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Behind Enemy Lines with Big Cat Country: Can Trevor Lawrence lead Jaguars to the playoffs?

We go behind the scenes of the Texans-Jaguars game with Ryan O’Bleness at Big Cat Country

Houston Texans v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images

The Houston Texans have a nine game winning streak going against the Jaguars, but Sunday’s game features two teams going in different directions. The Jaguars are one key win against the Titans away from winning their first division title in years. The Texans are jockeying for draft position. We caught up with Ryan O’Bleness of Big Cat Country so that we could get some inside information on what is going on with the Jaguars.

The Jaguars are on a hot streak over the last month or so. What do you see as the key differences between this Jaguars team and the one the Texans saw in Jacksonville earlier this season?

The biggest difference is the most obvious one: Trevor Lawrence’s play at the quarterback position has ascended tremendously. Over the past seven games, Lawrence has completed 177 of 254 passes (69.68 percent) for 1,909 yards (272.7 yards per game) with 14 touchdowns and one interception. He has also scored two rushing touchdowns during that stretch. I’ll talk more about Lawrence below, but the team’s success is obviously directly tied to how Lawrence performs, and right now, he’s playing at an unbelievable level.

Additionally, the coaching has been a night and day difference compared to last season and has noticeably improved throughout the season. Doug Pederson and his staff have their players believing that this team is a contender and that has led to improved confidence with this group from top to bottom. Pederson has played a huge role in the development of Lawrence. Pederson is also an excellent play-caller. His ability to scheme plays to create mismatches on offense and put his players in the best position to succeed is a huge reason for the recent turnaround.

Also, while the defense still struggles overall and gives up a lot of yardage, the unit is very good at creating turnovers. Over the past seven games, Jacksonville has dominated in turnover differential. The Jaguars have generated 14 takeaways compared to just seven giveaways in that span. Jacksonville is getting hot at the right time. If the Jaguars do end up making the playoffs, this could be a dangerous team.

The focus on most teams is the quarterback. Trevor Lawrence has been much better recently. Do you see him as a finished product or are there other obvious areas where he can continue to grow?

Obviously, it took Lawrence a little bit longer than expected to start delivering on the promise of his sky-high potential. Urban Meyer likely did more to stunt Lawrence’s development than help it when he was a rookie in 2021. He made very obvious mistakes as a rookie and even early this season, such as locking into one wide receiver before the snap even happened, not going through his progressions quickly enough, making bad decisions/forcing throws that led to turnovers, throwing inaccurate balls, struggling to score points in the red zone, etc.

However, as mentioned, over the past seven games or so, he has looked like every bit of the “generational talent” and “franchise quarterback” he was touted to be. Those issues mentioned above have not been prevalent. He is seeing the field much better, making good decisions, delivering accurate throws and putting his team in position to win.

However, at just 23 years old and not even through his second full season in the NFL, I don’t believe he is anywhere near a finished product. He is only going to get better, especially as he continues to learn from Pederson — somebody who played the quarterback position in the NFL and has won a Super Bowl as both a player and coach. Lawrence still isn’t anywhere near his true potential or prime, and that should be scary for the rest of the NFL.

I truly think he will eventually be an All-Pro and one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL — perhaps as soon as 2023 or 2024. If the Jaguars can continue to add talen around him (wide receiver Calvin Ridley joins the team in 2023), then this team could be a true contender in the AFC for years to come.

Travon Walker was the first pick in the draft. How has he looked so far this season? Do you think they’d take him again if you knew then what you know now?

Travon Walker has been dealing with an ankle injury and missed the past two games. It is possible Walker returns this week against the Texans as Pederson told the media this week that he was “close.”

He’s certainly had his ups and downs this season, which isn’t uncommon for rookies. Entering the league, he was touted as a strong defender against the run and a bit “raw” as a pass-rusher. He immediately flashed both as a run defender and pass-rusher in the early part of the season. In his debut game against the Washington Commanders, Walker recorded four total tackles, a tackle for loss, a sack and an interception. He had a couple of other solid games early, but then was essentially a non-factor for a long stretch. He didn’t record his second sack of the season until Jacksonville’s seventh game against the New York Giants on Oct. 23. He has only recorded 3.5 sacks and four tackles for loss on the season. His effort is always there.

Walker had a nice game in his last outing against the Tennessee Titans, before sustaining the aforementioned ankle injury in that contest. Walker recorded three tackles with a sack, interception and forced fumble against the Titans.

I still think the Jaguars would select Walker if given the chance again. The Walker pick was based on his impressive measurables and potential. While he was certainly expected to start and make an impact, as he does, I don’t think anybody expected him to become a team leader or Pro Bowl-caliber player as a rookie. But that is what he is expected to become in another year or two. He certainly has the size, skill and want-to to accomplish that. We’ll see what transpires in the future, but I think most Jaguars fans are excited and hopeful when it comes to Walker.

In one of those odd scheduling quirks, the outcome of this game won’t impact the Jaguars playoff hopes one way or another. Do you think they’ll be motivated to win or do you think they’ll take the opportunity to rest key guys?

I think Jacksonville will be motivated to win for a couple of reasons. One, if the Jaguars were to end up losing the division to the Titans in Week 18, there is still an outside (and unlikely) shot to get a Wild Card spot. The Jaguars would need to defeat the Texans to get to eight wins and would finish at 8-9 in the scenario where Jacksonville loses to Tennessee to end the season. Of course, the Jaguars would need a lot of additional help from other teams losing to get a Wild Card spot, so defeating the Titans and winning the AFC South would be the easiest path and most likely scenario.

Doug Pederson has already announced that they will not be resting any players that are currently healthy for this game. Houston defeated Jacksonville earlier this season at TIAA Bank Field in early October. I don’t necessarily know that Jacksonville is looking to avenge that loss, but I would venture to guess that the defeat on Oct. 9 to a lowly Texans team did not sit right with the team.

The Jaguars are favored to win as they should be, but have a nine-game losing streak against the Texans. How do you see this game going? Are there any DraftKings Sportsbook prop bets you feel like recommending?

The Texans have certainly had the Jaguars’ number as of late. As mentioned, Houston defeated Jacksonville earlier this year. I don’t think this game will be as easy for Jacksonville on the road as it looks on paper, but the Jaguars are certainly the more talented and hotter team right now. The 4.5-point spread feels about right to me. I think the Jaguars will be motivated to win for the reasons I mentioned above, but the Texans would love to play spoiler. Ultimately, I think the Jaguars win and cover by a final score of somewhere around 27-20.

As for prop bets, I don’t bet on many myself, but DraftKings has two prop bets that stand out to me: Jacksonville over 23.5 points and Jacksonville over 2.5 touchdowns. If my prediction of 27 points for the Jaguars comes true (three touchdowns, three extra points and two field goals), both of those would hit. Jacksonville averages exactly 23.5 points per game, while the Texans allow 23.9 points per game. Getting over that mark feels likely to me on Sunday.

We want to thank Ryan for taking the time to answer our questions. If you would like to check out more about the Jaguars we invite you to visit our sister site Big Cat Country. We want to wish Ryan and the Jaguars the best of luck as they attempt to complete their improbable comeback for the their first division title since 2017.