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Jaguars Monday presser: “You gotta put it on somebody”

Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson met the media on Monday following the team’s loss to the Tennessee Titans

Jacksonville Jaguars v Tennessee Titans Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

The Jacksonville Jaguars suffered a nightmare end to their season on Sunday, beaten 28-20 by the Tennessee Titans. That loss meant that, instead of preparing for playoff football this week, the team were clearing out their lockers ahead of a longer offseason than anticipated. Doug Pederson met with the media on Monday, and inevitably faced something of an inquest - beginning with the potential for coaching staff changes:

“At this time, I’m still processing everything. Obviously, we just finished the season, so I’m going to take the next little bit here and think about everything with the way we finished. It’s not where we want to be and I got to take all of this into consideration.”

That first question was a thinly disguised inquiry into the job security of offensive coordinator Press Taylor, who has come under fire for dubious play calling in 2023. The next question was less vague and more direct regarding Pederson’s assessment of his OC’s performance this season, but Doug remained positive:

“I thought it went good. Can it be better? Yeah, it can be better. I think at times, when you struggle offensively like we did at times, I don’t care who is calling plays, you might as well look at that thing with your eyes closed and just pick a play. Because it’s hard, it’s difficult; I’ve been there. You’re trying to find that one play or a spark that gets your offense rolling and with the struggles we had at times, that’s a difficult thing to do. Whether it’s in the run game or the pass game, whatever it might be. Then, you’re looking at the amount of turnovers. You go up and down the field, you turn the ball over in the red zone. You just can’t do this, it’s not play calling, it’s not the scheme or the design of plays, it’s just having the urgency of ‘we have to protect the football better,’ things of that nature. You jump offsides, now you’re first and 15. Now, you’re looking at first and 15 and anticipating maybe being second and eight, second and seven. All of that, everything we do matters. As a play caller, yeah, you want to be as efficient as you can, especially on early downs. But at times, you get handcuffed just a little bit by trying to find the right play. Especially when you’re struggling as an offense. I thought overall, Press did a nice job of organizing the offense, the game planning that we did, and even calling. I would have to go back and look at all the numbers, but I think points and different things like that, we were better (than last year). We can still get better on third down and in the red zone, all of that. He did a nice job.”

Pederson went on to add that there was never a consideration of removing play calling duties from Taylor at any point in the season. That said, he understood the team’s disappointment, with the internal postmortem from the players already underway:

“It started today, listening to players in the private conversations that I have with guys. Just to feel them and get a gauge. I think that gives you pretty good insight. One of the things I feel like is a strength of mine is gauging our players and I felt the same way with some of the conversations I’ve had already. I think I know the ‘whys,’ which are my whys, they’re not going to be your whys. It’s all correctable and fixable moving forward. It’s good information for me as I lead the team in the future into the offseason and into the offseason program, and how I can begin to construct messaging and leadership and all of that kind of stuff to help us not be in the situation again.”

Were injuries more of a factor in 2023 than in 2022? Pederson was non-commital:

“Yeah, you never know. Each year is different, some years you have very few, some years you have quite a few. For us this year was quite a few, but it was the ones that guys were missing four games. The IR, missing four games, it disrupts a lot of things. It disrupts them individually; it could disrupt a unit. In our case, particularly the offensive line with the amount of injury there, especially on the left side. Guys that missed, Cam’s [OL Cam Robinson] situation, it all can impact your football team. We never want to use injury as an excuse to why we win or lose games, it’s our job to make sure that we prepare everybody to play. The players who are elevated, it’s their job to get themselves ready to play.”

So was this season a step back from last year? Pederson was happy to admit the team fell short, but was optimistic for the future:

“I feel fine moving forward, I just think how we finished the last six games of the year, how we did it, we had opportunities to win these games. It wasn’t like we were out of a lot of games down the stretch here. It’s that we lost the game more than them winning the game and that’s really been our season. When you take a look at the whole thing, I tried to communicate this with the team: everything is connected. Everything is connected; go back to Week 1 and Week 2, we played the Chiefs in Week 2 and I mentioned to the team how this could have playoff implications. Even in Week 2, then Week 3 you play the Texans. This could have playoff implications for the AFC South. You show up here today and it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s what he’s talking about.’ We can’t get to that point; it’s got to be that sense of urgency where everything matters. This is all part of teaching the team to win and preparing to win; focusing in on preparation and doing all those little things that as coaches, we talk a lot to our players about and we can’t just push it aside and say, ‘Hey, we got 12 more games or 15 more games; we still got a three-game lead in the division, it’s okay.’ It’s really not. You can’t let things slide, you can’t let things slip and that sense of urgency is important to the success we have. Especially down the stretch here, when everything began to matter.”

