JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser, senior correspondent Brian Sexton and team reporter Ashlyn Sullivan with quick thoughts as the Jaguars prepare to play the San Francisco 49ers in a 2021 Week 11 game at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Sunday
- Mission (getting) accomplished. Offseason objectives are projection; some get fulfilled, some don't. Credit the Jaguars this past offseason: the No. 1 objective was improving the run defense and the defensive front, and it appears they accomplished that objective. The Jaguars are dramatically improved against the run this season, ranking 11th in the NFL (106.0 yards per game) there through nine games after ranking 30th (153.3) last season. The group also passes the eye test, with defensive end/linebacker Josh Allen emerging as elite – and with Dawuane Smoot, Taven Bryan, Malcom Brown and Roy Robertson-Harris trending upward in recent weeks. An improved secondary in recent weeks also shouldn't be ignored. But the biggest reason for the defensive improvement overall is a front that is not only stopping the run, but consistently pressuring the quarterback at a level not seen around the Jaguars since 2017-2018. The unit has become a disruptive force that plays in waves. The area appears something around with the Jaguars can build. That's a huge deal moving forward.
- Stay calm. The (not-so) dull roar you hear from many Jaguars observers this week is the concern/worry over rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence, with some level of concern understandable considering his passer rating has been under 70 the last three weeks after three consecutive games over 90. His accuracy has dipped, and he hasn't looked as comfortable in the pocket as he did earlier in the season. But the furor and angst over Lawrence is misplaced and far over the top. While he hasn't played well in recent weeks, neither has he played awfully – which is particularly true considering the Jaguars' continued problems at receiver. Drops remain an issue, and the lack of deep speed continues to allow defenders to press the line of scrimmage without fear of allowing big plays. This enables defenses to be more aggressive, creating a compressed field. That's not unlike the offense always operating in the red zone, which is the toughest part of NFL quarterbacking whatever the quarterback's experience. No, Lawrence hasn't been great in recent weeks. But considering his circumstances, neither is his play cause for major concern.
- Be Prepared. It's the motto of the Boy Scouts of America and Jaguars defensive coordinator Joe Cullen should adopt it for his team this week. No one does more with different people than 49ers head coach and offensive mastermind Kyle Shanahan. When the Jaguars played the Broncos with Shanahan's father, Mike, as head coach, former Jaguars Head Coach Tom Coughlin would preach awareness of who does what. He used to tell me Shanahan's system forced you to show your hand, then the Broncos would break tendencies by running different plays than they had shown from a particular formation. The key, according to Coughlin, was every defensive player knowing what every offensive player on the offense was capable of – and to be ready. This week's game is as much mental as physical for the Jaguars' defense; if you're unconvinced, watch how the 49ers picked apart that great Jaguars 2017 defense on Christmas Eve in San Francisco. That was 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo's fourth start in Shanahan's system. Be prepared.
- Take it away. The Jaguars and 49ers are similar when it comes to turnover ratio. The Jaguars are minus-10 with 15 giveaways; the Niners are minus-seven with 14 giveaways. Jacksonville beat Buffalo on the strength of three takeaways and that's the formula with an offense limited in its capabilities. The 49ers will turn it over and the Jaguars must take it away, giving Lawrence more chances – and perhaps shorter fields. On a related note, the Jaguars remain last in the NFL with only five takeaways, but the 49ers have just seven this season. To recap, the 49ers will give it up and don't take it back. The Jaguars must take advantage of that and create an opportunity to get Win No. 3 on the season.
- A conversation. The Jaguars' defense has put up an incredibly impressive performance two consecutive weeks. We're starting to talk about a unit around which you can really build moving forward. We spoke to defensive tackle Malcom Brown Wednesday and asked, "What happened?" How did this Jaguars defense go from looking confused and disorganized in Seattle to suddenly being why the Jaguars beat one of the NFL's best teams, the Buffalo Bills? Well … it all boiled down to one conversation the defense had with Cullen about what works best for the players and how they can implement it. "You know we can try to keep the communication open between the coaches," Brown said. "We are out there playing so they want to keep us comfortable and keep our minds clear, so we can play fast and play physical." Defensive coaches have made the defense simpler with fewer substitutions. We're seeing the results of a smart change.
- It's on everyone. The Jaguars' offense has scored 33 points in three weeks. For some reason, Lawrence is getting the blame. In the loss to the Colts Sunday, the offense had six drops, six penalties and five incompletions. Wide receiver Jamal Agnew on Wednesday said the issues are coming from the offense not executing and Lawrence said everyone needs to be better at every offensive position. They're both right. I do not know the ceiling for this offense, but the unit certainly can play better than it has the past three weeks. Players must make plays and help their rookie quarterback. It boils down to doing your job.
WEEK 11 · Sun 11/21 · 1:00 PM EST
San Francisco 49ers