The Chargers (1-1) are set to do battle with the Jaguars (1-1) this Sunday inside SoFi Stadium. The Bolts are coming off a close loss to the Chiefs while the Jaguars just shut out the Colts 24-0.
Both teams employ long-haired quarterbacks with high upside. One has paved his way to superstardom while the other is patiently waiting for his time to shine. Each club also boasts a defense that’s strong against the run.
Can the Chargers find a way to fend off a scrappy Jaguars team, despite possibly entering Sunday with several starters out? Ryan O’Bleness of Big Cat Country helped me preview this game in our latest edition of “Questions with the Enemy.”
Let’s get into it.
1.) It’s year two for Trevor Lawrence. What was it like watching him during his rookie season? Have you noticed legitimate improvement in his first two games this season? What are the expectations for the former first overall pick in his sophomore campaign?
Watching Trevor Lawrence as a rookie was, well, let’s just say frustrating. But it really wasn’t his fault. Urban Meyer almost single-handedly ruined his development, but Lawrence is resilient and while he struggled last year, Lawrence is still every bit of that generational talent at quarterback that came out of the 2021 NFL Draft. It’s just a matter of patience with him as he continues to adjust to the NFL. Now that he has an actual NFL-caliber head coach in Doug Pederson and a strong offensive staff in his corner, his potential is much closer to being unlocked.
So far in 2022, Lawrence has had one average-to-below average performance and one really strong performance. In the season-opener against the Washington Commanders, he completed 24-for-42 (57.1 percent) for 275 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Those numbers aren’t awful, but Lawrence fell into some of his bad rookie habits: not going through progressions in a timely manner, locking into one receiver, telegraphing throws, poor decision-making at times, missing throws to open receivers, etc.
However, last week Lawrence shined against the Indianapolis Colts. He completed 25 of 30 passes (83.3. percent) for 235 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. He picked apart an Indianapolis secondary that refused to adjust all game, really just by dinking and dunking the Colts down the field, completing 18 of 20 passes in the short area of the field (less than 10 air yards) for 140 yards and two touchdowns, according to NFL’s Next Gen Stats.
Trevor Lawrence generated a career-high +16.5 passing EPA in the Jaguars 24-0 win over the Colts in Week 2.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 19, 2022
Lawrence mostly targeted the short area of the field (0 to 9 air yards), completing 18 of 20 passes for 140 yards & 2 TD (+11.6% CPOE).#INDvsJAX | #DUUUVAL pic.twitter.com/v5wLbVN3Kx
So, yeah, there definitely seems to be improvements in Lawrence’s game under Pederson’s direction and the coaching staff came up with a perfect game plan against the Colts in which Lawrence surgically executed to perfection. As I mentioned, he still has a ways to go, and while I disagreed with most fans that Lawrence played poorly against Washington (I would call it an “OK” performance), he did revert back to some of those aforementioned rookie mistakes in that game. However his improvement from Week One to Week Two was quite noticeable and impressive, and if he continues on that upward trajectory, he is going to be in for a very solid 2022 campaign and career. This team will go as far as Lawrence takes it.
For me personally, my expectations for Lawrence aren’t sky high. I just want to see him continue to improve, honestly — prove he can take care of the football (not give it away as frequently as he did as a rookie), compete, lead his team, hit open receivers, make good decisions and put his team in position to win. That sounds basic, but I don’t think fans are necessarily expecting a Pro Bowl caliber season from Lawrence, but simply want to see him make good on his talent and abilities and eventually turn Jacksonville into a contender. I think he will do that.
2.) Besides wide receiver Christian Kirk, who are some of the other offensive players that Lawrence will lean on against the Chargers?
Outside of Christian Kirk — who leads the team in receptions (12), receiving yards (195) and receiving touchdowns (two) thus far — watch out for fellow wide receivers Zay Jones and Marvin Jones Jr., as well as tight end Evan Engram in the passing game. Engram actually has the second-most receptions on the team with 11, while Zay Jones is second in receiving yards with 88 and continues to develop his connection with Lawrence. Marvin Jones Jr. is a savvy veteran who will make plays when needed and acts as somewhat of a security blanket for Lawrence.
On the ground, Jacksonville has a formidable duo of running backs in James Robinson and Travis Etienne Jr. Both players are coming off of major injuries in 2021, but have looked healthy and fairly strong in 2022 so far. Robinson and Etienne have combined for 197 rushing yards on 47 attempts (4.2 yards per carry), and Robinson has scored three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving). The two running backs have also combined for eight receptions for 68 yards. The Jaguars didn’t have a ton of success on the ground against the Colts (Jacksonville didn’t really need to, given the success in the passing game), but showed off some diverse running concepts last week, mixing in some gap schemes along with the normal zone blocking scheme.
