JACKSONVILLE – One big Jaguars question got answered this week. Many more remain.
Such is the backdrop for the Jaguars' 2021 preseason finale against the Dallas Cowboys, a game that will be played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Sunday at 1 p.m.
Rookie Trevor Lawrence will start at quarterback for the Jaguars, with Head Coach Urban Meyer having announced the No. 1 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft as not only the starter for Sunday but also for Week 1 of the '21 regular season. While Lawrence started the first two preseason games, Meyer hadn't made the decision official until this week.
Elsewhere, there are more questions than certainties for a young Jaguars team that has fallen behind early while losing each of the first two preseason games. The Jaguars trailed 16-0 at halftime of a 23-13 loss to Cleveland in Preseason Week 1 and 17-3 at halftime of a 23-21 loss to New Orleans in Preseason Week 2.
Offensive rhythm therefore is an issue for Meyer entering Sunday's game. So is the running game. And red-zone offense.
The Jaguars will seek to learn more about this issues Sunday in a game in which they are expected to play starters extensively. It's a game with plenty of storylines as the Jaguars begin preparing for the regular-season opener against the Houston Texans in Houston September 12.
Here's a look at 10 of the biggest:
1.The starting quarterback. Officially. Lawrence started the first two preseason games, but Sunday will be his first as the Jaguars' official starter. There will be focus on Lawrence beyond the ceremonial. He has yet to throw an NFL touchdown pass – and he and the first-team offense have scored one field goal in eight preseason possessions.
2.And the backup quarterback is … After competing with Lawrence for the starting position, veteran Gardner Minshew II – a starter in 20 games for the Jaguars the past two seasons – on Saturday was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles. That means veteran C.J. Beathard is expected to be the backup quarterback. Minshew threw no touchdown passes with two interceptions in the preseason; Beathard, acquired as an unrestricted free agent this past March, has been impressive in two preseason games with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
3.A search for rhythm … and points. The first-team offense will be a major storyline in Preseason Week 3 – perhaps THE major storyline now that Lawrence has been named the starter. The first-team offense has scored three first-half points. Injuries to the offensive line and the absence of wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. have contributed to the struggles. Whatever the reason, the Jaguars need some success here before the regular season begins. "Score points," Meyer said when asked the next step for Lawrence and the first-team offense.
4.The starters will play. With the preseason drawing to a close, some teams around the league may play starters minimally Sunday – if at all. Not the Jaguars. Meyer this week made clear that most starters will play Sunday if healthy.
5.Time to run. While much focus nationally is on Lawrence and the quarterback position, a major issue thus far has been the run offense. The Jaguars rushed for 45 yards on 20 carries against New Orleans with 13 yards coming on two quarterback runs. That means the running backs averaged less than two yards per carry. The Jaguars under Meyer want to base the offense on a strong, dynamic running game – making this a major focus.
6.Getting his kicks. Kicker Josh Lambo has missed both of his field goals from more than 40 yards this preseason. Meyer, asked this week if he was concerned about Lambo, answered: "Yes. Make the field goal."
7.Protect the passer. The Jaguars were without three starting offensive linemen last week – center Brandon Linder, guard Andrew Norwell, tackle Cam Robinson – and likely will be without Linder and Norwell Sunday in addition to being without starting guard A.J. Cann (Reserve/COVID-19). Still, the Jaguars have allowed five sacks in two games – and Lawrence has been sacked three times in eight series. That's not all on the offensive line, and Lawrence has held the ball too long at times. But this will be a storyline until it's not.
8.Jobs on the line. While the starters will play early, a huge storyline Sunday will be the bottom of the roster. The NFL trimmed the preseason from four games to three this season, which eliminates the Week 4 preseason game that most teams used mostly for roster evaluation. That will make Sunday very important for a lot of young players.
9.Win. Yes, it's "just" preseason. But the Jaguars have lost 17 consecutive games – 15 in the regular season last season and two this preseason. "The taste of victory" in a preseason game isn't everything. But it wouldn't be bad for this team to taste it.
10.Stay healthy. Health is paramount in the preseason. Look no further than the loss for the season last week of Jaguars rookie running back Travis Etienne, a loss Meyer called "a punch to the jaw." Aside from Etienne, the Jaguars have avoided long-term injuries during the preseason. They need to avoid them again Sunday.