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Broncos vs Jaguars 5 questions: How are Doug Pederson/Trevor Lawrence doing?

To preview Sunday’s game, we go “behind enemy lines” to get a feel for Lawrence, the Jags and what’s in store for London.

New York Giants v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Perhaps the exportation of the Denver Broncos and Jacksonville Jaguars game is what each of these teams needs right now.

Both are mired in four-game losing streaks and looking for answers.

For the Jaguars (2-5), at least they have their coaching situation figured out. That’s not what you can say about the Broncos (2-5).

DraftKings Sportsbook has Denver as a slight +2.5-point underdog. Earlier in the week, that number was 3.5. That’s not nearly as attractive to those looking to bet on the Broncos this week.

To preview the game, we go behind enemy lines to get a feel for the Jags, the players to watch and what to expect in Sunday’s game at Wembley Stadium in London with Ryan O’Bleness from Big Cat Country. For those interested, here are my answers to Ryan’s 5 questions about the Broncos.

MHR: After a huge win over the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 3, the Jaguars have lost four straight. Why is Jacksonville on this losing streak? What happened after the Chargers game?

Ryan: I think the Jaguars are still looking for an identity in 2022. This is a young team that is much-improved compared to the 2021 debacle under Urban Meyer, but still lacks talent from top to bottom on the roster and is still trying to break out of a long culture of losing in Jacksonville. Going into the year, the expectation from most fans was probably six or seven wins and to just show growth from last season. After the first three games, Jacksonville was 2-1 with impressive victories over the Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Chargers and it felt like perhaps this team would outperform preseason expectations in Doug Pederson’s first year at the helm. Now, after four losses in a row, the six-win or seven-win mark still feels realistic, but anything more than that would be quite surprising. The thing is that the AFC South seems really weak this year, so Jacksonville had a shot (and still technically does) to take a division crown, but the team likely isn’t ready for that quite yet.

As for why the team is losing, the defense has taken some steps back from early in the season, and particularly is vulnerable in the middle of the field — the Colts decimated the Jaguars on crossing routes in Week Six, with Matt Ryan and Michael Pittman Jr. tearing Jacksonville up. The second meeting between those two teams went quite differently than the first. The defense has struggled in pass defense in general, and cornerback Shaquill Griffin has been picked on a bit, but had been fairly strong against the run before last week against the New York Giants (allowing 236 rushing yards in that one, including letting quarterback Daniel Jones bust loose for 107 yards on the ground).

The offense has been really inconsistent. Of course, this team’s wins and losses are directly related to how quarterback Trevor Lawrence performs. Lawrence has had his ups and downs — he shows flashes of his unbelievable potential, but also still struggles with ball placement and decision-making at times, among other issues. The running game has been strong, ranking ninth in the NFL at 137.1 rushing yards per game. However, the team just traded running back James Robinson to the New York Jets, so it will now solely be the Travis Etienne Jr. show. Jacksonville has struggled to score points as of late, only scoring more than 21 points in one game during the four-game losing streak in a 34-27 loss to the Colts. The team has only scored more than 27 points once this season, in the 38-10 win over the Chargers.

The coaching staff seems to have trouble making adjustments on either side of the ball, and offensively, Doug Pederson seems to abandon a (rather successful) running game way too early as of late. So it has been a mix of issues in my opinion.

MHR: How are Jags fans feeling about Doug Pederson? And how much of a difference has he made on Trevor Lawrence?

Ryan: I think most Jaguars fans believe in Doug Pederson as the right person to turn this franchise around and the right person to help Lawrence reach his full potential and ascend to the eventual All-Pro quarterback he may be destined to be. It is a night and day comparison between Pederson and Meyer. Pederson treats his players like grown men and they support him. He also has a knack to scheme up favorable matchups and has a creative offensive mind.

With that said, as mentioned, some of Pederson’s in-game management/decision-making has been questionable. Like I said above, he loses sight of a successful running game too quickly and seemingly wants to pass the football as often as possible, which sometimes has put Lawrence and the rest of the team in bad situations. Against the New York Giants this past weekend, Pederson didn’t challenge a bad spot that looked like a clear first down, but was called short by the officials, and the Jaguars then couldn’t gain a yard on third down or fourth down and turned the ball over on downs. There have been some players out of position too often, especially on defense, but that may fall more on defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell. All in all, it certainly hasn’t been perfect and, as I mentioned, the team needs to find an identity, but there is no reason not to believe in what Pederson is building in my opinion.

As for Pederson and Lawrence, I think it is a great tandem and their time together will pay dividends in the future. Pederson is a former quarterback and offensive-minded coach. He has gotten the best from players such as Carson Wentz and Nick Foles, who both have not had much success elsewhere. Pederson has won a Super Bowl as both a player and a coach, and has surrounded Lawrence with a good offensive staff that includes himself, quarterbacks coach Mike McCoy, passing game coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and offensive coordinator Press Taylor. Hopefully, Lawrence is able to put it all together sooner rather than later. I think he will.

