For now the third time this year, the Jacksonville Jaguars and their fans will have to play the waiting game.
As quarterback Trevor Lawrence navigates the NFL’s concussion protocol, the big looming question heading into Sunday’s game in Tampa Bay is whether he will play or not.
So far, Lawrence has played through different leg and ankle injuries, but a concussion is a whole different beast.
Lawrence has been a part of the team at arm’s length, and can only do so much based on how his symptoms develop or decrease throughout the week.
His starting status for Sunday will be up in the air until further notice according to coach Doug Pederson.
“It is a tough decision, but the number one thing is making sure he is 100%,” Pederson said on Wednesday about whether or not to play Lawrence.
If Lawrence cannot go, the reins go to backup C.J. Beathard.
Beathard has started in the NFL before, and played for the Jags as recently as the Bengals’ game, but if Lawrence is cleared to play he will be the guy starting.
“You always leave the door open for the chance that Trevor clears,” Pederson said. “You want your starter to play. At the same time, internally, you prepare and C.J. does a great job of preparation.”
While Lawrence’s status waits in limbo, a handful of other Jaguars are coming along with their various injuries.
Receiver Zay Jones is “getting better” after a leg injury last week. Pederson said he is week to week. Defensive backs Tyson Campbell and Andre Cisco both practiced Wednesday, as did offensive linemen Ezra Cleveland and Walker Little. All four were limited.
Wednesday Injury Report pic.twitter.com/AI26pTm2Vh— Jacksonville Jaguars (@Jaguars) December 20, 2023
Pederson spent much of his time talking about the need to reinvigorate the team’s run game, something he wanted to happen against the Baltimore Ravens.
The coach did note that due to injuries all season, his offensive front hasn’t been able to play together long enough as a group to develop the rhythm of a solid run game.
“The lack of consistent players, the same guys in the same positions, for the whole season,” Pederson said of the run game’s struggles. “There is so much timing that goes on up front. It is hard for those guys to get in a rhythm. That is where it starts. Secondly, (it is) our ability to finish blocks and sustain blocks. It is no excuse for us not to continue to sustain and move people.”
Pederson said that without a solid run game, Lawrence’s passing game becomes more predictable and in turn can result in more negative plays for the team. As the run game goes, so will the team’s overall offensive identity.
“It is tough,” Pederson said of the lack of run support. “It takes a little bit away from your play action, your movement, screen game. It is something we have to continue to work at, continue to get better.”
Against the Ravens, red zone woes reared their ugly head on the national stage. The Jags were 0-3 in the red zone against Baltimore, after going a perfect 7-7 in the two games prior.
Currently, the Jags are at 53.66% in terms of converting red zone trips into touchdowns. Last year, they sat at 55.38%.
“100% would be great, but realistically, you would be 80-plus percent,” Pederson said. “Our goal is to score touchdowns in the red zone. Our biggest issues have been the turnovers down there. That has kept us from having a better scoring percentage.”
Pederson said the team’s turnovers in the red zone paint a worse picture than how the team is actually operating. Even still, turnovers are costly no matter when and where they happen.
“Any turnover is painful, especially down there,” Pederson said. “When you have a drive going, they are all painful.”
There is hope that the run game, and the overall offense, is not completely doomed however. Pederson pointed out rookie right tackle Anton Harrison and the veteran Cleveland as two players that give the team big opportunities for success.
Cleveland has been a do-it-all lineman for the Jags in his limited tenure. He will continue to do so, while also battling through a knee injury.
“He has really embraced the opportunity,” Pederson said of Cleveland. “He is playing a little hurt but he has done a really nice job for us and shown he is very capable.”
For Harrison, he has quietly had one of the best rookie lineman seasons in the NFL. By most metrics, he is the best rookie tackle in the league.
Among 9 rookie OTs with at least 100 pass-snaps, #Jaguars OT Anton Harrison is:— John Shipley (@_John_Shipley) December 19, 2023
- No. 1 in PFF pass-pro efficiency
- No. 2 in PFF pass-pro efficiency on true pass sets (No RPOs/Screens/PA)
- No. 1 in blown-block % in pass pro
- No. 2 in WAR (wins above replacement)
“As a rookie right tackle, he has faced a lot of great defensive ends and he has gotten better each week,” Pederson said. “He has done a nice job and settled in.”
Overall, not just the offense needs to shape up. The entire team and coaching staff does. It doesn’t need to be pretty to get back into the win column, they just need to flat out win.
“It is figuring out how to win right now,” Pederson said. “Everyone has to pay attention to their job and do what they are asked to do. Somewhere, somebody make a play. It may not be pretty, but if you can figure out how to get it done, it helps you.”
As for the next team on the schedule, Bucs’ quarterback Baker Mayfield has had a solid resurgence to his career in Tampa Bay.
He is coming off a game with a perfect passer rating, and has tossed 24 touchdowns to just eight picks so far this year.
“He is playing really well,” Pederson said of Mayfield. “He has gotten better as the season has gone on. He is getting the ball out of his hand extremely fast. That slows down the pass rush. He is trusting his guys and they are making plays for him. And he isn’t turning the ball over.”
The team is not going to do anything out of the ordinary to beat Tampa Bay. A win or loss doesn’t drastically change the team’s playoff odds. But the whole organization does have to realize the situation they have put themselves in over the last three weeks.
“You have to feel a sense of urgency,” Pederson said. “You don’t ever want to be desperate. That is my word with (the team).”
Pederson said his team isn’t being overly beaten mentally or physically. They have taken lumps in both departments, and to get back on track, they have to figure out how to readjust themselves to the overall game of football.
“It is a physical game, and you are going to get beat from time to time,” Pederson said. “It is the mental from the standpoint of understanding your role. Every offensive player knows they aren’t supposed to turn the ball over. It is a little more concentration, a little more focus, a little more attention to detail to where it becomes second nature. The physical part of it, it is the ebb and flow of the game.”
When traveling to Tampa Bay, trying to snap a three-game losing skid, the team will have to put all that behind them and return to the style of football that got them to their previous 8-3 record.
Pederson is hoping his team decides on Sunday that they are finished with losing.
“In each game, you see a lot of good things happen but it’s the negatives that are maximized,” Pederson said. “That is what has kept us from feeling better about ourselves. Sometimes enough is enough, and you have to take pride in the opportunities you get.”