolls off the ball,” Pederson said. “(Madubuike’s) length and athleticism shows up. He benefits from having guys like (Jadeveon) Clowney adding pressure. Anytime he can get one on one and get a jump, he is quick and powerful and has done a nice job this year of affecting the quarterback.”
For Pederson’s offense, he hopes to jumpstart a fairly stagnant run game. If the team can get Travis Etienne going on the ground, it can help stop the constant pressure from the Ravens’ front.
“It takes the heat off the pass rush, when you can effectively run the football,” Pederson said. “It helps your play action pass, things of that nature. It is something we haven’t done well in, but we have to continue to try it and continue to improve.”
The Jaguars do not need to win on Sunday to still make the playoffs and clinch the AFC South. A win however helps the feel around the team and mojo heading into the final games of the regular season.
If the team is to win against the AFC’s best, it will have to eliminate the constant errors and mistakes that have plagued the squad over the past two weeks.
“You look at the last two weeks, the mistakes we made, we had chances to win both games,” Pederson said. “If we just eliminate some of the BS – the turnovers, the takeaways, the missed assignments – you are feeling better. Our guys have taken pride in that this week. They want to put their best foot forward and go out and play a complete game.”