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Can the Broncos rattle Trevor Lawrence?

I spoke with Big Cat Country’s Ryan O’Bleness to find out.

The Denver Broncos head into week two fresh off a 27-13 victory over the Giants that didn’t look as close suggests. They’ll head to Jacksonville to play against a Jaguars team stuck in what seems to be a never-ending circus after numerous reports over the last week suggest a dysfunctional relationship between Urban Meyer and his subordinates. Before the Jags game with the Texans kicked off Sunday CBS insider Jason La Canfora reported a number of issues with the coaching staff.

“You can’t freak out about preseason games and belittle your coaches — on a staff you handpicked — every time things don’t go your way. It’s not going to work here.”

Following the ouster of USC head coach Clay Helton there were also reports that suggested Meyer would have interest in moving back to the college ranks to lead the Trojans. When asked Wednesday about potential interest in the USC job, Meyer said there was no chance and he was committed to building the Jaguars. A source confirmed to me that the Trojan rumors have no merit, but all the other reports of dysfunction within the organization are real.

“Bevell 100% has deep regrets.”

With a little chaos swirling in the background, Jacksonville will try to secure the first win of the Urban Meyer era against the upstart Broncos. To get a better sense of the team and how Denver can pull off the victory, I reached out to Big Cat Country’s Ryan O’Bleness.

1st and 10

There’s been a ton of chatter about issues regarding Urban Meyer. There’s been reports about issues among the Jaguars coaching staff and also some smoke that Meyer may not make it the entire season. While I doubt he quits before the Broncos’ game, do you have any thoughts on the reported dysfunction?

O’Bleness: I think it’s mostly unfounded and just people looking for clicks on the internet. No offense to Jason La Canfora, he does his job well, but he has been wrong plenty of times when it comes to the Jaguars. From my understanding, the majority of the players love playing for Urban Meyer because of his player-centric philosophy. He puts the players first for everything, which includes things like an improved emphasis on sports performance regimens, upgraded facilities or even getting first-class treatment on road trips. Maybe there are a few who feel differently, but most of the players seem to perk up when asked what it is like playing for Meyer, and there seems to be more morale, intensity and energy in the building, at least throughout training camp, under Meyer’s leadership.

Would I be surprised if a couple of the coaches were butting heads with Meyer? No. He can rub some people the wrong way, and he is still getting used to the ebbs and flows of the NFL and may be wrong in certain aspects of the professional game. He definitely struggled in the first game against the Houston Texans and has a lot to learn. But to my knowledge — and I am not inside the locker room, but I have talked to people who are close to the team — I don’t think this is a major issue within the building. At least not yet.

And before you ask, no, Meyer is not interested in the newly vacant USC job.

2nd and 11

Beyond the potential coaching turmoil are the big questions around the Jaguars’ personnel. I did not expect the Houston Texans to find ways to disrupt the pocket like they did on Sunday. How will Jacksonville try to mitigate the Broncos pass rush?

O’Bleness: Yeah, to say things didn’t go as planned last week against a Houston Texans team that many believed to be the worst team in the NFL would be an understatement. Trevor Lawrence — the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft — played like, well, a rookie. Growing pains should be expected for him, though, as he is, in fact, just a rookie. Regarding pass protection, the Texans only sacked Lawrence one time, but did have four quarterback hits on him, and he appeared rattled at times.

While Jacksonville’s offensive line did only allow the one aforementioned sack against the Texans, I think it is safe to say that the Broncos have more talented pass-rushers with the likes of Von Miller and company, especially if Bradley Chubb returns this week. Obviously, the offensive line is going to need to play much better as a unit than it did against Houston. In particular, tackles Cam Robinson and Jawaan Taylor, and guard A.J. Cann, all registered Pro Football Focus pass-blocking grades below 55, with Cann being the most egregious.

