For the second time this season, we were joined by Ryan O’Bleness of Big Cat Country to help us preview this second edition of Chargers vs. Jaguars.
These aren’t the same two teams who did battle in week three and we did our best to shed some light on everything this wild card matchup should hold on Saturday night.
As of Friday morning, the Chargers are 2.5-point favorites with the over/under of 47.5, per DraftKings Sportsbook.
Let’s go ahead and jump right in.
1.) The Jaguars joined the Chargers as one of the hottest teams down the stretch of the 2022 regular season. How have things clicked so well for Jacksonville over these final six games? What changes were made, if at all?
The biggest difference for the Jaguars over these past six or seven games is the most obvious one: quarterback Trevor Lawrence. I will talk more about him below, but under the tutelage of head coach Doug Pederson and the rest of the offensive staff, Lawrence has started to find his groove and is showing off his unlimited potential and incredible talent. Lawrence didn’t have his best game last week against the Tennessee Titans — missing open receivers a couple times and tossing a pitch too high that resulted in a fumble — but overall, he has played really well and is the biggest reason why the Jaguars have won five games in a row, six of the last seven and the AFC South.
The coaching is also a huge reason for the success. Pederson is a masterful play-caller who can create mismatches and scheme up advantages with his creative play designs. Pederson uses a lot of pre-snap motion and misdirection, and just knows how to get the ball into his playmakers’ hands.
Defensively, the unit has been opportunistic and creates a lot of turnovers. In fact, the Jaguars’ game-winning touchdown against the Titans was from a forced fumble by safety Rayshawn Jenkins that was returned 37 yards into the end zone by outside linebacker Josh Allen. The Jaguars finished the 2022 regular season tied with the Philadelphia Eagles for fifth-most takeaways in the NFL with 27, and are tied with, well, the Los Angeles Chargers actually, for the seventh-best turnover differential in the league at plus-five (+5).
2.) Trevor Lawrence has truly come into his own and is rightfully deserving of being among the NFL’s elite young quarterbacks. How has he made strides this season and do you believe his progress is something that will last into future years?
As I briefly mentioned above, Lawrence is finally starting to reach his potential. I think this is due to a mix of things: his unbelievable talent and skill, the coaching of Pederson and a matter of gaining more experience now two full regular seasons into his career. Lawrence also has a strong offensive staff around him in addition to Pederson: quarterbacks coach Mike McCoy, passing game coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, offensive coordinator Press Taylor and others.
Lawrence’s improvements from his rookie year, which was a total debacle under then head coach Urban Meyer, is night and day. Even his improvements from the early part of the 2022 season up until now are easy to see. The mistakes he was making in his rookie year and early on this season — locking into one wide receiver, not going through progressions quickly enough, forcing throws that lead to turnovers, poor accuracy on throws, etc. --- aren’t as prevalent now. He’s still not perfect. As mentioned, he struggled a bit against the Titans in Week 18 and wasn’t as sharp in the Week 17 win against the Houston Texans either, but overall, Lawrence has proven to be Jacksonville’s franchise quarterback.
Lawrence finished the 2022 regular season by completing 387 of 584 passes (66.3 percent) for 4,113 yards with 25 touchdowns and eight touchdowns. He also ran for five touchdowns. Compared to his rookie season, Lawrence improved his completion percentage from his rookie year by 6.7 percentage points, increased his passing yards by 472 (27.7 more yards per game), threw for 13 more touchdowns and decreased his interceptions by nine. He also raised his quarterback rating from 71.9 as a rookie to 95.2 in his second season. All of these numbers are quite the significant change, and his play this year played a huge role in the Jaguars winning the AFC South and making the playoffs.
The thing is, though, he is nowhere near his ceiling. He will only get better and will likely become an All-Pro selection and a top-three or top-five quarterback in the NFL year-in and year-out. The rest of the league should be on notice.
3.) Former Chargers safety Rayshawn Jenkins has been a key member of the defense through the final month of the season, authoring several massive plays that helps sway multiple games for the Jaguars. What has he meant to this defense this year and how happy are fans with his signing two years into his time with the Jaguars?
Jenkins certainly had his ups and downs in his first year in Jacksonville in 2021 and has struggled to defend the pass at times this year, but overall, and especially lately, his play has been a catalyst for the defense and he’s played a big role in the winning streak.
Jenkins won AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors in Week 15 after recording 18 tackles and two interceptions in an overtime win against the Dallas Cowboy. Jenkins had the game-winning pick-six in overtime as well, taking it 52 yards into the end zone.
As mentioned, he also forced Titans quarterback Josh Dobbs to fumble late in the game, which was returned 37 yards for a touchdown by Allen and ultimately was the game-winning score.
Jenkins has recorded at least five tackles in each of the past 15 games this season. He ranks second on the team with 116 total tackles, and has recorded three interceptions (tied for the team lead), with three tackles for loss, 12 passes defended, three forced fumbles and a sack.
It does seem like he brings an energy to the defensive unit and his teammates gravitate toward him. He’s become a really important player for this team. After being picked on by fans a bit in 2021, he is now quickly becoming a fan-favorite from what I can tell.
4.) Now that his first regular season in the NFL has come to an end, what’s the current evaluation of Travon Walker? Did he live up to his billing as a rookie or will fans have to wait another year or two to truly see him tap into his elite potential?
Honestly, it’s hard to say. I think a lot of people knew going into the year that Walker was a bit raw and would take some time to develop. He was drafted No. 1 overall for his athletic profile, potential and projection of what kind of game-wrecking player he could eventually be, not necessarily what he was expected to be as a rookie. Coming out of the draft, he was known as a good run defender, but somebody who would need to refine his pass-rushing skills. He started out hot in the 2022 season and then kind of disappeared afterward for a long stretch before flashing his potential a few times again.
Still, I understand the Jaguars fans who may be a little bit disappointed with Walker’s numbers: 49 total tackles, 3.5 sacks, five tackles for loss, two passes defended, an interception and a forced fumble. However, I would also say that if you watch the impact he makes from play-to-play, it’s often things that don’t show in the stat sheet and the attention he draws opens things up for his teammates. Also, his effort level is never a question mark. He certainly has the “want-to.”
So for me, personally, I still totally buy into Walker’s long-term project, but he will need to show improvement next season.
5.) Entering Saturday’s game, the Chargers are one-point favorites over the Jaguars on the road with the over/under set at 47.5, per DraftKings Sportsbook. Just like last time, give us a short game summary, a final score prediction, and whether or not you’re taking the over or under in this one.
I’ll be totally honest, I did not expect the 38-10 result earlier this season at SoFi Stadium. In fact, I predicted the Chargers to win. Granted, L.A. was quite beat up in that game, but it was still a dominant performance by the Jaguars.
This time, playing at home in front of an energized fan base experiencing its first home playoff game since January 2018, I am predicting the Jaguars to win. I see this one being much closer than the Week 3 matchup, however, with quarterbacks Justin Herbert and Trevor Lawrence going back-and-forth with each other and the game coming down to who has the ball last. I expect a lot of offense in a high-scoring game, but I could see the Jacksonville defense once again stepping up when it counts to get the ball back for its offense down late in the game. The Jaguars make a game-winning field goal as time expires and move on to the Divisional round.
I will take the over, with the Jaguars winning by a final score of 34-31.