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Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence deserves none — but also, all — of the blame

Trevor Lawrence is both the main catalyst and inhibitor of the team’s trajectory.

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Football gods tormented Jacksonville Jaguars fans on Sunday with a simple anniversary post.

A year ago, the franchise was riding high. Jacksonville pulled off a euphoric comeback victory over the Los Angeles Chargers in the Wild Card Round to put an exclamation point on its second division-winning season since 1999.

A week ago, new rock bottoms were discovered. The Jaguars got shipped to Cancun by the Tennessee Titans after beating them to punch a playoff ticket in last year’s regular season finale.

Wide receiver Christian Kirk, who essentially missed the final six games of 2023, reflected on the lost season last Monday.

“It’s hard in football to just be able to pinpoint on one certain thing, ‘This is the reason why we started winning games’ or ‘This is the reason why we started losing games’ and I think that goes to say, everybody wants to talk so much about last year, and how we all of a sudden switched our season, became a new team, and got into the postseason. Nobody can still give you an answer of why that actually happened. Even statistically and factually, you can’t go and look and say ‘This is why.’

“I think there’s a sense and a nature of, you know, at some point, it’s going to happen, and that’s not how football works. You got to go out there and you got to take it and eventually, you know, it’ll expose you. And the NFL is hard and we just weren’t ready.”

“You can’t go and look and say ‘This is why.’”

*rolls neck, cracks fingers*

In the best stretch of Jaguars football under Doug Pederson (a 6-1 post-bye run to end the 2022 regular season), Trevor Lawrence ranked second in total Expected Points Added (EPA) and sixth in passing success rate among 32 qualifying quarterbacks, per Sports Info Solutions.

Lawrence sat outside the top 20 in both metrics during the worst stretch of Pederson’s tenure (a 3-6 post-bye run to end the 2023 season).

The Jaguars go as Lawrence goes.

Technically, there’s not a significant relationship between Lawrence’s passing success rate and Jacksonville’s record (though there is a moderate correlation of 0.579 by my math). But even if you need to squint a bit, it’s clear that 16 has an impact on the rest of the 53.

The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, so the table below shouldn’t shock anyone. But the point remains that when Lawrence has a strong game -- good or bad -- so does his team.

The Trevor Lawrence Effect, part two

Passing success rate Team record Point differential
Passing success rate Team record Point differential
40% or lower 1-8 -97
41% to 54% 9-10 -11
55% or higher 7-0 +110

Statistically, the third-year pro had a poor campaign: Lawrence finished outside the top 12 in completion percentage, yards per attempt, passer rating, and just about any other efficiency metric in 2023. His 0.07 EPA per dropback ranked 17th, just ahead of Derek Carr and Russell Wilson.

That said, The Ringer’s Steven Ruiz and The 33rd Team’s Derrik Klassen (two of the internet’s best film experts) each have Lawrence ranked sixth in their subjective quarterback rankings.

It doesn’t take a tape grinder to see how unlucky Lawrence was last season.

Advanced stats match the eye test.

Aaron Schatz (the godfather of modern football analytics and creator of the DVOA metric) dubbed Lawrence “Better Than His Standard Stats” in his 2023 season recap for FTN Fantasy.

Yes, Trevor Lawrence threw 14 interceptions and his completion rate dropped slightly, but he (narrowly) had more yards per attempt than he did in 2022. Lawrence saw his passing efficiency bump up from 4.0% (18th) in VOA to 8.7% (16th) in DVOA once opponent adjustments were applied. Also, Lawrence led the league by drawing 18 DPI penalties for 290 yards. And he played behind a line that ranked 29th in ESPN’s pass block win rate.

Twitter/X user @benbbaldwin (a leader of the #LetRussCook movement and vital advocate of publicly accessible NFL data) showed that Lawrence has lost more EPA than any other quarterback due to bad luck.

In EPA per dropback adjusted “for things like dropped passes and interceptions, yards after the catch, etc.” Lawrence ranks sixth. The same ranking as those film experts.

