Back in the spring, the Week 13 Monday night matchup was one schedule-makers figured would feature two playoff-contending teams with two marquee quarterbacks.
While the former is technically true, fans were robbed of the latter because of another season-ending injury to the Cincinnati Bengals’ Joe Burrow.
To get the inside scoop on the Jacksonville Jaguars, we interviewed Gus Logue of SB Nation’s Big Cat Country. Here are the five questions from our chat.
1.) AC: Talk to me about the growth of Trevor Lawrence, now in his third year. He was a generational talent who started on a rough patch but has picked it up with better coaching and surrounding talent. Is this just a total indictment of Urban Meyer, a maturation from a young quarterback, a man endorsement of Doug Pederson, or all of the above?
GL: All of the above. If I had to choose one, though, Lawrence’s growth has more to do with himself than any of his previous or current coaches. It’s been a joy to watch him transition from a deer-in-headlights rookie to a seasoned pro.
He’s made multiple throws in every game of his career that few other quarterbacks could attempt, but now Lawrence has drastically cut down on negative plays while continuing to produce highlights. And that’s harder than it seems (ask Buffalo’s Josh Allen or even your own Joe Burrow).
It took a bit longer than expected, but Lawrence is finally firing on all cylinders. Now that his knee is fully healthy and Calvin Ridley is looking like his former self, don’t be surprised to hear Lawrence’s name in the MVP race. I’m eager to see how he and the Jaguars perform in the red zone on Monday; they’ve had some turnover issues in that area, while Lou Anarumo’s defense has generated a league-high six takeaways in the red zone.
2.) AC: Quietly, Jacksonville has built one of the better defensive lines in football. Josh Allen, Travon Walker and others are causing problems. What’s been the key there other than high draft pick capital?
GL: Buy-in to the system. Nobody expected the Jaguars’ defense to be this good in 2023, even media and fans in town, because the roster is nearly identical to last year’s unit (23rd in DVOA). Defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell, who deserves to be fielding head coaching interviews, was asked this week about the impact of Travon Walker’s play on Josh Allen (fifth in sacks and QB hits this year).
Caldwell said, “We always talk about pass rush and coverage go together. But when you’re rushing, you have to have someone on the other side that’s collapsing the pocket. The two guys that are inside also, with those guys, it all goes together. When you rush by yourself, there are too many lanes for the quarterback to get out. I think the guys are doing a good job of rushing as a unit, and it’s paying off.”
3.) AC: The Jaguars and Bengals have had very similar paths to their rise to prominence of late. What makes you think this Jacksonville team could go far and what is their Achilles heel?
GL: Jacksonville is one of few teams this year to have a quarterback and coaches on each side of the ball that I trust. This team will go as far as Lawrence takes them, but having a Super Bowl-winning head coach in Doug Pederson and a strong game planner in Mike Caldwell also goes a long way.
Like many contenders, especially in the AFC, Jacksonville’s weakness is depth in various positions. Ridley performs much better when Zay Jones (knee) is in the game to attract attention; Day 2 rookies Tank Bigsby and Brenton Strange haven’t found much of an offensive role yet; and the OL has had a different starting lineup seemingly every other week.
Though cornerback Montaric Brown has stepped up admirably for Tyson Campbell (hamstring), there’s still a worry that the Jaguars don’t have viable secondary depth or enough of a pass rush rotation to survive a playoff push past the AFC’s gauntlet of elite quarterbacks.
4.) AC: Give us a couple of names with whom we are unfamiliar on the Jaguars’ roster and how you think they’ll have an impact in this specific contest?
GL: Brown will be one to watch if Campbell can’t go. Roy Robertson-Harris has been Jacksonville’s best interior defensive lineman this season, and Devin Lloyd is finding a groove in his second season next to respected veteran Foye Oluokun.
For the offense, keep an eye on the left side of Jacksonville’s OL. With Cam Robinson (knee) on injured reserve, Walker Little will start at left tackle, and Ezra Cleveland (acquired at the trade deadline) will start at left guard. Trey Hendrickson and D.J. Reader need to win their matchups against those two Jaguars for the Bengals to have a chance on Monday.
5.) AC: Per DraftKings, Cincinnati is +8.5 against Jacksonville. How do you feel about that line, and what’s the outcome you’re seeing here?
GL: My final score prediction is Jaguars 30, Bengals 10. I expect Cincinnati to have plenty of motivation to win and stay alive in the playoff hunt, but unless it’s a fluky primetime game with turnovers in bunches, Jacksonville should be able to take care of business against a Jake Browning-led team. It’s truly a shame that Burrow won’t suit up for this one.
Our thanks to Gus Logue over at BCC. Go check out their news from this week against the Bengals and our five questions with them.