JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser, senior correspondent Brian Sexton and digital reporter/host Ashlyn Sullivan offer quick thoughts on the Jaguars as they prepare to play the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., Sunday at 4:05 p.m. in a 2022 Week 3 game …
John Oehser, Jaguars Senior Writer
1. Plenty of good signs. The Jaguars struggled at times in a Week 1 loss at Washington and excelled in nearly every area in a Week 2 victory over Indianapolis. Such is the week-to-week nature of the NFL, but bottom line: The Jaguars overall in two weeks have shown real – and likely sustainable – improvement that bodes well for the rest of this season. The offense through two games is ranked 14th in the NFL, and until Head Coach Doug Pederson went extreme run-centric with a 24-point against the Colts the unit had no significant stretch of stagnation through two games. As importantly, the team leads the NFL in takeaway giveaway at plus-five after ranking last at minus-20 last season. That's a major turnaround in perhaps the NFL's most important statistical category. And while quarterback Trevor Lawrence was more accurate in Week 2 than Week 1, he overall through two games has looked more consistent and confident than in any two-game stretch as a rookie in 2021. Tougher tests lie ahead, but the Jaguars through two games are alone in first place in the AFC South with plenty of tangible, sustainable reasons that that first-place status isn't a fluke.
2. A tough stretch. Remember the end of Quick Thought No. 1? The part about tougher tests? Those start the next two weeks with back-to-back road games at the Los Angeles Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles, teams expected to contend for the postseason – and perhaps the Super Bowl. Sunday's game at the Chargers is difficult for many reasons. First there's history, with the Jaguars having lost all five road games against the Chargers all-time by no fewer than 10 points. More pertinent: The Chargers could be the most talented team on the Jaguars' schedule, with quarterback Justin Herbert just one of many Chargers players among the NFL's best at their positions. The Jaguars are much improved, but being improved doesn't mean winning on the road against an offense as good as that of the Chargers and against a defense that features pass rushers Khalil Mack/Joey Bosa and safety Derwin James. The Jaguars looked far better in Week 1 than they looked the previous two seasons. They looked far better Week 2 than Week 1. They may need similar improvement to compete Sunday.
Brian Sexton, Jaguars Senior Correspondent…
1. Pederson may be a fan of history, but he doesn't care about the past in Jacksonville. Nothing about the Jaguars' current 18-game road losing streak has anything to do with his team or any bearing on what will happen in Los Angeles on Sunday. He is entirely focused on preparing the 2022 Jaguars to play the 2022 Chargers so don't bother asking him about how they've never won in Los Angeles or lost 15 of their last 18 games on the west coast. He knows from his 12 years playing in Miami, Green Bay, Cleveland and Philadelphia and his 14 years coaching in the NFL that it's a long trip and you better have a good team that's ready to play. He has made subtle tweaks to the schedule and is talking to his team about taking care of their bodies this week with extra hydration and quality sleep. Other than that, he's just working on the game plan and doesn't want to hear about the past. There is no benefit to this team to talk about it.
2. Pederson's philosophy is to do what's necessary to win a particular game. He isn't worried about his run/pass balance as some coaches might be. He will bend or twist or reshape his gameplan but he won't be worried about if he ran the ball enough – which he's been asked about after two games this season. That said, he will want to run effectively Sunday. Mack and Bosa are healthy, which means the Chargers' pass rush will be fierce. Just sticking the ball in the middle for a few productive runs will slow that down or open up the play-action game. He doesn't need four yards per carry, though he would take it, but he needs guys leaning towards the line of scrimmage to open up the passing lanes. Left tackle Cam Robinson was paid for games like this, so he and right Jawaan Taylor must be at their best. That's a tall order for any tackle in football. That's why the running game must be productive on Sunday at SoFi Stadium.
Ashlyn Sullivan, Jaguars Team Reporter…
1. So What, Now What? Pederson has told his team this saying since the start of training camp; it is especially true this week. Pederson has mentioned multiple times this week the importance of moving on, focusing one game and one week at a time. A team that can keep that mindset the entire season has a sense of maturity and a "been-there-done-that" after victories. This team is starting to act like that. Running back Travis Etienne Jr. on Wednesday echoed Pederson's statement, saying that "So What, Now What" attitude helps him move on from a good or bad play in practice or a game. Everyone (including us) is still talking about the Jaguars dominating the Colts Sunday. The Jaguars forgot about that Monday and are on to the Chargers – exactly where they need to be.
2. Toughest Matchup. Besides the Kansas City Chiefs game on the road in November, Sunday will be the toughest matchup of the season for the Jaguars. The Chargers are a playoff favorite. Also: The Jaguars have lost eighteen consecutive road games and historically have a very hard time winning on the west coast. This game will really show me how far the Jaguars have come in just one season. People have told me this week, "Man, if the Jaguars win, they will be so improved." If this game is competitive in the fourth quarter, that will show major improvement for the Jaguars. The 2021 Jaguars would not have been able to hang with the Chargers. After what happened Sunday, I believe the 2022 Jaguars can.