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 Baltimore Ravens at EverBank Stadium Sunday at 8:20 p.m.
John Oehser, Jaguars Senior Writer…
- Perspective, please. Every NFL game matters, and the difference between "good" and "bad" is thin. That makes quick-trigger reactions common – and often incorrect – and the thought here is many reactions to the Jaguars' recent two-game losing streak are extreme. Head Coach Doug Pederson on Monday correctly said the sky is not falling, with players throughout the week noting that the Jaguars are 8-5 in first place in the AFC South with no reason to panic. This is correct. The Jaguars haven't played well in losses to the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns the past two weeks. They were oddly weak against the run against Cincinnati, and uncharacteristically allowed three big-play pass plays on mental breakdowns against Cleveland. They also committed four turnovers against the Browns, who – like Cincinnati – are very good this season. Remember: The Jaguars haven't lost to a team with a losing record this season, with their losses coming to Kansas City (8-5), Houston (7-6), San Fransisco (10-3), Cincinnati (7-6) and Cleveland (8-5). They control their playoff destiny and will win the South with victories in three of their last four games if they beat Tennessee in Week 18. The Jaguars have issues. There are weaknesses. But they're in line to win a second consecutive division title for the first time in 24 years. The sky certainly isn't falling.
- Time to show. This is a familiar theme – really familiar – but the Jaguars on Sunday again can show they are the team they believe themselves to be. This is particularly true on defense, a unit that felt like the team's identity for the first three months of the season and that has contributed significantly to the past two losses. The Ravens may be the best team the Jaguars will play this season with the possible exception of a San Francisco 49ers team that looks like the Super Bowl favorites. The Ravens feel like the AFC favorites for reasons that include a front-line defense, a strong foundation and perhaps the AFC's most-balanced roster. The Ravens' offense also is dangerous with quarterback Lamar Jackson candidate leading the NFL's top-ranked run offense. But the Jaguars for the most part have played mobile quarterbacks well. They have been a defense that has stopped the run well outside of losses to the 49ers and Bengals, and they remain an elite unit forcing turnovers. There's a formula in there to beat the Ravens and move to within a game of the top seed in the AFC. If they do that, maybe the Jaguars are as good as they believe.
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Brian Sexton, Jaguars Senior Correspondent …
- The running game or lack of the ability to run will decide how far this team can go in 2023. Jaguars running back Travis Etienne Jr. had 14 rushing attempts on Sunday in Cleveland. On six of those, he ran for one yard or fewer with four of the six carries for a loss. They fell behind and needed to abandon the run to play catchup, but they also abandoned it because they're not very good at it and don't have much confidence in it – and that's a problem. Lawrence's third interception came on the second play of the fourth quarter on third-and-1 at their 15-yard line. Down 21-14, there was no reason to go for a home run ball. But this offense has been ineffective on third-and-short and clearly the coaching staff felt better about their chances down the field. The Jaguars somehow must figure out what or who can help them change their fortunes in the running game.
- There are no unbeatable teams. Just because the Jaguars aren't playing well right now doesn't mean they can't beat the 10-3 Ravens. Did anyone think the 4-8 Tennessee Titans with rookie quarterback Will Levis and without their best defensive player could beat the Miami Dolphins Monday Miami? How about the Kansas City Chiefs losing in Green Bay and at home to the Buffalo Bills – or the Philadelphia Eagles getting blown out by the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys in consecutive weeks? Yes, the Jaguars have lost consecutive games. But without wide receiver Christian Kirk and with a hobbled Lawrence, they have scored 58 points in the last two games and are a missed field goal from being 9-4 and tied with Miami for the second-best record in the AFC. Don't think this team can't beat the Ravens and end the season playing good football again. If the Jaguars beat the Ravens, the AFC is anybody's to win in January.
Kainani Stevens, Jaguars Team Reporter/Producer ...
- Friendly scheduling to close things out. Sunday Night Football this week will feature the best team the Jaguars will see for the rest of the regular season in the Ravens (10-3). The final three opponents on the Jaguars' schedule are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7), Carolina Panthers (1-12) and the Titans (5-8). While record isn't everything, it does leave the ball in the Jaguars' court when it comes to locking up the division. They're firmly in the driver's seat in terms of controlling their own destiny and an upset over the top team in the AFC Sunday would be a nice start.
- Ravens revenge game. Baltimore will head to town looking to avenge their last second-loss to the Jaguars last season. Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen referenced the sour taste left in his mouth after the loss in Jacksonville last season and the desire to turn the tides this year by playing "bully ball." The Jaguars have struggled against the more physical teams they have played this season such as the Browns, Kansas City and the 49ers. Baltimore will most certainly bring that same energy with its hard-hitting defense and veteran experience. Here's hoping Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence has a few more tricks up his sleeve.