Not that offensive linemen get much of the glory, but tackles Cam Robinson and Jawaan Taylor have played well through the first two games and are worth keeping an eye on come Sunday.
3.) If you were Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, how would you go about attacking this Jaguars defense? Any specific matchups you would attempt to exploit?
Given that Justin Herbert is banged up, I would call some quick passes early to get the ball out of Herbert’s hands quickly and keep Herbert out of harm’s way with Travon Walker, Josh Allen and others coming off of the edge. Maybe try to get Austin Ekeler more involved as a wide receiver out of the backfield. Jacksonville put a lot of pressure on Matt Ryan last week against the Colts and made him have a very lousy day. Herbert is a much better quarterback than Ryan at this stage in their careers, but still, you have to keep pressure off of Herbert if you are Joe Lombardi.
After setting up the short-yardage passing game, test the defense deep. While L.A. hasn’t really had a vertical offense quite yet, this might be the week for Lombardi to take some shots. The Chargers could attack the middle of the field, where the Jaguars are vulnerable. Pro Football Focus recently called Jacksonville’s safeties (Andre Cisco and Rayshawn Jenkins) a weak link of the defense, so it might be worth it for the Chargers to test that theory. Although, PFF also said that the cornerback duo of Shaquill Griffin and Tyson Campbell has been “excellent,” which is why I recommend going after the middle of the field and not trying too many deep shots outside of the numbers.
I am interested to see if Ekeler or the other running backs for the Chargers can get anything going on the ground. It’s important for L.A. to not be one-dimensional and throw the ball every play, but with Ekeler averaging just 2.7 yards per carry, and the Jaguars holding Jonathan Taylor to just 54 yards last week, this doesn’t look like a favorable matchup for the Chargers. Jacksonville is allowing just 69.5 rushing yards per game (third in the NFL) and 3.4 yards per carry through two games. It’s probably too early for those numbers to truly mean anything yet, but I am not sure how much success the Chargers will have in the running game. Still, Lombardi needs to mix in some runs to keep the Jaguars honest.
4.) Same as question three but switching to the other side of the ball. If you were defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill, how would you go about stopping this Jaguars offense?
The big thing here, once again, is pressure. If the Chargers can get to Lawrence and rattle him, the Jaguars will be in for a long day. I mentioned earlier that Robinson and Taylor have played well at the tackle spots, but facing off against guys like Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack will be their biggest challenges yet. I also think L.A. can get pressure up the middle, specifically against the left interior side of Jacksonville’s offensive line as Luke Fortner is a rookie center and Ben Bartch has struggled a bit at left guard.
I would also recommend showing the Jaguars different looks and mixing up coverages — maybe disguising coverages pre-snap and doing some pre-snap movement. The Colts didn’t really do this last week, primarily staying in a cover-3 look (with a little bit of cover-1) and were eaten alive by Lawrence in the short passing game as he just took what the defense gave him. Perhaps the Chargers could utilize some stunts with the defensive linemen to try to put extra pressure and confusion on Jacksonville’s offensive line.
I would also say that Renaldo Hill and the Chargers need to limit the effectiveness of Robinson and Etienne on the ground. Put the game on Lawrence’s shoulders and try to make him fall back into some of those rookie mistakes I mentioned earlier. Take away the short passing game for Lawrence and make him challenge you downfield.
5.) The Chargers are currently seven-point favorites over Jacksonville, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. The over/under is set at 47. Give us a quick game summary of how you see this one shaking out, whether you’re taking the over or under, and top it all off with a final game score prediction.
The Jaguars are putrid on the West Coast (3-15 overall) and have not had any success playing the Chargers on the road in the past (0-5 all time in San Diego/Los Angeles), so I don’t like Jacksonville’s chances to win here. The Chargers are the better team overall, especially if Justin Herbert isn’t limited at all by his rib cartilage injury. I also think the Chargers’ defense will give the Jaguars’ offense a lot more headaches than the Indianapolis Colts did last week.
With that all said, this is a much different Jacksonville team under Doug Pederson’s leadership. It’s still a young team that needs to learn how to win consistently and will likely miss the playoffs (although, the AFC South is looking mighty weak), but it is a team that will compete week-in and week-on and get better as the year progresses. So I think the Jaguars are actually going to keep it close and cover the spread, but ultimately lose. I’ll also take the over.
Final score prediction: Chargers 28, Jaguars 24