The 2021 season hasn't been kind to the 2-8 Jacksonville Jaguars. Save for a last-minute win in London against the Dolphins and a 9-6 home upset over the Buffalo Bills, the Jaguars have seen some tough Sundays this year.
Does that change at home against the 4-6 Atlanta Falcons? And if so, how exactly do the Jaguars find a way back in the win column? From the offense to the defense to the final results, here are my official predictions for Sunday below.
Trevor Lawrence throws two touchdown passes
I think the Jacksonville Jaguars staff knows they have a special quarterback in Trevor Lawrence and even more importantly know that it is a failure to have not gotten more production out of Lawrence at this point. Lawrence has improved by leaps and bounds since the early start of the season, but the Jaguars have still failed to make plays through the air, with Lawrence having just eight touchdowns in 10 games -- and just five in the last nine. But contrary to prior weeks, I think Lawrence throws multiple scores this week against a Falcons' defense that mostly relies on A.J. Terrell.
Lawrence's 2.2% touchdown percentage is No. 31 out of 34 quarterbacks this season, so I think the Jaguars attempt to use a weak Falcons secondary that is No. 29 in pass defense DVOA and No. 28 in dropback EPA/Play allowed to give him and the rest of the Jaguars' offense a confidence boost. Lawrence played well against the 49ers and the Jaguars tried to scheme things up for him, but the execution from the rest of the unit and the game flow threw things off. This week, I think the Jaguars attempt to make things easier on Lawrence and finally help him get some numbers.
Jaguars limit most of Atlanta's offensive weapons, but Kyle Pitts racks up 100 yards and a touchdown
The Falcons' offense has been a disaster in recent weeks, scoring just three points over the last two games and showing no signs or semblance of a capable NFL offense. This is in part due to injuries, Calvin Ridley's absence, and a bad offensive line. Plus, Matt Ryan isn't quite the same quarterback he was when he won MVP several years ago. As such, I think the Jaguars' defense can hold up well for the most part against the host of Falcons' skill players who are set to play big roles on Sunday, with one major exception: Kyle Pitts.
The Jaguars have been one of the worst defenses in the league at covering tight ends and George Kittle helped display last week just how easy it is for a tight end to get open at times against this unit. According to Sports Info Solutions, the Jaguars have the No. 32 defense in QBR when targeting tight ends (128.2), No. 30 in completion percentage on passes to tight ends (77.3%), No. 30 in yards allowed to tight ends per attempt (8.7), and N0. 30 in yards per cover snap vs. tight ends (8.6). That won't change against Pitts, who is already one of the best tight ends in the NFL and who provides an impossible mismatch that the Jaguars' roster currently doesn't have many answers for.
Jaguars record four sacks
The Atlanta Falcons offensive line may not look disastrous in terms of sack numbers, with the Falcons' offense ranking No. 11 in sacks allowed and No. 11 in sack percentage allowed. With that in mind, it has been clear over the last two weeks just how vulnerable the Falcons' offensive line is, with the Patriots and Cowboys both teeing off on Ryan and the Falcons' offense. With this in mind, I think this is a week the Jaguars' pass rush takes advantage, especially considering the Falcons are a pass-first team.
The Jaguars' pass-rush actually looked fairly active against the 49ers last weekend, but penalties took out several of the team's biggest plays. Still, the record of pressure has been there over the last month and the Jaguars are playing against a line this week that doesn't have a Trent Williams on the offensive line. I believe the Jaguars' defensive line is better than Atlanta's offensive line and I think that will show up on the field on Sunday.
Laviska Shenault records 10 touches
The theme of the week for the Jaguars has been creativity. With the offense now missing its three fastest players in DJ Chark, Jamal Agnew, and Travis Etienne, the Jaguars are being forced back to the drawing board in hopes of finding ways to generate explosive plays and touchdowns. The Jaguars have done little of either in recent weeks as the offense has struggled over the last month, scoring just four touchdowns over the last four weeks, with two coming in garbage time.
As a way for the Jaguars to get creative, I think they are going to emphasize Laviska Shenault this week. We already saw it some last week when the Jaguars saw two of their first three targets be screens to Shenault and Meyer has now even name-dropped Shenault as someone he would like to see in the backfield more. The days of getting the ball to Shenault as a pure receiver has been a struggle, so I think the Jaguars make it a big focus to get touches to Shenault in a creative fashion on Sunday.
Falcons win a close game, 20-14
The Jaguars are facing injuries at the worst time of the season on offense. They are getting some players back in the way of Brandon Linder and James O'Shaughnessy, but the offense has now been stripped of all of its speed due to injuries, while James Robinson hasn't looked 100% since his Week 8 injury. As a result, I think the Jaguars engage in a close back-and-forth with the Falcons but come up just short against a Falcons team that has been streaky this season.