The Jacksonville Jaguars saw ups and downs during Friday night's 24-13 loss to the Cleveland Browns, but there were certainly more ups than the previous week's Hall of Fame game outing.
"Well, I think it's a step in the right direction, number one. Teams -- things I've studied over the years, too, is teams that score early and kind of build that lead in the first half tend to win games more than lose games," Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson said after the game.
"It's just an aggressive mindset. It's just focusing on doing our jobs and executing. We pride ourselves as a staff, we put together a first 15 (plays) for openers, and we try to score on those, maybe eight or nine, ten plays. It was good to see tonight. We did get a couple of field goals early, which was good, and then ultimately the touchdown there in the second quarter. Yeah, that's something that we consciously make an effort to do, and that's score early."
But which Jaguars stood out the most during Friday night's loss where the starters outscored Cleveland 13-0? We break it down below.
One of the best players on the Jaguars roster during the most recent stretch of training camp practices has been free-agent receiver Zay Jones. Jones has consistently won reps and showed good hands and an ability to get open at each level of the field, so it was no surprise to see him play well against the Browns.
The first play of the game was a 32-yard gain to Jones on a double-move where he managed to still win the ball in the air despite being held. Jones would have had a touchdown during the second red-zone possession if not for a holding as well. The fact he was targeted four times on Lawrence's 12 attempts says a good bit about their budding chemistry. Two catches for 47 yards and a third of Lawrence's targets is a heck of an outing for Jones.
"I just think his feel for the game. Also, his speed. He's got good size, really fast guy, first play of the game, (he) kind of beat the guy over the top with a double move there. Just great," Trevor Lawrence said about Jones after the game.
"I think also, too, really physical with the catch. Similar to Marvin (Jones Jr.) in that way. I see those guys are really good going up, making the tough catches. And then just a guy that understands how to run routes, get open. They might not all look the same, but he's going to find a way. I think he has a great feel for it."
Jaguars rookie center Luke Fortner has had some rookie moments throughout training camp, but he didn't have any against the Browns. On a night where a more veteran lineman had some of his own struggles in Tyler Shatley, Fortner was consistently in position and held his ground, showing an improved anchor as well as some solid play-strength. He looked like he belonged for the second game in a row.
"I think they did a great job. Really all camp they've done a really good job, just communicating. Got a rookie center. One, he's done a phenomenal job of just learning the system, really smart guy," Lawrence said about Fortner.
"So he's done a great job there. Then, like I've said, before, to have the (Brandon) Scherff and (Tyler) Shatley on both sides to help them out, two guys that have played a lot of football, that helps. I think just that whole group is really close and you can see it in the way they play, they communicate. Tonight, just really clean."
One player who looked like his game improved from practice to the real lights was tight end Evan Engram. Engram had one specific route where he could have run it a little tighter to stay out of Zay Jones' path in the red-zone, but otherwise Engram had a solid night both as a blocker and a receiver. He was consistently open, including one play where Lawrence said afterward he could have been hit for a touchdown in the corner of the end-zone. Add in the fact he came through in the moment on the fourth-down nine-yard touchdown pass and it was a solid night for Engram.
If there was one player with the starting defense or offense who had some noticeable down moments against the Raiders, it was rookie inside linebacker Chad Muma. But Muma completely reversed course against the Browns, instead looking like one of the most impactful players on the field as he lined up with the rest of the Jaguars' first-team offense. Muma was more physical with blocks this week, consistently shedding offensive linemen to shoot into gaps or into the backfield. The game simply looked slowed down for him, and he looked like the rangy, hard-hitting linebacker the Jaguars saw when they drafted him.
Travon Walker continues to impress. The No. 1 overall pick is obviously still transitioning to a role as an edge player in the Jaguars' 3-4 defense, but the physical talent and flashes were there for a second week in a row. He helped Rayshawn Jenkins force a fumble on the second drive of the game with an explosive and physical tackle, while also drawing a holding penalty after beating Browns tackle Jedrick Wills off the snap and to the inside.
Doug Pederson & Trevor Lawrence
To say the Jaguars' offense looked flawless in terms of execution and timing on Friday would be simply false. There were several instances where the little details of the play held the Jaguars back from success, while Lawrence himself had some missed throws and missed reads of his own, and 6-of-12 passing with two field goals instead of touchdowns isn't setting the world on fire.
Still, the Jaguars can be pleased in the fact that Lawrence and Doug Pederson looked made for each other. Lawrence looked at home in the Jaguars' scheme, which allowed him plenty of RPOs and throws on the move to give him a chance to use his physical talent to stand out. Pederson knew what worked with Lawrence and what he does best and that is exactly what he called.
The fact the Jaguars ran a smooth operation in terms of pre=snap communication and consistency is significant. This was an offense that struggled even lining up and hiking the ball on cue at times last season, so the fact they looked clean and composed in their first game action together is a good sign.