The Jacksonville Jaguars are about to set forth on an over 4,000 mile journey to London. For the next two weeks, the team will be playing across the pond, trying to snap a two-game losing skid.
At 1-2, the team turns its sights towards its next foe in the Atlanta Falcons.
But before the team can face-off against Woody, Buzz and Bijan Robinson, the team will have to figure out solutions to losing two key starters.
Wide receiver Zay Jones is “probably a long shot” for Sunday’s game, after suffering a knee injury against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Linebacker Devin Lloyd will also miss the Falcons game, and the Buffalo Bills game, after having screws put in his thumb on Wednesday.
The next man up in replace of Lloyd will be second-year linebacker Chad Muma, someone coach Doug Pederson thinks is more than able to fill in and compete at a high level.
“Chad has been doing really well,” Pederson said at his Wednesday press conference. “We want to make sure he continues to develop and play. Now, he gets a chance to step up and start. Young player who we are excited about. He will do a good job.”
While Lloyd will not travel overseas, the team will be taking Dawuane Smoot, Antonio Johnson, Cooper Hodges and Cam Robinson with them.
Johnson “will do some things this week, individual-wise,” Pederson said. There is “a chance” the rookie could be good to go by the Buffalo game.
As for Smoot, Robinson and Hodges, the team is going to take it slowly as all three get acclimated back to playing shape and speed.
Defensive lineman DaVon Hamilton will remain in Jacksonville while the team is away, along with corner Greg Junior.
Proper game speed has been something the team has been missing through two weeks according to Pederson. The team has got off to fine starts, but has yet to be able to properly close the door.
“We just have to focus on the execution part of the game,” Pederson said. “We started fast, we just didn’t finish. That is the emphasis this week, to get off to this faster start.”
Someone the team will need a Week 1-style performance from is former Falcon Calvin Ridley.
Ridley has had troubles with dropped balls in his first season back in two years, though Pederson said he is not terribly worried about Ridley being too amped up or too distracted to face his former squad.
“He will be excited. But Calvin does a great job of focusing on Calvin and understanding his role,” Pederson said. “I am looking forward to seeing how he performs against them. My message to him is to always just be him and do the things he is capable of doing.”
Playing in Europe is probably not high on any coach or player’s list of things they want to do every year, but it is the reality of the modern NFL.
For the Jags, the team is going to take the trip as a chance to refresh itself and get realigned mentally before a home stand against the Indianapolis Colts in three weeks.
“I think it is a good opportunity,” Pederson said of playing in London. “We are excited to be going over. It is a chance for us to sort of reset and regroup.”
Pederson likened playing in London to playing in Detroit during the preseason. The trip is an opportunity for the team to be around one another almost 24/7, and can be a useful way to build bonds to strengthen the squad.
Schedules and routines will stay largely the same, but players and coaches will have to deal with small things, like a different playing surface or getting extra hydration after the plane ride.
“I try not to make too many changes,” Pederson said of the London schedule. “Keep it business as usual for everybody. Our goal is to go over there and win two football games.”
It is hard not to make correlations between last year’s early season losing and this year’s. Pederson agreed.
The coach said at times last season and this year, the team does too much, which in turn has impacted the outcome of games negatively.
“We put ourselves in a hole last year, 3-7, because of things we did to ourselves,” Pederson said. “Some of those same things are creeping into our game now. We all try to press a little bit, make something happen, instead of letting the game unfold. We just have to get back into having a solid week of practice and focusing on us.”
The silver lining in all of this is that the Jaguars ended their season winning six of their final seven regular season games, winning the AFC South and winning a playoff game.
Early season struggles are not necessarily indicative of late season failures. But they are an issue nonetheless.
“I tell this team it is not about how we start, but how we finish the season,” Pederson said. “We are making mistakes. We are beating ourselves. Once we figure out how to get out of our way, then things begin to go in your favor.”
The Jags were a team that many believed during the offseason could be a sleeper for playing in the Super Bowl. The team is almost unanimously believed to at least win the AFC South.
As Pederson has said since the close of last season, all the talking is great. The play on the field, however, will be what actually matters.
“Now we have to go do it,” Pederson said. “We can’t keep talking about it.”