The Cincinnati Bengals and Jacksonville Jaguars have become pretty familiar with the Jaguars over the past few seasons. However, the 2021 edition looks drastically different with them entering the Trevor Lawrence and Urban Meyer era, so we decided it would be a great idea to catch up with Ryan O’Bleness from Big Cat Country again with his thoughts on the 0-3 Jaguars.
Patrick Judis: How has Trevor Lawrence looked so far this season after being selected with the first overall pick?
Ryan O’Bleness: So far, Lawrence has looked like, well, a rookie, and a struggling one at that. He has completed just 54.2 percent of his passes, which ranks last among qualifying quarterbacks, and he has also thrown seven interceptions, which is tied with fellow rookie Zach Wilson of the New York Jets for the most in the league. Part of the issue is that Lawrence is often forcing the ball downfield, currently ranking fourth in the league in intended air yards with 1,103 yards, according to Pro Football Reference, and perhaps not taking easier check downs when needed. Some of it is also poor play-calling from the coaches or poor execution from his teammates, but Lawrence needs to become a better decision-maker. He’ll get there once he adapts to the speed of the NFL.
With all of that said, Lawrence has flashed his brilliance on several occasions. He is already viewed by the team as a leader. He has all of the physical tools and the work ethic to improve. Lawrence’s talent level is undeniable and his ceiling remains incredibly high. While rookie struggle certainly should have been anticipated, it’s just taken a longer period of time than Lawrence (or probably many Jaguars fans) expected. He’ll get there.
PJ: The Jaguars are obviously a team in rebuild mode, but who are some of the bright pieces that you’d consider a strong foundation going forward so far?
RO: Lawrence is of course expected to be the franchise cornerstone moving forward, but outside of him, running back James Robinson and wide receivers Laviska Shenault Jr. and D.J. Chark Jr. are the building blocks on offense. Rookie running back Travis Etienne Jr. suffered a season-ending foot injury in the preseason, but is expected to be a play-maker for the team in the future. Currently, wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. is the veteran leader of the offense.
Defensively, there is a lot of young talent that will hopefully progress in the future. Outside linebacker/edge rusher Josh Allen is perhaps the most important of the group, and can often be the unit’s biggest difference-maker. Fellow Outside linebacker/edge K’Lavon Chaisson has had an inconsistent start to his career, but has flashed his potential from time to time. Myles Jack is arguably Jacksonville’s best or most complete defender, and is still just 26 years old. In the secondary, the Jaguars just traded 2020 first-round pick cornerback CJ Henderson to the Carolina Panthers, opening up more playing time for rookie cornerback Tyson Campbell, who the staff seems to be high on. Shaquill Griffin is a veteran cornerback who the team will lean on for the foreseeable future. Keep an eye out for rookie safety Andre Cisco in the future, too.
PJ: How has Urban Meyer’s first impression gone so far in the NFL?
RO: It’s been a bit of a rough start as he continues to adjust from the college game to the NFL. Much like Lawrence, everything has been a learning experience for Meyer. Getting off to an 0-3 start was not ideal for Meyer, who was used to dominating at the college level. There have been reports of staff not getting along with Meyer or players not appreciating his “college-like” ways, but I believe most of those reports are unfounded and not based on fact, as the players seem to love playing for Meyer with his player-first mentality, from what I have seen in interviews. I’m not in the locker room, so I don’t know for sure, but based on the people I’ve talked to who are close to the team, I don’t believe that there is a lot of friction within the organization as these “reports’” indicate, but then again, it’s hard to keep everybody happy at once, so maybe there are a few people in Jacksonville who feels that way.
The play-calling has been questionable at times, and the staff hasn’t always put their team in position to succeed. With that said, the Jaguars are coming off of a 1-15 season, and have now lost 18 games in a row dating back to 2020. This was never going to be a one season rebuild, and some of it has to be on player execution, too. The Jaguars are always going to compete and give a full effort under Meyer, and the team played fairly well for most of the game against a superior Arizona Cardinals team, until mistakes caught up to Jacksonville, and it allowed 21 unanswered points by Arizona.
There are certainly things Meyer and his staff need to do better moving forward, but as of right now, Meyer is three games into his first season, and it’s far too early to make a judgement on him in my opinion.
PJ: What has been the biggest hurdle for Jacksonville getting their first win?
Where to start? Urban Meyer will tell you there is no such thing as bad NFL players, which is true — you have to be one of the best players in the world to even be at the bottom of an NFL roster — but there is a pretty clear talent gap right now on Jacksonville’s roster compared to most other teams around the NFL, and that’s been evident through the first three weeks.
You also have Meyer himself, who is a rookie head coach, paired with a rookie quarterback in Lawrence, so there were obviously going to be growing pains to start. A lot of teams around the league have more experienced staffs at the NFL level than Jacksonville, which mixed career college coaches with some NFL veteran coaches, and that gives the Jaguars’ opponent an advantage.
I think the issues are more physical than mental — this team is hungry to win and wants to compete — but the Jaguars are just a really young, inexperienced team right now, and maybe aren’t quite ready to win games in the NFL just yet. I do believe that will come down the road for Jacksonville, but it’s going to be a while.
PJ: What is your prediction for the game?
RO: Before the season started, I had this game circled on the schedule as one where I thought the Jaguars had an opportunity to get a win, but I no longer believe that to be the case. Jacksonville played better last week against Arizona than it did the first two weeks, so hopefully the team can continue to improve this week, but the Bengals have gotten off to a surprisingly fast start. Cincinnati has big-time play-makers on offense and a stout defense. That might be too much for this young Jaguars team to handle on a short week. But I think Jacksonville fights and keeps it close.
Bengals 30, Jaguars 23
Thanks again to Ryan O’Bleness for taking the time out to answer our questions. If you’d like to check out more of his work or just Jaguars coverage in general check out Big Cat Country.