MHR: What is your best bet for Sunday’s game at DraftKings Sportsbook? And what do you think of Jacksonville being the favorite?

Ryan: The over/under is currently set at 39, which is very low, but with the way these two offenses are playing, and how good Denver’s defense is, I am predicting a very low-scoring game. The Jaguars come in averaging 22.1 points per game and the Broncos come in averaging a league-worst 14.3 points per game, so that would put it 36.4 combined points on average. As you pointed out to me, Ian, the Broncos have failed to reach the over in six of seven games this season, and I would expect that trend to continue in London. Hammer the under.

Both of these teams have struggled as of late, but the Jaguars have looked more competitive in my opinion, and some advanced metrics show that Jacksonville has actually played better than its current record shows. Also, with the game being played in London where Jacksonville is very comfortable, I think it makes sense that the Jaguars are slight favorites.

MHR: What are the matchups that the Jags have in their favor? Who are some of the under-the-radar players fans should keep an eye on? And how should Lawrence/Pederson attack this Broncos defense?

Ryan: Not really a matchup per se, but I do think the Jaguars have an advantage in the sense that the game is being played in London. The Broncos are making the trip across the pond for the first time since 2010, while the Jaguars are playing a game in London for the ninth time. While of course the personnel on the team changes from year to year, many of the players on Jacksonville’s roster have played in the U.K. before and know how to handle the time zone change, jet lag and preparation for a game there. Jacksonville is 4-4 all-time in games played in London. Meanwhile, this is probably something new to many players on Denver’s roster and given the shortcomings that head coach Nathaniel Hackett has displayed thus far, this could be quite the challenge for the Broncos.

Given how much Denver’s offense has struggled, I think the majority of the Jaguars’ advantages on the field likely come on the defensive side of the ball, while it could be tough sledding for Jacksonville’s offense against the Broncos’ defense. With that said, I am interested to watch the pass rush for both teams. Where the Jaguars have fared very well offensively is in pass protection, as the Jaguars only give up 1.4 sacks per game (10 total), which is tied for the league lead. Meanwhile, the Broncos come into the game at third in the NFL with 22 sacks as a team. Something has to give there. Then, on the other side of the coin, the Jaguars have only recorded 11 sacks on the season, which ranks 29th in the league, while the Broncos have allowed 21 sacks on the season, the sixth-most allowed in the league. So, I don’t know if I would call either of these an advantage for Jacksonville, since Denver is kind of a mirrored image in the same categories, but the team that wins the pass rush battle and can cause turnovers will likely win.

As for under-the-radar players, while Christian Kirk is the main attraction at wide receiver, Zay Jones, Marvin Jones Jr. Jamal Agnew (who is currently dealing with an injury) and Evan Engram have all been relatively reliable pass-catchers for Jacksonville. On the offensive line, watch how tackles Cam Robinson and Jawaan Taylor perform against Denver’s strong pass rush. Those two have held up pretty well this season and are a big reason for the low sacks allowed number, but this week will be a big test. Defensively, of course outside linebackers Josh Allen and No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker are the big names, but as far as lesser known names, keep an eye on cornerback Tyson Campbell and rookie linebacker Devin Lloyd.

The Denver defense is tough. As far as attacking it, I think Jacksonville’s best bet is to run the ball and control the clock. The Broncos rank second in the NFL in total yards allowed per game (286) and second in passing yards allowed per game (173.1). However, the Broncos aren’t as strong against the run, ranking more toward the middle of the pack at 15th in the league (112.9 rushing yards allowed per game). So Jacksonville needs to look to establish the run, but as mentioned, Robinson was traded, so Etienne will need to take on a bigger role and hold up throughout the game.

When Lawrence is passing, I think Pederson needs to call some short passes to get the ball out of Lawrence’s hands quickly. The Jaguars need to take what the defense gives them and avoid giving the ball away. Keep it very simple for Lawrence — don’t put him in bad spots and hope that Lawrence can avoid some of his bad tendencies like locking into one wide receiver, not putting enough touch on a pass and looking for deep shots instead of taking checkdowns when the situation calls for it. Lawrence is very skilled, and is continuing to learn and get better in the NFL, but this week poses a difficult challenge.

MHR: What are your expectations/predictions for Sunday’s game?

Ryan: As I mentioned above, I see a low-scoring game. Both defenses should be able to make plays in this one. Obviously, things will look a lot different for Denver if Russell Wilson is healthy and playing as opposed to Brett Rypien starting. While Wilson has certainly had his struggles, he is obviously a much tougher task for the Jaguars to defend than Rypien is. However, regardless of who is at quarterback, Denver’s offense seems to be stuck in the mud. While I don’t see the Jaguars being able to put up a lot of points in this game either, I think Lawrence, Etienne and company will do just enough to squeak out a win. I believe the final score will be something along the lines of Jacksonville 20, Denver 16.

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