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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 Atlanta Falcons at Wembley Stadium in London Sunday in a 2023 Week 4 game …
John Oehser, Jaguars Senior Writer…
- Big one – and a tricky test. This is too early to be must-win, but a 1-2 record and a one-sided home loss to the previously winless Houston Texans this past Sunday certainly give this game an important feel for the Jaguars. The 20-point loss to Houston was the sort that can shake confidence – among the team and within the fan base – and that makes Sunday matter greatly from the standpoint of not only confidence, but perception. Head Coach Doug Pederson is adept at guiding teams through difficult times, the latest example being the Jaguars’ five-game winning streak that helped turn a 2-6 record last season into a memorable AFC South title. Pederson’s current task is tricky: The Jaguars must forget offseason hype and expectations. They also must relax, stop trying for a big play on every play and let the game come to them. Those feel intertwined. Balancing urgency and relaxing is tricky, which makes this one of the more intriguing Jaguars games in recent memory.
- Don’t miss it. Call it a hunch, but the thought here is Sunday may be a big game – a really big game – for Jaguars running back Travis Etienne Jr. Not that the Falcons are particularly vulnerable in this area. They’re strong on the defensive front seven. But Etienne has been perhaps the Jaguars’ most consistent offensive weapon through three games, and had one of the strongest games of his NFL career in the loss to the Texans Sunday with 88 yards rushing and 50 more receiving. Etienne was consistently strong running behind line that blocked well in the run game, with his running production reduced significantly because the Jaguars trailed by double digits the last quarter and a half and were throwing to try to reduce the deficit. Pregame talk understandably will focus on a powerful Falcons running game featuring dynamic rookie Bijan Robinson. Perhaps this is a day the Jaguars and Etienne will shift that focus in front of a national audience.
Brian Sexton, Jaguars Senior Correspondent …
- I don’t suppose anyone is worried about London as a threat to Jacksonville any longer. The thought comes to mind as we leave for two games in the United Kingdom. The first will be the Jaguars’ 10th regular-season appearance in London, yet they’re still firmly ensconced in North Florida. Some might point to the looming negotiations over a new stadium, but I’m more than optimistic about a deal getting done, as are most people I talk to; Jacksonville and the Jaguars belong together, end even those who don’t want to spend public dollars see that. The real reason I believe people aren’t as anxious is the NFL’s global focus. The league has done well in the U.K. and Mexico with great success in Germany last season, and it appears Spain and Brazil are next. Twenty-one teams own marketing rights in countries from New Zealand to Africa and all across Europe, and every team is now guaranteed to play internationally at least once every eight seasons. The Jaguars were once an outlier, a team willing to play a game in London every season. Perhaps they saw what was coming and got ahead of the curve.
- At one-point last Sunday against the Texans, the Jaguars had converted seven of 29 third-down opportunities this season. It was alarming. If they’re going to be the elite offense most thought we would see this season, that number which now is 11 of 37 (29 percent) – must be above 45 percent and close to 50 percent. The Jaguars’ inability to stay on the field is the most troubling aspect of their 1-2 record. The defense was never designed to be the team’s personality – and despite strong performances against the Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs, they struggled to set the tone against the Texans. Mix in a special teams group that struggled Sunday and you have a volatile combination of issues that couldn’t be extinguished. Fixing that conversion rate is the most important issue to calm this team, let the game come to them and to open the entire playbook for Head Coach Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Press Taylor.
Kainani Stevens, Jaguars Team Reporter/Producer …
- A change of scenery. The Jaguars head to London with more questions than answers this week. The ten-day trip will give the Jags some time away to figure exactly who they are as a team. Another listless effort against the Falcons would solidify things in my mind for the worse. Jacksonville needs a win Sunday, but the Jaguars also need to dominate the Falcons to get things back on the rails. Tack on a good performance against the Bills and we might just have some hope on the horizon.
- Plug and play. Linebacker Devin Lloyd will not travel to London after undergoing surgery on his right thumb Wednesday. He’ll miss at least the next two weeks and the defense will miss his acuity for finding the football. Chad Muma will be leaned on to fill that spot and therefore likely will not play as big of a role on special teams. Muma already has made some key special teams plays this season and now will have the opportunity to contribute more on defense.
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