JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser, senior correspondent Brian Sexton and team reporter Kainani Stevens offer quick thoughts on the Jaguars as they prepare to play the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium Sunday at 1 p.m.
John Oehser, Jaguars Senior Writer…
- A test of character. The thought here is this week is one of the most intriguing in recent Jaguars memory – with Sunday's game against the Browns one of the most important in recent Jaguars memory. Monday's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals was as emotional as any in Head Coach Doug Pederson's two seasons with the team, with the Jaguars going from potentially holding the AFC's No. 1 seed to losing – and potentially losing quarterback Trevor Lawrence to a high-ankle sprain – in a matter of minutes. You couldn't not notice the sadness that swept over EverBank Stadium and the deflated emotions of the entire Jaguars fan base late Monday. Lawrence's status for Sunday in Cleveland likely won't be known until the weekend. But either way, Sunday is critical. The Jaguars now lead the AFC South by one game over the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans. With Lawrence possibly out or at least limited, winning in Cleveland will be a tough test. If the Jaguars can pass it at the end of an emotional week, it would speak volumes about the maturity – and character – of this team.
- A test of the defense. One of the most unexpected happenings of the Jaguars' season came Monday, with the Bengals producing 491 yards against a Jaguars defense that for the most part has played well this season. But while Bengals quarterback Jake Browning's 354 yards passing in his second NFL start surprised many observers, what was more surprising – and concerning – was that the Bengals rushed for 156 yards. A Jaguars defense that prides itself on stopping the run – and that had done so effectively much of the season – got effectively blocked along the line with the back seven struggling with run fits to a degree that hadn't happened much this season. Sunday's game at Cleveland figures to test this area again, with the Browns at their best offensively when they're controlling the tempo and the line of scrimmage with a heavy run approach. Sunday is a critical game for the Jaguars. Considering Lawrence's ankle, they likely will need a big game from the defense. The Jaguars still believe run defense is a team strength and a reason they're a postseason contender. They'll get a chance to prove that Sunday.
Brian Sexton, Jaguars Senior Correspondent …
- Help is not on the way. There is enough talent on this team to go to Cleveland and win without Lawrence and wide receiver Christian Kirk. This coaching staff also is good enough with enough experience to guide this team through a tough week and have them ready to play on a cold, rainy day in northeastern Ohio. I have no insight into whether Lawrence will play Sunday. Still, 30 years around this league tell me how tough it is to play with a high-ankle sprain. Maybe he's Superman. My inclination is that he won't play Sunday – and that if the Jaguars are going to beat the Browns, it must have to come from the other 52 guys on that roster. They must focus this week on being their best regardless of position. They must block better, tackle better, run harder and catch every pass that comes their way from backup quarterback C.J. Beathard. If they are to win – which they can – they must overcome a lot, but they can do it if they're focused on who they have and what they must do instead of waiting and hoping for No. 16 to save the day.
- Talk the talk. We heard after the Jaguars lost to the Houston Texans, San Francisco 49ers and now the Bengals – their last three losses – that the defense had issues communicating. How is that still an issue for a team that has played almost two full seasons together? Injuries can't be the reason. Cornerback Tyson Campbell and defensive tackle DaVon Hamilton are the only two defensive starters who have missed significant time. Why can't the linebackers communicate with the secondary? Linebacker Foye Oluokun is one of the smartest players I've been around. So is safety Andre Cisco, who is a football junkie with a great understanding of the game. Something must change because they're going to see a lot of what Cincinnati did to them in the weeks ahead.
Kainani Stevens, Jaguars Team Reporter/Producer ...
- Crisis averted, but the Jaguars still keeping an air of mystery. Lawrence on Wednesday appeared in good spirits less than 48 hours after an ankle injury on Monday Night Football. MRI results were negative for major issues and it's high-ankle sprain for Lawrence. Pederson and Lawrence both used the words "thankful" and "fortunate" discussing the situation. Beathard took the main reps at practice Wednesday as Lawrence did not participate. Pederson is not ruling out Lawrence returning for Sunday. I think things will likely play out similarly to how they did in New Orleans for Thursday Night Football, where everything was a gametime decision. The feeling in the building is that a crisis has been averted, at least for now.
- Next man up. The Jaguars' injury report featured 12 players Wednesday, by far their highest total this season. While it's not uncommon to have a lot of injuries at this point in the season, it does feel strange they all came in the same week. Kirk is slated to have surgery for a core muscle injury and miss significant time in recovery. The pressure will be on rookie wide receiver Parker Washington, who scored the first touchdown of his career against the Bengals. Washington already has been getting playing time in place of injured kick returner Jamal Agnew. Now, he must try to fill the void left by Kirk.