JACKSONVILLE – In a weekly feature for the 2021 season, NFL Media and Jaguars Media analyst Bucky Brooks breaks down the Jaguars' performance in a 23-13 loss to the Cleveland Browns in the 2021 preseason opener at TIAA Bank Field Sunday …
The Jaguars played with great energy and effort in Head Coach Urban Meyer's preseason debut. The relentlessness displayed by the team was a welcome sight for an observer accustomed to seeing an underachieving unit on the field. The team's effort combined with an upgraded roster loaded with bigger, faster, and stronger athletes enabled the Jaguars to play a very competitive contest against a very talented Browns squad.
KEYS TO VICTORY
The Browns walked out of TIAA Bank Field with a victory due to their ability to control the clock and win third-down situations. The Browns held the ball for 33:02 behind a conservative pass game that featured an assortment of short and intermediate passes from quarterbacks Case Keenum (12 of 17 passing, 115 yards) and Kyle Lauletta (19 of 27 passing, 212 yards and two touchdowns). The efficiency from the Browns' signal-callers repeatedly showed up on "money" downs with the team converting 58.8-percent of their third-down conversions. With the Jaguars unable to get off the field in key situations, the Browns were able to chalk up a W with a workmanlike effort.
Rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence hasn't been named the Jaguars' QB1, but it is easy to see why folks around the team are buzzing about his potential as a franchise player. The 6-feet-6, 213-pounder is a five-star talent with the football IQ, passing skills and swagger to soon help the Jaguars return to prominence. After a shaky start that included a strip-sack on the Jaguars' first offensive play, Lawrence quickly found his rhythm as a passer by dropping an assortment of "dimes" to receivers on the perimeter like an NBA point guard running a fast break. He complemented his quick-rhythm throws with a few tosses on extended plays that showcased his composure, athleticism and arm talent. In particular, Lawrence's 35-yard completion to veteran wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. provided observers with a glimpse of his elite playmaking potential from the pocket. The pinpoint rainbow toss was delivered on target while the rookie eluded rushers in the pocket with a fadeaway maneuver stolen from Dirk Nowitzki's playbook.
From a critical standpoint, Lawrence needs to speed up his internal clock to avoid costly sacks. He holds onto the ball while waiting for his primary receiver to work open and the delays lead to sacks against stellar pass-rushing units.
Overall, the rookie's debut provided the football world with a glimpse of the exceptional talent, playmaking ability and skill that has Duval County buzzing over the Jaguars' franchise quarterback.
UNDER THE RADAR
C.J. Beathard might've swiped the QB2 job from Gardner Minshew II with his strong performance against the Browns. The veteran completed 13 of 16 passes for 102 yards with a touchdown while jump-starting an offense that sputtered under the direction of his predecessor (Minshew). Beathard flawless executed a "dink-and-dunk" plan against the Browns' sticky man-to-man tactics that sometimes suffocated the offense. The veteran threaded the needle on a few tight-window throws and made a handful of pinpoint throws in key situations to sustain drives. Considering how well Beathard performed compared to his counterparts, the Jaguars might reshuffle the deck in the QB room soon.
The Jaguars couldn't get on track on offense against the Browns most of the night. The Browns' sticky coverage tactics and creative pass rush plan kept the Jaguars' quarterbacks from finding their rhythm in the passing game. With few layups available on the perimeter, the passers were forced to hold onto the ball or attempt "hero" throws into tight coverage. In addition, the offensive line faced a challenging series of stunts, blitzes, and games that tested their communication skills and instincts in pass protection. As a result, the Jaguars surrendered four sacks and failed to find a sustainable rhythm for most of the contest.
The scoreboard didn't accurately reflect how well the defense performed for the Jaguars. A unit that struggled mightily stopping the run in 2020 held the Browns to just 41 rushing yards on 26 attempts (1.6 rush yards per attempt). The penetration and gang-tackling efforts from the front seven stood out with the Jaguars' safeties and cornerbacks also getting in on the action. In coverage, the Jaguars' young, athletic secondary showed outstanding discipline and competitiveness on the perimeter. From cornerbacks Shaq Griffin to CJ Henderson and Tyson Campbell, the Jaguars blanketed the Browns' receivers on the island and forced Keenum/Lauletta to settle for check-downs and dump-offs in the flats. Although the "dink-and-dunk" passing game generated plenty of completions, the Jaguars didn't give up big plays and forced the Browns to drive the length of the field relying on efficient play. The odds didn't work in the Jaguars' favor during the debut, but the tactical plan and execution could produce more victories in the regular season.