JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars are struggling.
In the last two weeks, an offense that was considered to be one of the league’s best on paper has scored two touchdowns, a pass rush that showed improvement in Week 1 has disappeared and the special teams gave up a kickoff return for a touchdown after kicker Brandon McManus missed a field goal and had another blocked.
Turnovers, penalties, dropped passes and mental errors have all been on display in back-to-back losses, especially in Sunday’s 37-17 home loss to the Houston Texans (1-2), and it all has to be fixed soon or the Jaguars (1-2) are going to have a hard time making back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time this century.
“It's frustrating that this is a team that has played together a lot, has won a lot of big games, played great down the stretch of last season, and to not click so far, it's definitely frustrating,” quarterback Trevor Lawrence said. “We have the right guys and the locker room is tight. We believe in one another. That’s not going to change. And we’re going to get through, we’re going to get over it.”
The Jaguars’ issues go beyond just not clicking on offense.
The pass rush was the Jaguars’ No. 1 issue after the 2022 season, yet the only thing the team did to address it was draft Yasir Abdullah in the fifth round. They didn’t sign a pass-rusher in free agency after having veterans Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue in for visits. Sure, the Jaguars had four sacks in the season opener against Indianapolis, but two of Josh Allen’s three came chasing Colts rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson out of bounds.
They sacked Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes once in Week 2, but hit Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud four times and didn’t sack him on Sunday despite the fact the Texans were starting four backup offensive linemen.
Allen and Travon Walker are both former first-round picks but neither has become the elite rusher the Jaguars hoped.
“We have to do better,” coach Doug Pederson said. “It starts up front. It starts with the offensive line on offense, starts with the defensive line on defense. It starts right there.”
The offense returned nine starters from last season’s unit that ranked 10th in yards and points per game. They added receiver Calvin Ridley and drafted right tackle Anton Harrison in the first round, yet after three weeks they’re converting on 30% of third downs and have scored 26 points in the last two weeks.
Ridley caught eight passes for 101 yards and a touchdown in the opener but has caught five passes for 72 yards in the last two games. He dropped two potential touchdown passes and had two false start penalties against the Texans on Sunday.
Receiver/returner Jamal Agnew has lost fumbles in back-to-back games, Lawrence has thrown three touchdown passes and two interceptions (one off a tipped pass) in three games, and McManus missed a 48-yard field goal and had a 51-yard attempt blocked against the Texans.
The Jaguars also gave up an 85-yard kickoff return to the Texans' Andrew Beck, the first time a fullback has returned a kickoff for a touchdown since Jacksonville’s Derrick Wimbush in 2005.
“It’s not even making a play, really. We have guys that can make plays all over the place,” tight end Evan Engram said. “It’s just the little things that we’re just shooting ourselves in the foot. We got hands to the face [penalty to wipe out a big gain], we got a lot of dropped balls today, myself included. We got a fumble off a big gain, the kick return on a fullback. We’re just not playing complementary football.
“We know we’ve got guys that can make plays. But we’re not playing complementary football in a consistent way.”
The Jaguars are heading to London for games against the Atlanta Falcons (9:30 a.m. ET, ESPN+) and Buffalo Bills (Oct. 8), returning to play host to the Indianapolis Colts (Oct. 15), and then playing back-to-back road games at New Orleans (Oct. 19) and Pittsburgh (Oct. 29) before reaching their bye week. If the Jaguars' woes continue, preseason expectations of the Jaguars winning the AFC South might not be met.
Did last season’s five-game winning streak that led to the division title and improbable comeback over the Los Angeles Chargers in the playoffs provide some false hope that the franchise is a legitimate contender? The last three quarterbacks the Jaguars beat in the regular season were Zach Wilson, Davis Mills and Joshua Dobbs, and Tennessee lost six games in a row leading to the Week 18 AFC South title game in Jacksonville.
“I wish I had a crystal ball, honestly. That would probably answer a lot of questions,” Pederson said. “It's just really hard to put a finger on it. Coaches need to coach, players need to play, leaders need to lead. That part of it starts with me. We've got ourselves in a little bit of a pickle here and we got to work it out.
“... Listen, by no means do you panic. It’s early. There’s a lot of ball ahead of us. I know we’ve got the right men in that room and in that locker room to figure this out.”