A potential strategy to help mitigate the Broncos’ pass rush for Jacksonville could be to play Chris Manhertz on more snaps than he received last week. Manhertz — who is considered the best blocking tight end on the team and one of the better blockers in the league — only played on 35 percent of the team’s snaps last week. With the Jaguars playing from behind and forced to throw the football more often, receiving tight end James O’Shaughnessy got the bulk of the reps, playing 80 percent of offensive snaps. Or maybe the Jaguars will leave a running back in more often to help with pass protection as well. However the Jaguars decide to do it, improved play from the offensive line and in pass protection is going to need to be a focus in practice and a key to victory for Jacksonville this week.

3rd and 12

Trevor Lawrence threw three picks in a game for the first time in his life in his first NFL game. Watching the game, I thought he could have had more as he’s shown a willingness to trust his arm as he tries to squeeze the ball into tight windows. It’s just one game, but are you concerned about the 1st overall pick?

O’Bleness: There is no reason to be concerned with Lawrence just yet. It’s been one game. I expected him to struggle early as he adapts to the speed and the caliber of athletes on defense in the NFL. I did expect him to play better and make better decisions than he did, and I thought the Texans would be the perfect team for Lawrence to make his debut against. But I was wrong (as were many others), and to Houston’s credit, it dominated Jacksonville on both sides of the ball and deserved to win handily.

Lawrence is going to be just fine. He’s going to be a really good player in the NFL one day — probably at an All-Pro or at least Pro Bowl level. He has all of the physical tools, the mental fortitude and the leadership traits (already being named a team captain as a rookie). His coaches trust him. His teammates trust him. He can’t do it alone, though. The coaches need to do their part to create game plans to play to Lawrence’s strengths. The players around him need to execute better. Lawrence needs to make smarter decisions and protect the football. But I expect him to improve in every aspect of his game throughout the season.

4th and 18

Tyrod Taylor threw for 291 yards and two touchdowns on the Jaguars secondary. I thought he did a great job managing the pocket and finding ways to create time for his receivers, and the long bomb before the end of the first half was ridiculous. How do you think the Jaguars will try to rebound against a talented group of Denver pass catchers?

O’Bleness: Hats off to Tyrod Taylor for proving a lot of the doubters wrong. He played an incredible game. I think Taylor has more mobility than Teddy Bridgewater, but Bridgewater probably is the better passer overall, and much like Taylor, Bridgewater has been doubted, too. I think not having to worry about Jerry Jeudy will be helpful, but Courtland Sutton, KJ Hamler, Tim Patrick and Noah Fant are plenty to worry about.

The Jaguars actually did a good job of getting pressure on Taylor last week, but need to do a better job of getting sacks or forcing throwaways. The Jaguars need to get to Bridgewater and not allow him to make a lot of plays with his feet like Taylor did — quite a few of the Texans’ big plays came on missed sack opportunities, broken tackles or Taylor just having enough time to create something out of nothing. The Jaguars also struggled to defend against Houston’s bunch or stacked formations. That is something the staff definitely needed to work on at practice this week, or else Denver may have a field day against Jacksonville as well if the Broncos try to replicate what the Texans did well. I think the Jaguars may also mix up the personnel in the secondary this week, and rookie safety Andre Cisco may get the start over Andrew Wingard, but we’ll see.

Extra Point

What is your prediction for the game? Jacksonville wins if....? Denver wins if...?

O’Bleness: The Jaguars win if Trevor Lawerence and the offense protect the football, and Jacksonville relies on its running game more with James Robinson. Again, the Jaguars also will only win if the offensive line is much improved in pass protection. Defensively, the Jaguars need to replicate the pressure they brought last week, but actually sack the quarterback or disrupt the play this time. Also, the secondary must give up less explosive plays. The coaches need to have a much better game plan ready, too.

The Broncos win if Lawrence continues to struggle and gives the ball away. Denver wins if its pass rushers are able to wreck the game. Offensively, I think Denver could control the clock with Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams in the ground game, especially if the Jaguars fall behind early. If the run game opens up the passing attack, Teddy Bridgewater can carve up Jackonville’s secondary if the Jaguars play as poorly as last week.

All in all, Denver probably has the better roster and a more experienced coaching staff. I expect a closer game, but a Broncos win.


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