AFC South games are always entertaining. The Jacksonville Jaguars snapped a lengthy losing streak late last year to the Houston Texans as they marched to their first division title in years. They return to 2023 as the prohibitive favorites to win the division again. Yet, as we know, you can always throw out the records when teams meet inside the division.
Gus Logue from Big Cat Country came over for five questions prior to this week’s first matchup of the season. The Jaguars sit in a three way tie for first after splitting the first two games. The Texans officially sit in last, but one win could vault them right back into contention.
Battle Red Blog: How does the 2023 version of Trevor Lawrence compare to the 2022 version? What improvements has he made?
Gus Logue: In 2022, Lawrence slowly learned to be patient and take what defenses were giving him. That resulted in one of the best down-to-down efficiencies of any passer over the second half of last season.
The hope was that with Calvin Ridley now on board, Lawrence would be able to pair his sparkling success rate with more explosive plays. We saw some glimpses of that marriage in Week 1, when Jacksonville turned the ball over twice but went 3/3 in the red zone and scored 31 points. But in Week 2, the Jaguars went 0/3 in the red zone and Lawrence completed 2/12 pass attempts 10-plus yards downfield.
This week will be a good test to see if Lawrence and the Jaguars offense have improved from last year, or if they’re still just a good offense rather than a great one. Lawrence’s poise under pressure and touch in the red zone will be key areas to monitor.
BRB: Calvin Ridley was obviously the main offensive addition. What does he bring to the Jaguars offense?
GL: Ridley brings a vertical element that hasn’t been present in Jacksonville since Allen Robinson. For years, Jacksonville would flip-flop between having a perimeter threat and having a strong-armed quarterback but rarely had both at the same time. Now, Ridley will be able to take the top off of defenses, which should result in plenty of deep hookups between him and Lawrence while also giving other pass-catchers more room to operate underneath.
Ridley does his best work as an isolated outside receiver. Few cornerbacks in the league are suited to handle him one-on-one, so if/when opposing defenses focus on shutting Ridley down, it should just make the rest of the offense (i.e., Jacksonville’s 2022 offense) work even easier.
BRB: Who are some players on offense and defense that we haven’t talked about but will make a big impact on Sunday?
GL: Right guard Brandon Scherff and right tackle Anton Harrison. That side of the offensive line allowed significant pressure last week against Chris Jones and the Chiefs. Scherff is a former first-team All-Pro player but turns 32 in December and is playing on a sprained ankle suffered in Week 1; Harrison was the 27th-overall pick in April but is a relatively raw first-round prospect who was left on an island versus Jones for much of Week 2. Their performances against Will Anderson Jr. and the rest of Houston’s pass rush will be critical.
On defense, the Jaguars have an alpha at every level. Outside linebacker Josh Allen is in a contract year after averaging 7 sacks through his first four seasons; middle linebacker Foye Oluokun is the spine of the unit and led the league in tackles back-to-back; and cornerback Tyson Campbell is in his third year looking to prove himself as one of the best players at his position. The under-the-radar name you should know is safety Andre Cisco, who has 12 tackles, 2 pass deflections, 1 interception, and 1 forced fumble so far this season.
BRB: The AFC South is always entertaining and usually competitive. Who do you see as the Jaguars main competition to repeat as division champs?
GL: I’m bullish on first-time head coaches DeMeco Ryans and Shane Steichen, but I’ll always fear Tennessee most as long as Mike Vrabel is on their sidelines. He continually shows the ability to get the most out of his roster, and his physical smash mouth approach has led the Titans to a 49-35 regular season record in his tenure. The Texans and Colts have exciting new coach/quarterback duos, but for 2023, I see Mike Vrabel as Jacksonville’s biggest competition within the division.
BRB: DraftKings Sportsbook currently has the Jags favored by 8.5 points. Do you see them covering that or are there any other wagers you feel comfortable recommending to the readers?
GL: If I had to choose one side, I’d pick the Jaguars to cover. I think their emotions got the most of them last week and they’ll be able to rebound nicely this week against an inferior roster. But nine is a lot of points so I’m not taking that spread confidently.
I like Tank Bigsby to score a touchdown (+265) on Sunday. The rookie running back had 7 touches in his NFL debut but 0 against Kansas City — I think Jacksonville’s coaching staff will try to get him going this week.
We want to thank Gus for taking the time to sit down with us to answer our questions. We want to wish him and the Jaguars the best of luck this season as they try to repeat as division champs. Of course, we want them to have limited luck on Sunday.