Keys To the Game: Jaguars Vs. Cardinals

As the Jacksonville Jaguars prepare to take on the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, they do so looking for their first win of the season. Facing Kyler Murray and a stout defensive front won't make things easier, but the Jaguars can pull off the upset with these eyes to the game.
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The Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2) are still looking for their first win of the season; the first win of the Urban Meyer era and the first win for No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence. But the job doesn’t get any easier on Sunday, as the Jags welcome the undefeated Arizona Cardinals to town.

The Cardinals—specifically Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury and quarterback Kyler Murray—provide a good blueprint for what the Jaguars want to become. Kingsbury was a first time NFL coach when hired by Arizona. Murray was a No. 1 overall pick paired with Kingsbury for the experiment. Things were rough at times the first couple of years. And although it’s only two games in to this season, the Cardinals actually play with direction and electricity now, on both sides of the ball.

It’s what the Jaguars want to become. But the latter is not there yet. They may not be there for a couple of years. Kingsbury and the Cardinals went 5-10-1 his first season and the Jaguars could easily stumble to much the same record. Sunday provides a good opportunity though to find some positives, to take a measuring stick and even pull off an upset (the Jags are +7.5 underdogs).

If Meyer, Lawrence and crew are going to get their first win of the season, it will take these three keys to the game.

Stop Kyler

This is easier said than done. So much so, that Meyer joked he had to take on his game film in manageable bites.

“I watch it, turn it off, walk away, come back, watch it. And he’s got a good—they’ve built a good team.

Added safety Rayshawn Jenkins, “He’s definitely different, more so of what the QBs are going to nowadays in the NFL, more those scramble guys that can make plays outside of the pocket as well and downfield. It’s going to be a great challenge because you have a guy like that back there, so you have to account for him, and then you have to account for the receiving core across the board which is just filled with talent, in my opinion, and speed. It’ll be a great challenge, but I mean we’re professionals so I’m excited for this challenge.”

Defensive coordinator Joe Cullen has faced Murray before and calls him a “fast cat.” For a quarterback who can hurt you in a variety of ways, Cullen wants to see a mixture of defensive looks from his guys.

“It’s kind of a mixture. I think you definitely don’t want to have your back turned all the time in man [coverage] but having the zone eyes [too]. Minnesota last week, you had some zone eyes and [they] broke on the ball and had two big interceptions, as you know, one for a touchdown. So that’s the big thing, when we have the opportunities, we have to make sure we cash in.”

Murray has thrown for 689 yards through two games, run for 51 more, and is responsible for nine touchdowns in two wins. His completion percentage is 73.5%. How do you stop him? You just hope to contain him.

Murray has a tendency to shine when the play breaks down. He uses his quick twitch and elusiveness to evade defenders in the open field. But if you can keep him behind the line of scrimmage—or better yet, close off running lanes and quickly collapse the pocket with four—then he’s prone to taking a sack. He’s taken five through two games thus far. The Jaguars have given four of their own in that time frame.

“It’s going to be a battle every snap keeping him in the pocket. He’s gotten out on everybody. Not only when he does get out [do] we have to have guys there shooting their gun and we have to make sure we stay in our coverage, our plaster rules, but it’s going to be a challenge,” explained Cullen.

Keep An Eye On Chandler Jones…and JJ Watt…and Isiah Simmons

Jones burst into the 2021 season with five sacks against the Tennessee Titans. But against the Minnesota Vikings, he actually appeared human, coming away with no sacks or tackles. JJ Watt provides a presence in the middle of the line that does’t always show up on the stat sheet, but he can wreck a line in other ways.

“Those guys are obviously a threat: [Cardinals DE] J.J. Watt, [Cardinals OLB] Chandler Jones, and there’s other guys up front too that do a good job. Being aware of that as a quarterback, time, clock goes down a little bit, but you can’t let it change too much,” explained Lawrence.

Chandler Jones had five sacks in an unstoppable performance versus the Titans. Can the Jaguars hold him off? Mandatory Credit: Andrew Nelles-USA TODAY Sports

Chandler Jones had five sacks in an unstoppable performance versus the Titans. Can the Jaguars hold him off? Mandatory Credit: Andrew Nelles-USA TODAY Sports

“I have to do my job and I trust my guys up front, my tackles and all of the guys on the inside to do their job too. They’ve done a great job of it, so I just have to worry about being my best and playing well.

Double teaming Jones and Watt leaves the backfield susceptible to linebacker Isaiah Simmons, with whom Lawrence is incredibly familiar, as the two were former teammates at Clemson.

“The one thing about him is just he’s really dynamic because he’s big, really long, and he’s fast and powerful, so he can kind of do everything,” Lawrence said of Simmons. “He can play in the box, he can get on the perimeter, chase guys down, pass rush a little bit, like he can kind of do it all so that’s one thing. [I] just have an eye out for him. They have a lot of great players, so there are going to be a lot of guys you have to keep an eye on. That’s every week I guess in the NFL, but especially this team. They have a really good defense, but yeah, he’s awesome, great player.”

Win the Turnover Margin

Through two games, Lawrence has thrown five interceptions. Through the same two games, the jaguars defense has nabbed a grand total of zero. They haven’t recovered a fumble either. Two games into a season, with a rookie quarterback on a rebuilding team, figuring out what he can get away with in the NFL when pushing it downfield, the first stat isn’t frighteningly concerning.

Two games into a season, with a new defensive staff, and a secondary made up of two new players and two young players, all four figuring out how to play together, the second stat isn’t cause to hit the panic button just yet.

But for a winless team, the stat can’t afford to be mutually exclusive. The Jaguars are losing the turnover margin and that often leads to losing games. The club is actually relatively fortunate that on two of Lawrence’s interceptions, the defense held opponents to a punt. On the other three, they were held to a field goal. So instead of giving up a potential 35 points off of the turnovers, the Jags defense has fettered the damage to nine points.

However, grabbing a turnover of their own can help not only limit further damage, but swing the pendulum the other way.

“You don’t know when the play is going to come,” said Cullen. "Not to rehash old things, but the second play, if Shaq Griffin picks that, it’s on the 30-yard line. We just need one. You don’t need two or three, you need one to get the fan base going crazy, give the ball to the offense inside the 5-yard line, maybe a sack fumble. But we need one to ignite the whole team.”

Shaq Griffin has come a fingertip away from two interceptions, one each week. Versus the Broncos, while on his back, he watched a ball bounced off his hands, somewhat defying physics. He has a plan to change his luck moving forward though—and hopefully the Jags luck in the process.

“I think the ball is mad at me,” joked Griffin. “I'm going to go grab a football and take it over, lay with it, talk to it, pray with it, figure out something because something isn’t right because usually if it's going to touch my hands, I've got to keep it. But like I said, I've got to start doing more in practice, catching the ball in practice, get used to it, so when football is in the air I know they're mine. That's something I've got to focus on and do better with.