The Jacksonville Jaguars continue to find new ways to lose, this time dropping an almost win on the road in primetime thanks to a game-winning 35-yard field goal by the Cincinnati Bengals.
With the Jaguars now at 0-4, things have reached a new low in Jacksonville, with Urban Meyer's regime bringing slow progress, but no wins through a month. What does the 24-21 loss mean for the Jaguars moving forward and what did we see on Thursday night? We break it all down here.
The Jaguars' defense has issues at every single level
If the question is whether the Jaguars' secondary or pass-rush is a bigger reason they lost the game on Thursday night, the answer is simply "yes". From the defensive line getting pushed around in the second-half against the run to the Jaguars' failing to generate any pressure at all without sending heavy blitzes, the Jaguars' defensive front didn't do anything worth praising in the entire last two quarters. Josh Allen is dropping into coverage 25% of the time which, for a 3-4 team, is fine, but he wasn't winning his one-on-ones when he got them. According to PFF, the only Jaguars' defender to record multiple pressures was Dawuane Smoot with five, with the rest of the defense combining for just seven.
Then there were the linebackers. Damien Wilson had one of his better starts with the Jaguars, but he was still a liability in pass coverage and wasn't a consistent tackler. Myles Jack continued his dreadful season, failing on several tackle attempts and being beaten in coverage by C.J. Uzomah for more than one big play. Jack is supposed to be the best defender on the team, but the Bengals picked on him over and over on Sunday.
Then you look to the secondary. Shaquill Griffin had his best game as a Jaguar and deserves credit for patient coverage against Ja'Marr Chase on more than one occasion, but Tyson Campbell and Tre Herndon each had bad nights, while Rayshawn Jenkins and Andrew Wingard were inconsistent in tackling efforts and did little to provide a true last wave of defense against the Bengals' big plays.
The Jaguars' entire defense failed on Thursday. Whether you want to blame it on the rush, the coverage, or bad plays from the linebackers, you are correct. And until the Jaguars can get even one unit to begin to make plays consistently, you will continue to see performances like this one.
An ugly night for Tyson Campbell and Tre Herndon
Perhaps most frustrating for the Jaguars after Thursday's loss is the fact that they saw two cornerbacks struggle mightily, the same two cornerbacks the team has insistently remained are high on and have put their faith in. Considering the Jaguars have traded two cornerbacks in the last month in CJ Henderson and Sidney Jones, it isn't the best look for the Jaguars' coaching staff or front office to see the options they did keep end up struggling the way Tyson Campbell and Tre Herndon did.
No Jaguars player was picked on as much as Tyson Campbell on Thursday. The No. 33 overall pick had an encouraging game against the Cardinals in Week 3, but there weren't many reps in coverage that left anyone with a positive feeling against the Bengals. According to PFF, Campbell was targeted eight times, allowing seven completions for 158 yards (22.6 yards per catch), including giving up six first downs and gains of 44, 33, 25, and 25. Campbell couldn't win against even the Bengals' backups, losing reps to Auden Tate and Trenton Irwin. It is hard to imagine Campbell will have many games worse than that one, because it was truly a disaster from start to finish.
As for Herndon, who made his first appearance of the season after missing the first three games with a knee injury, he also allowed seven completions on eight targets, including a 31-yard gain to C.J. Uzomah and three first-down completions to Tyler Boyd. Herndon didn't struggle as much as Campbell, but he was on the losing end of a number of third-down conversions. For a player the Jaguars were excited to get back onto the field, Herndon made little impact.
Taking a look at the fourth-and-goal play-call, which helped lose the game
The biggest play-call of the Jaguars' season so far has been their 4th-and-Goal option at the Bengals' one-yard line toward the end of the first half. The Jaguars were right on the Bengals' doorstep and needed just three feet to make it a 21-0 ballgame right before half-time. The Jaguars went to the shotgun and called for an option from Trevor Lawrence, who was stopped just shy of the goal-line on a good stand by the Bengals' defense. Since the Jaguars lost by just three points, the call to go for it on fourth-down and not make the conversion has rightfully drawn some criticism.
The call itself to go for it was a sound one, even if it would have been a chip shot field goal for kicker Matthew Wright. The Jaguars had to that point rushed the ball with great success against the Bengals' defense, including some option keepers by Lawrence himself. Going up 21-0 would have been massive for a winless Jaguars team, giving them just enough cushion to at least give them a better chance to win the game in regulation.
With that said, calling for that specific play was a strange call. James Robinson has been perfect in goal line situations in his career and he effectively created yards after contact on Thursday night, so it is fair to say he should have just gotten the ball. Running Lawrence in an option after he had already rushed four times to that point was a bit predictable, but running it behind backup guard Ben Bartch, in for an injured A.J. Cann, was another questionable part of the play. Lawrence is 6-foot-6 and is a physical player, so a quarterback sneak may have been the safer play.
Going for it was an aggressive call, but it was the right one. Going for it in the manner they did, though, helped them lose the game, as did the failed execution of the offense on the play.
Tavon Austin at X was a bad adjustment by the Jaguars' staff
I need the Tavon Austin experiment explained to me. Austin is a great story and genuinely had a great training camp with the Jaguars, but there is no reason he should have been the Jaguars' next man up at wide receiver when DJ Chark was injured on the opening drive. Austin played 73% of the snaps for the Jaguars on Thursday night, but he spent only seven of his 41 snaps in the slot, per Pro Football Focus. For all intents and purposes, he became the Jaguars' X receiver and stayed that way for the entirety of the game.
At some point, that becomes a coaching issue for the Jaguars. Not only does Austin not exactly make sense in that role or as a player who can win isolation routes on the outside, but why are the Jaguars playing him there over Tyron Johnson, or even moving one of their other starting receivers around? Marvin Jones is a more natural Z receiver, but he knows the offense like the back of his hand. There is no reason Austin should have been put on the outside and asked to win one-on-ones after Chark went down, and the offense's lack of consistency can be partially attributed to that.
Trevor Lawrence had the best game so far of his rookie year, in large part because the Jaguars made things easier on him
For the first time during the 2021 season, Trevor Lawrence looked completely at ease. There were some misses early on when he was a second slow to throw against zone (the third-down incompletions to Shenault and Austin), but otherwise Lawrence had the best performance of any rookie quarterback this season. His zero touchdowns can be attributed to the fact that the Jaguars scored on the ground three times (including once from Lawrence), and he ultimately didn't have any plays that came close to being turnover-worthy.
Lawrence was aided by scheme, with the Jaguars finally relying on his legs more often, as well as the fact that James Robinson and the offensive line mostly dominated their run game matchups. But Lawrence did nothing to lose the game for the Jaguars, putting together a 12-play scoring drive in the second-half and putting the Jaguars in position for another long drive at the end of the game before Cam Robinson was beat on third-down. It wasn't a perfect performance from Lawrence, but it was easily his best of the year and was another sign of his continued improvement.