The Arizona Cardinals are set to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars this Sunday, as it will be the first meeting between the Cardinals and No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence. It is the first of two consecutive games for Lawrence with other No. 1 overall quarterbacks on the field. This week it's Kyler Murray and next Thursday, it's Cincinnati's Joe Burrow.
Through two games, the rookie quarterback has completed only 50% of his passes with only four touchdowns and five interceptions. Those struggles are expected out of any rookie quarterback, yet Lawrence has still flashed the incredible arm talent that has hailed him as a generational talent for so long.
The Cardinals have been complimentary of Lawrence in the week leading up to the game.
"We have to keep this guy honest," said defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. "Watching Kirk (Cousins) run for 35 yards last week wasn't good on our part. So, we have to rush with more integrity and keep (Lawrence) in the pocket, so he doesn't bust pockets, especially in the red zone. But this quarterback is special. He's a top pick for a reason."
Joseph points to the deep ball as a strength of Lawrence's.
"Lawrence is talented," said Joseph. "He can make every throw, obviously, to be the No. 1 overall pick. When you watch his game, the deep ball is the best ball he throws. It's been on point, he's accurate with it, and they've hit every week. The first drive against the Broncos, which is a very good defense, went 84 yards for a touchdown. So, it won't be an easy out on Sunday."
Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury also holds Lawrence in high regard.
"Trevor Lawrence, everybody has talked about (him), he's one of the top prospects probably in the last 20 years in the NFL from a talent standpoint and how he played in college," said Kingsbury. "So they got it going the right direction. They're a tough team. I thought they really made strides last week, and we know we're gonna have our hands full.
"He has it all. He can run it (or) throw it, he's big, physical, smart, and there's not a flaw in his game. He's just got to continue to get used to a new system and the speed of the game at this level."
The key to stopping Lawrence and the rest of the Jaguars offense from finding success? Defending the rushing attack.
"I think it starts with stopping the run game and making them one-dimensional," said Joseph. "If the running game is working, it's so hard to call a clean game because not obvious pass downs now become mixed downs. So stopping the run game early for a young quarterback is critical for us. That makes them one-dimensional.
"Now, we can obviously play more pass downs and rush the passer and play coverage. But if the running game is not contained, it makes it impossible to have a run-pass read on offense."
Through two games, no rusher on Jacksonville's offense has carried the ball more than 16 times. With first-round selection Travis Etienne Jr. out for the season, fellow running back James Robinson was expected to pick up the workload that saw him have a tremendous rookie season last year.
Instead, the Jaguars have found themselves trailing early in games, often having to ditch the rushing attack to try and climb back into the game. The Jaguars are one of only seven teams in the NFL averaging 75 rushing yards per game or fewer. Jacksonville is also one of four teams to not have scored a rushing touchdown.
Unhinging talented pass-rushers such as Chandler Jones and J.J. Watt will be vital to consistently getting in the backfield, especially if the Cardinals know Jacksonville will be airing the ball out more times than not. The Cardinals will look to use their talented pass rush to put Lawrence on the ground more than once, something no defense has been able to do yet in 2021.
"That's key about stopping the run and winning first down in this league. If you're not winning first down, run or pass, second-and-2, second-and-3, it's awkward downs to be in because it's a run down again," said Joseph.
"So the challenge will be against stopping the run game, making them one-dimensional and winning third downs."
The Cardinals defense will try to do exactly that on Sunday, forcing the Jaguars to play behind the sticks more times than not. A successful day in stopping Jacksonville and the rushing attack may just do the trick to advance Arizona to a 3-0 record for the first time since 2012.