Anyone who’s paid attention to the right things (not box scores and @jagsfan938’s comments) knows Trevor Lawrence is a very good NFL quarterback. Like, very good. One capable of carrying a franchise to success. But in a tale as old as time, this passer’s team isn’t meeting him halfway.

Klassen wrote a related piece titled Don’t Blame Trevor Lawrence for Jaguars’ Collapse.

In reality, being a dominant team requires far more than just a quarterback. Still, the hyperbolic frenzy surrounding a “generational prospect” at quarterback throws that truth out the door for many people.

It’s the same nonsense we all went through watching Andrew Luck with the Indianapolis Colts. To be clear, Lawrence isn’t quite on Luck’s level, but it’s the same phenomenon. He is almost punished for making the team better than it is and presenting a false sense of optimism the rest of the roster doesn’t warrant yet.

To circle back to the Kirk quote; when the Jaguars experienced its 2022 joyride to the playoffs, it was fueled by MVP-caliber play from Lawrence. When Jacksonville collided with a late-season wall the following year, it was because its luxurymobile literally broke down. Lawrence sustained different injuries in Weeks 6, 13, 15 and 16. He missed the first football game of his life due to injury in Week 17.

There may be a canine in his X-rays, but the rest of Jacksonville’s roster tucked their tails between their legs when the going got ruff.

Kirk’s own injury didn’t help, but Calvin Ridley (who reached 1,000 receiving yards on the season) and Evan Engram (who became the 8th tight end to reach 100 catches in NFL history) were more of volume merchants than efficient elevators. The offensive line (which earned the 10th-most dollars of any such unit in 2023) continued to flail. And the running back room (which contains recent first- and third-round picks) couldn’t add any juice to a dried-out offense.

I could get into coaching, but that’d be another lengthy article itself. The theme is that when Jacksonville’s franchise savior stumbled, nobody helped pick him up.

Now, in the present day, Jaguars pass-catchers, decision-makers, and ticket-holders alike are wondering what went wrong. There are plenty of areas to point the finger at, but above all else, know that Trevor Lawrence did not fail his team. His team failed him.

He simply got so good at captaining the ship that the rest of his crew began slacking off.

Yes, his backbreaking turnovers can send people to their primary physicians asking if Jaguars fandom is right for them, but most of Lawrence’s lowlights can’t even be pinned on him. Drops (Week 18 example) and miscommunication/wrong routes (Week 18 example) left Lawrence feeling forced to wear a superhero cape (which led to most of his fumbles).

This 6’ 6” quarterback prodigy is not the hero Jacksonville deserves, but the hero it needs. Unfortunately, the Batmobile and other gadgets weren’t included in the terms of his rookie contract -- even if an extraordinary amount of resources are at his enterprise’s disposal.

The fact that Shad Kahn is capable and willing to spend cash, but Jacksonville’s front office stubbornly refused to upgrade its 2022 roster around Lawrence, is just outrageous. It ultimately cost the Jaguars a shot at contending for a Super Bowl in 2023, and the collateral damage (see: Caldwell, Mike) has only just begun.

“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” -Winston Churchill

If there’s a takeaway from the disasterclass that was Jacksonville’s 2023 season, it’s that the Jaguars cannot repeat the same mistake they made last summer of sitting around the house and letting the best player to ever grace the building hoist them up, as if they’re Zeus burdening Atlas with the weight of the heavens on his shoulders. They cannot repeat the same mistakes their division-rival Indianapolis Colts made by failing to build a capable offensive line and ecosystem around Andrew Luck, who was coincidentally the most common player comp for Lawrence when he entered the pros.

Let me offer another player analogy. The city of Cleveland thought it won the lottery when the Cavaliers earned the first overall pick in 2003 for the right to draft LeBron James. But despite James dragging that franchise to an NBA Finals appearance -- and five straight conference semifinals -- the king’s patience eventually wore thin.

Jacksonville has one objective this offseason: it cannot allow the prince’s patience to wear thin.