The Jacksonville Jaguars were one of the laughing stocks in the NFL during Urban Meyer’s short tenure as head coach, but the arrival of a veteran coach in Doug Pederson and the growth of second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence has the NFC South side impressing through the opening three weeks of the 2022 season.
Jacksonville sits 2-1 heading into a Week 4 road showdown with the Philadelphia Eagles, a tough test against an undefeated and confident group. Pederson will be coaching against his former team, the same team he led to a Super Bowl title in 2019, the first and only in Eagles history to date.
Although some of the Eagles roster has changed since Pederson was relieved of his duties as Eagles head coach, there will be some familiar faces for the 54-year-old to prepare his team for. Led by Lawrence’s gun-slinging ability, James Robinson’s versatile presence, and a dynamic group of wide receivers, the Jaguars are miles better than what they showed in 2021.
“This is a good offense,” Eagles defensive coordinate Jonathan Gannon said. “I have a very high opinion of Doug. He’s a very good play-caller. He doesn’t have a lot of tendencies. You can’t bank on certain things coming. He’s doing a good job with the quarterback playing extremely fast. He has weapons. They protect him. You have to be aware of their skill guys because their skill guys have very significant skill sets.
“It’s just like everybody, you have to know your opponent because they do some things with those guys that he allows those guys to play free,” Gannon added. “He puts them in good spots. They make a lot of plays. We have a big-time test ahead of us.”
Jacksonville has rebounded from an opening day loss to Washington by hammering the Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Chargers in back-to-back weeks, outscoring their opponents 62-10 over that span. They have a +7 turnover ratio through the opening three weeks, also relying on their defense to come up with big plays when needed.
Lawrence has totaled over 700 passing yards through his first three starts of 2022, throwing six touchdowns to only one interception. The former Clemson University standout is excelling under Pederson’s tutelage, making smart decisions with the football and spreading the ball to many open targets.
Although the Eagles defensive dominated Carson Wentz and the Commanders offense in a Week 3 victory, a confident Lawrence paired with an experienced play caller in Pederson will be tough to slow down at Lincoln Financial Field.
“He’s playing fast,” Gannon said about Lawrence’s growth in 2022. “We watched some games last year, he may not have played as fast. I don’t know really know why.
“I think he’s processing at a high level,” he added. “He’s very accurate, has a big arm, he’s athletic. He’s tall. He can see. That’s why I always see, when you watch the tape of him, certain quarterbacks play real fast. He’s one of those guys. Like I said, we have to be on it.”
Pederson’s return to the Linc will bring back many good memories for Eagles fans for the Super Bowl-winning campaign, but overall the team will be putting their friendship with him to the side until after the game. Pederson’s gusty play calling was on display during his time in Philadelphia and he’s continued to do that with Jacksonville, posting a 4-for-7 record on fourth down offensive decisions through three weeks.
Despite players like Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, and others having familiarities with Pederson from his time with the Eagles, Gannon is focusing on the basics to hopefully help the team move to 4-0 this Sunday.
“We play what we play,” Gannon said. “You have to be in the right spot and play with good technique and have your eyes disciplined versus this team.It always comes down to out-executing your opponent and playing the way we want to play.
“I always say to our defense, ‘Don’t get it twisted, the game is about hitting on defense.’ I’ve thought we’ve been a pretty good physical unit,” he added. “We want to still keep working at that, but you don’t want leaky yardage, you want to affect the quarterback, hit people when you can hit them legally, have a lot of people at the ball. That’s what we’ll preach to our guys.”
You can follow Larry Henry on Twitter (@lhenry019) and e-mail him at [email protected].
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