Trevor Lawrence vs Baker Mayfield
Only one place to start in this contest - the battle between two number one overall quarterbacks. It seemed as if Trevor Lawrence was just reaching peak form before an untimely high ankle sprain against the Cincinnati Bengals coincided with a three game skid for the Jaguars. Lawrence has shown incredible toughness to not miss any further gametime after that injury saw him limp off the field in Week 13, but three interceptions against the Cleveland Browns, followed by just 3 of 12 third downs converted against the Baltimore Ravens, suggests there has been a price to pay. The unflappable Jacksonville QB will remain even keeled as he works his way back to 100%, and hopefully that comes as an early present this Christmas Eve…
Baker Mayfield, on the other hand, is coming off the back of maybe his greatest performance as a pro. The much-maligned quarterback has had a rough time of late, bouncing around the Carolina Panthers and Los Angeles Rams after losing his starting job in Cleveland to Deshaun Watson. He seems to have found a home in Tampa though, and dominated at Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers last Sunday. With Chris Godwin now fully healthy and lining up opposite Mike Evans, Mayfield has a dangerous complement of receivers to work with. A confident gunslinger, he won’t be shy in challenging the Jaguars secondary. If Lawrence can outduel his counterpart on Sunday, it will go a long way to helping the Jaguars pick up their first win in four games.
Josh Allen vs Tristan Wirfs
Josh Allen: 76 QB pressures this season— PFF JAX Jaguars (@PFF_Jaguars) December 21, 2023
4th in the NFL pic.twitter.com/YXMvXgrt9p
I think it’s fair to say that nobody quite expected the year that Josh Allen has delivered in 2023. If the season ended today, he would have still surpassed his best year in every statistical category. With three games to go, Allen is only 3.5 sacks off equalling his output for the past three campaigns put together. His form has certainly given the front office something to think about, as his rookie deal ends this offseason. According to PFF, Allen’s 32.8% win rate on true pass rush sets is the best in the NFL. Quite simply, he’s been a nightmare for offensive lines in 2023 - and he’s not done yet.
Allen had been lining up on the left side for most of this season, but saw that change against the Ravens. Now he and Travon Walker have been switching it up, meaning he’ll look to attack the pocket from various spots on Sunday. That could see us be treated to a power matchup between him and Buccaneers’ blind side blocker Tristan Wirfs, who has become the lynchpin of Tampa’s offensive line. This unit has overseen some changes the last two years after injury and retirement has meant new personnel. But Wirfs, who locked down a starting job as a rookie and has seamlessly switched to the left tackle spot this season, has become a real leader. Now in his fourth year, Wirfs is likely headed to his third Pro Bowl - and don’t be surprised if he achieves All Pro honors as he did in 2021 (1st team) and 2022 (2nd team). It might be the season of giving, but Wirfs will be playing the role of Scrooge against Allen this weekend.
Travis Etienne vs KJ Britt
Easy to watch the tape and get excited about the stability KJ Britt brings next to Lavonte.— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) December 21, 2023
Never out of position, hasn't missed a tackle in 2 starts, good processor, aggressive to attack vs the run, active in coverage w/ good awareness. Very sharp last 2 weeks. pic.twitter.com/fQrNWQnbjZ
Regular readers of this weekly piece will be familiar with my concerns regarding the Jaguars balance on offense. Half of making Trevor Lawrence’s life easier is to compliment him with a solid ground game, something we saw demonstrated at the tail end of 2022 as the Jaguars marched into the playoffs. This season, Travis Etienne hasn’t quite been able to tote the rock with the same consistency, and his yards per game have been slowly declining. In the last six games, Etienne has averaged just 42.3 rushing yards per contest - compare that to the 72.8 yards he averaged through the first eight games. On Sunday, Trevor Lawrence finished as the Jaguars’ leading rusher with 41 yards - 10 more than Etienne mustered. With the postseason in sight, it behooves Press Taylor to get the ground game going once again - and that starts on Christmas Eve against the Bucs.
Tampa will try to counter any attempt to establish a run game with a strong linebacker corps. They were even able to declare Devin White inactive last week, such is their confidence in KJ Britt. The third year thumper has started the last three games for the Bucs and has thrived on the interior - adding some real physicality to the middle of the defense. Whilst not possessing the same sideline to sideline speed as White, Britt is ruthless when meeting running backs coming through the line of scrimmage. Expect the Jaguars to acknowledge this; Etienne has speed and elusiveness, and perhaps a run game that works outside of the tackles could be the best opportunity for Jacksonville to bring back the balance to their offense.
Which matchups are you looking forward to watching this weekend?