QB evaluation

Monday’s presser wasn’t a hounding for Pederson, but whilst the media fell short of wanting a pound of flesh, they still wanted to know where the Jags HC felt the team could be better. Inevitably, Trevor Lawrence became a focal point, in particular the number of turnovers that the quarterback conceded. Pederson admitted it was a source of frustration:

“I think it’s number one. I think it’s the biggest thing that he has to focus on moving forward. We just can’t have this amount of turnovers, how we turn the ball over, where we turn the ball over, it doesn’t matter. We got to protect the football, that’s the number one thing. I think we’re going to probably end up No. 29, 30, 31 somewhere down there in giveaways. That also doesn’t take into consideration the turnover on downs, too. Those are giveaways as well. For the quarterback, the person that touches the ball every snap, we got to make sure the emphasis is taking care of the ball.”

Pederson was also stoic when asked if too much was asked of Lawrence this season, in a campaign that saw the QB suffer multiple injuries:

“You ask did we put too much on him? No. No, we didn’t. He’s very capable of handling what we gave him. Now, there might be times where we might have a little more in a gameplan than one week that might bog him down. That’s one us as a staff to make sure that we don’t do that. Even the times where we felt hew as coming off an injury, we tried to scale it back just a little bit. You still have to go into a game, you never want to handcuff your team and not give them the right stuff or the right information or put us into a better play. I didn’t feel like at any time we overloaded him; he’s very capable of handling all of the information. He’s a smart guy. In fact, the point of when you sit down and talk to him (Trevor), tell me what you think. He goes, ‘I want these three plays out.’ Fine, let’s take them out. We did. That’s all healthy for your team.”

Whilst Pederson didn’t throw Lawrence under the bus, he wasn’t going to ramp down his expectations of his quarterback:

“He’s your quarterback. You got to put it on somebody. The quarterback is the person to do that with. Trevor is very capable and we’re very confident with that and with him. It didn’t feel like it was too much at any one point.”

Lingering disappointment

Sunday’s loss was the Jaguars’ fifth in the final six games, a slide that allowed the Houston Texans to steal the division crown and condemn Jacksonville to watching the playoffs from the sofa. As disappointing as that was for everyone, Pederson intends to use it as an incentive to get back there next year:

“Listen, I think it is fuel and motivation for how we move forward. I think that you’re only as good as your last game. We weren’t very good yesterday. Yesterday’s three hours was kind of that snapshot of how our season has gone, especially the last six games. It has to fuel everybody’s desire to want to win and to be great. You just can’t let your preparation slip as we talked about. You can’t let a rep in practice go by without making sure it’s done properly. That’s me, that’s all the coaches, all the players, it’s everybody, all together making sure that doesn’t happen.”

Pederson talked through some positives; the growth of Travon Walker, Calvin Ridley’s first season being a ‘bright spot’, and Josh Allen doing everything asked of him in a contract year - although he didn’t commit to re-signing the edge rusher this offseason. Inevitably, the negatives crept back into the conversation - more specifically, whether drastic changes were needed. Doug disagreed:

“No. It’s not those types of changes. It could be as easy as the communication, the messaging of the team and how I approach that.”

Despite his defiance, Monday saw some fairly drastic changes, with Mike Caldwell and his defensive staff fired. So blame is already being laid at some doors. There is a creeping sense of urgency enveloping the team right now, a sense that the Jaguars have opened up something of a Super Bowl window, and perhaps they’re missing an opportunity to take the next step. Pederson acknowledged the point:

“Yeah and we all feel that. We do. Conversations I’ve had with Shad [Khan], over the last several weeks really since Week 1. I mean, you only get so many windows in this league, and we feel like with the personnel that we have, and we’ll continue to add, our window’s now. We’ve got to make the most of our opportunities and Trent [Baalke] is the same way. We continue to build the roster that way and continue to add pieces. We just can’t have the collapse like we did this year, because you feel like now the season’s sort of wasted. You had a great opportunity to win the division and we didn’t, so we have to live with that. We have to own it and we’ve got to learn from it. I still feel like we still have the best football ahead of us moving forward.”

So what moves are we likely to see to keep that window open, and take advantage of it?

“I think those conversations are to be had. We’re not there yet, obviously, but we’ll take a look at everything as we move forward.”

Stay tuned folks. The inquest isn’t over yet.