The Jacksonville Jaguars shocked the NFL world this past Sunday when they not only defeated the Los Angeles Chargers, but absolutely molly-whopped them 38-10. Yes, Keenan Allen was out. Yes, Justin Herbert was working through a rib injury. But no one was expecting this type of beatdown. This was a David vs. Goliath-type situation but the Jags didn’t just bring a sling; they came toting swords, shields, and a few hand grenades.
The two best players for the Jaguars on offense were undoubtedly James Robinson (17 carries, 100 yards, one TD) and Trevor Lawrence (28-of-39, 262 yards, three touchdowns and zero turnovers) in that game. Just that sentence alone is enough to inspire confidence in Doug Pederson down in Duval County. Why? Well, for one, it shows that Pederson, the former Philadelphia Eagles head coach and an ex-QB himself, knows who his best players are.
Think back to a year ago in Jacksonville, when Urban Meyer was the head coach — a 3-14 record and plenty of drama. I know that might be tough for some of the Jags fans reading this, but try your best. Remember who was getting a ton of carries? Carlos Hyde! Yes! The same Carlos Hyde who is now a free agent. The same Carlos Hyde that couldn’t win a sizable role in Seattle’s backfield in 2020. Now, as the season progressed, and public outcry demanded, James Robinson did see more and more carries. Through three weeks though, Robinson had just 31 carries and Hyde had 19. It’s a decent difference, but not nearly as big as you’d expect given that, in 2020, Robinson had over 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie. He was only 23 years old heading into 2021. Hyde was 31 and started just one game during his lone season in Seattle.
Even with Travis Etienne healthy in 2022, Pederson has realized that Robinson and Etienne have different strengths, and uses them accordingly. Robinson has run just 31 routes through three weeks. Etienne, on the other hand, has run 44, despite being on the field for a much smaller snap percentage — 58 percent of snaps for Robinson; 42.5 percent of snaps for Etienne. Pederson recognizes each of his back’s strengths and uses them in situations that are appropriate, unlike Meyer.
The more important factor though is how Pederson has unlocked Trevor Lawrence’s talent. You could make the argument that with the additions of Evan Engram, Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, and Travis Etienne, it’s a no-brainer that T-Law has looked much better in 2022. However, in my opinion, the weapons have made a comparatively small difference to the coaching. Just take a look at some of the Jaguars’ biggest plays from this past weekend.
This was a counter trap play, with the right guard Brandon Scherff leading the way for Robinson. Scherff has historically been a great run-blocking guard. To have him lead the way on a trap is smart, but where most coaches would simply opt for the trap to go inside — perhaps right behind the center — Pederson opted to have the run counter from Jacksonville’s weak side to the stronger side with four O-linemen/tight ends to the left of the center, plus the pulling Scherff who was running with a full head of steam. The two men at the end of the line won their blocks and that created a massive hole to the left side, which Scherff filled perfectly. It was an incredible play call. It shouldn’t have gone for 50 yards as it did. That’s on the Chargers, but in a short-yardage situation like the one we saw, it was almost guaranteed to grab three or four yards.
Effective runs like that will open up options for Lawrence in play action. There weren’t any huge plays off play action later in the game, but almost every time play action was used afterward, one of the Chargers’ linebackers (usually Drue Tranquill) was stepping up to try to fill a hole and stop the run. Whether it was a screen or a quick out to one of his wide receivers, Lawrence was throwing to guys with much more separation from defenders than he was last year. That’s partially due to having better route-runners on the outside, but this drastic change is indicative of much better coaching.
Through three weeks, there are only four teams in the NFL with both a positive Expected Points Added (EPA)/play on offense and a negative EPA/play on defense: The Buffalo Bills (2-1), Kansas City Chiefs (2-1), Philadelphia Eagles (3-0)…and the AFC South-leading Jacksonville Jaguars (2-1).
They haven’t had easy opponents either. Sure, the Commanders’ loss wasn’t great, but they dominated the Colts like they should’ve, and then dominated the Chargers on the road. That’s a great stretch of games, and to overlook them merely because we haven’t seen enough is an insult to what Doug Pederson has been able to do so far. We’ve seen Pederson make the most of his second-year QBs in the past. I wouldn’t put it past him to do the same with someone who was supposed to be the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck. Things are looking up for Jacksonville.