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Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars On a Roll — But Can Get Even Better

Trevor Lawrence and Christian Kirk celebrate the winning touchdown

The Jacksonville Jaguars’ offense is stuck in a Groundhog Day scenario. They play the same game over and over and over again.

Every week, the offense looks smooth out of the gate. The Jaguars hit the right buttons in the run game, Trevor Lawrence pieces together a couple of exceptionally efficient drives and one or two flash plays from the skill players finish the job in the end zone.

And then, without fail, the offense sputters and stalls for long stretches until — boom — someone makes an insane play in the fourth quarter. Mistakes start piling up, and turnovers crop up left and right. Jacksonville stumbles to the occasional touchdown drive, but it's rarely with the same command or rhythm the offense had earlier in the game. The Jaguars are a team that gets out ahead — and their foot falls off the pedal until they suddenly find a way to land the final blow.

Thursday night's 31-24 nail-biter against the New Orleans Saints was more of the same.

If you only caught the game’s opening drive, you might think the Jaguars’ offense is a juggernaut. The group marched 75 yards down the field in 10 plays. Only two of those plays went for no gain, and none of them went for a loss. It was a smooth, efficient drive carried primarily by Lawrence's exceptional work in the underneath area and finished off with a tough run by Travis Etienne between the tackles.

The Jaguars couldn't have scripted a cleaner drive if they wanted to.

On the following drive, Christian Kirk fumbled after picking up 19 yards on a crossing route, but the next time the Jaguars got the ball, they picked up right where they left. This time, they took only seven plays to go 75 yards into the end zone, capping off the drive with a nifty little fake reverse that turned into a pitch to spring Etienne on the edge. It was another effortless drive with a little bit of flare thrown in at the end.

That kind of early-game effort is consistent with what the Jaguars have done all year.

graph showing EPA/play with the Dolphins at the top (0.45) followed in order by: the Broncos (0.35), Rams (0.27), 49ers (0.21), Lions (0.19), Chargers (0.19), Chiefs (0.18), Bears (0.15), Eagles (0.1), Jaguars (0.09), Ravens (0.08), Cardinals (0.07), Seahawks (0.06), Bills (0.05) and Colts (0.04)

Entering Week 7, the Jaguars were 10th in EPA per play (.09) and 12th in success rate (46.5 percent) in the first quarter of games, per TruMedia. Lawrence's 0.20 EPA per dropback in the first quarter ranks 10th among starting quarterbacks, only a stone's throw from Patrick Mahomes at 0.22. None of those numbers are lighting the league on fire, but it's good ground to stand on.

(Technically, the Jaguars’ second touchdown drive vs. the Saints ended in the early second quarter, but the point remains that this team clearly has something good going on early in games.)

But after those drives, the wheels fell off — just like they usually do. The Jaguars kicked a field goal on a grueling two-minute slog at the end of the half but punted or turned the ball over on downs on their first four possessions out of the half. The run game completely caved to the Saints’ physicality up front, and Lawrence couldn't connect on anything but checkdowns.

It wasn't until the Jaguars’ last possession that they scored again. But like I said before, it's not like they suddenly found a way to get in rhythm again.

Quite the opposite.

Instead, Kirk decided to become prime Odell Beckham Jr. for a play. Kirk caught a quick underneath throw and housed it 44 yards later, breaking a couple of tackles and sprinting by the Saints defense. Honest to God, I've never seen Kirk run that fast, and I'm not sure I will again. That was the kind of play that makes you think, “Could he always do that?” In so many ways, it was the perfect freak-incident-score to encapsulate how Jacksonville typically gets things done once its opening script falls apart.

That kind of collapse paired with a random knockout punch at the end is also consistent with who the Jaguars have been all year.

Before the game against the Saints, Jacksonville’s offense ranked 29th in EPA (-0.20) in the second and third quarter of games, according to TruMedia. Lawrence, despite his command early in games, falls to sixth-worst in EPA per dropback at -0.20. Some of that is because of flukey turnovers that should stabilize as the year goes on, but that only drives home how weird the Jaguars’ offense has been once it’s in the thick of it: Things kind of just come to a halt more often than not until someone makes a hero play at the end of the game.

So why are the Jaguars like this? The actual answer is something metaphysical because it's the Jaguars, but we can at least try to sort out their problems as they appear in reality.

Failure to maximize Calvin Ridley is the central issue. This game was a prime example. Ridley only saw four targets all night long, and he caught one pass for five yards.

Lawrence is a good ball distributor, and he can create a functional offense at times even without a star receiver, but the whole point of bringing Ridley in was to give Lawrence an “easy” button. Having Ridley should just make playing offense easier. Defenses adjust over the course of games and easy buttons should be a way to keep an offense stable, but the Jaguars haven't found a way to do that. It's why they keep stalling out in a lot of these games.

Ridley's struggles against press coverage are the main culprit. For as delightful a receiver as Ridley is in so many ways, he's a skinny guy. He’s 190 pounds at 6 feet, 1 inch tall. Ridley just doesn't have the size and strength to battle with cornerbacks at the line of scrimmage.

A smart offense would find ways to keep Ridley off press, especially against a team such as the Saints with violent cornerbacks. It's rare that Jacksonville puts Ridley in motion or puts him in bunches or stacks to hide him in the formation. By contrast, you see the Miami Dolphins do this all the time with Tyreek Hill. The Jaguars don't really have any interest in doing that with Ridley. They treat him like a real deal X receiver, and he's just not built that way.

Instead, the Jaguars instead spend all of their theoretical scheme points on making things easier for Etienne and Kirk and on (way too many) niche Jamal Agnew touches.

Ridley is still an effective player on the whole, but Jacksonville is leaving meat on the bone. The team would be so much better served spending its time scheming up ways to get him open instead of trying to raise the level of lesser players. They brought in a star player — they should feature him like one.

The good news is that it's only Week 7. There was probably always going to be an onboarding process with Ridley given his time away from the game and the fact that he’s being inserted into a new offense, one that isn't used to featuring a go-to receiver. The Jaguars have plenty of time to figure things out before elimination football begins.

Oh, yeah — and the Jaguars are 5-2 anyway.

None of this is actually slowing down their journey to another division title. Their defense is playing lights-out football and giving their offense time to sort through their troubles — a dynamic nobody could have predicted three months ago.

When the offense does hit its stride, this Jaguars team is going to be cooking with some serious gas.

Derrik Klassen is an NFL and NFL Draft film analyst with a particular interest in quarterbacks. Klassen’s work is also featured on Bleacher Report and Reception Perception. You can follow him on Twitter (X) at @QBKlass.