An NFL schedule can make or break a season. And after claiming the AFC South last year, the Jaguars have some marquee matchups on their slate in 2023. Speaking during a recent appearance on the Rich Eisen Show, head coach Doug Pederson was asked his thoughts about the first few weeks of the season ahead - including welcoming his mentor Andy Reid to Duval County in Week 2:
“It’s gonna be an electric atmosphere for our fans here in Jacksonville. Obviously the Super Bowl champs coming in for our home opener, it’s gonna be a big game. We open up with Indy - we’ve got two division games the first three weeks. So we’ve got our work cut out for us. But Kansas City is one of those teams; if we are gonna be where they are, we gotta play better, smarter football. I don’t think we necessarily finished that last divisional game last year very smart, with a late turnover that cost us some points. So it’s a benchmark game early in the season for us.”
Pederson’s desire for a fast start this year is evident. He was at pains to emphasize it when discussing the growth of Trevor Lawrence earlier in the same interview. So much so, it seems the head coach feels the early part of the schedule could define their season.
That includes a two-week stint across the pond. The Jaguars head to London for a Week 4 tilt against Atlanta, before playing the Bills in the same city the Sunday after. This starts a run of four of five games away from TIAA Bank Field, and Pederson jokingly admitted that they’re ‘gonna log some miles’. Eisen asked Pederson what the team’s plans were for the unprecedented double-header overseas:
“We plan on staying over there. The first game we’ll leave on the Thursday like we normally do, play the Falcons and then we’ll just stay. Practice and get ready for Buffalo in the second game. We’re excited for that. The owner, with his businesses in the UK, it’s exciting for him, and he’s a benchmark over there. We’re fired up to play one game at Wembley and the other at Tottenham.”
So will there be time for a spot of sightseeing? Eisen suggested a visit to the Tower of London to see the Crown Jewels:
“I probably won’t! The guys might. But yeah, we’re just gonna set up shop. The second week we’ll have a full week over there, and we’ll just treat it like we would if we were in Jacksonville. We don’t let these types of things become distractions for us, but listen - it’s the Buffalo Bills. Another benchmark game for us to live up to some of the expectation, and some of the hype that surrounds playing Kansas City, Buffalo. We’ve got Cincinnati later in the season, Baltimore are in there too. It’s a schedule that when you win the AFC South, it’s a first-place schedule with first-placed opponents.”
️ Doug Pederson— Rich Eisen Show (@RichEisenShow) June 3, 2023
"I think it becomes situational. Teams that have dynamic return guys, it's not gonna affect." – the @Jaguars head coach chimed in with us Friday about the in-game topic du jour:#DUUUVAL #NFL #kickoffrule pic.twitter.com/JSE9sL1piG
Last month, the NFL voted to introduce changes to the kickoff rules - ultimately meaning a fair catch can be made anywhere inside the 25-yard line (rather than just the endzone) for the ball to be placed on the 25. This has sparked debate across the league, but Pederson predicts very little to change in the season ahead:
“My feeling on that - and obviously it will play itself out as the season unfolds - it becomes situational. Possibly weather related. Teams with dynamic return guys, it’s not gonna have an effect. I look at our team and Jamal Agnew, some of the returns he had late in the season, I don’t think it’s going to affect him. I just think for us, we play it normal. It’s a tool that can be used in a game-time situation. If a team is kicking off, or a team is behind, and they’re kicking off to you, maybe you fair catch that. Give yourself the 25-yard line to finish the game in a four-minute mode. But really, I don’t see it playing out a whole lot.”
If Pederson seems a little blasé about the rule change, it’s likely because he has the luxury of a dangerous returner in Agnew at his disposal. Not to mention that the Jaguars have just signed one of the best deep kickers in the league in Brandon McManus. That being said, he does admit that not every franchise is in the same boat:
“I just think each team is going to evaluate their special teams units, their kickers and how they kickoff. If you kick it deep anyway teams are gonna stay in the endzone and start on that 25. But those electric special teams units, it can still be an exciting play in football. It was exciting for us last year, Jamal ripping returns past the 40-yard line… it’s team by team, case by case. You’ll see it a little bit, but teams with those guys won’t take the ball out of their hands.”
With Andy Reid claiming the league is slowly turning into ‘flag football’, it’s understandable that some will embrace this rule change more than others. Whilst Pederson doesn’t disagree with his former boss, he was quick to put it into context:
“The league average was only just north of the 25-yard line. So what’s a yard or two in the grand scheme of things? But if the ball is kicked to the 10-yard line, even the five-yard line, you should be past the 25 no problem.”
Whether it’s the irregular schedule or changes to the rulebook, the Jaguars are ready for it.