Sunday afternoon, Trevor Lawrence makes his home debut when the Jacksonville Jaguars (0-1) welcome the Denver Broncos to (1-0) to northeast Florida.
It's hard to imagine the Urban Meyer era in Jacksonville getting off to a rockier start. It's only Week 2, and the man already looks exhausted. Not only did his team look like they skipped training camp altogether in their Week 1 loss to the lowly Texans, but Meyer is already having to publicly shoot down rumors of his interest in the vacant USC job. If the Jaguars can play the complete opposite of how they played last week, they might just have shot against Denver.
The Broncos are coming off a solid 14-point, opening-week road win over the Giants at MetLife Stadium. Denver was led by veteran players out to prove their best days aren't behind them. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was nothing short of outstanding, running back Melvin Gordon III put up 100-plus yards on the ground, and linebacker Von Miller was harassing Daniel Jones like it was 2012 all over again. The Broncos look to stay hot against a Jags team trying to figure it all out.
Denver at Jacksonville
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 19 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Broncos -6
Three Things to Watch
1. Teddy Ballgame
I can't help but root for Bridgewater. After his encouraging, young career in Minnesota was derailed by a catastrophic knee injury in August 2016, Bridgewater played exceptionally well as Drew Brees' backup in New Orleans, where he went 5-0 in 2019. He would get his chance to start again in 2020 when he took over for a rebuilding Panthers squad, only to be traded to Denver in April for a sixth-round pick to give Sam Darnold a second chance. The Panthers are essentially paying Bridgewater $7 million this season to not play for them. (Cue Brad Pitt in "Moneyball.")
So, when Bridgewater went off last week (264 passing yds., 2 TDs) against the Giants in his Broncos debut, I couldn't help but be happy for him. It gave me hope that this once-promising quarterback can wind up being someone's franchise guy after all. But Bridgewater's box score wasn't just the impressive part of last week's win — it was how he managed the Broncos' offense as a whole. He was in complete control in the pocket, totally poised, spreading the ball out to nine different receivers. He read the Giants' defense and went through his progressions perfectly, only missing on three throws inside of 20 yards and forcing only two, maybe three, passes.
This week he is without stud receiver Jerry Jeudy (ankle, expected to miss 4-6 weeks) but still has plenty of options to dissect the Jaguars' defense with receivers Courtland Sutton, KJ Hamler, and Tim Patrick, plus tight end Noah Fant. Last week, Jacksonville allowed 450 yards of total offense to Tyrod Taylor (291 yds., 2 TDs) and a Texans offense that isn't exactly scaring anyone in 2021. Despite being down Jeudy, look for Bridgewater to keep things rolling against the Jags.
2. Get a mop, Jacksonville, you're a mess
After getting flat-out whooped by the Texans last week, Meyer said, "We're a work in progress." That's an undersell. The Jags played like the football embodiment of "Florida Man."
Jacksonville was completely out of sync, with no offensive cohesion, no pressure on the opposing quarterback, and a secondary as lost as I was in my college astronomy class. The Jags had seven penalties, five dropped passes, three holding calls (on three different offensive linemen), and two awful interceptions … in the first half! They closed the half by allowing Taylor to complete a 52-yard bomb with 12 seconds left that set up the gam-sealing touchdown with two quarters still left to play. They would also have plays called back for lining up incorrectly and having too many men on the field. In all, the Jags would finish the day with 10 penalties for 82 yards, averaging more yards lost per penalty (8.2) than they would yards per completed pass (6.1).
No one is expecting the Jaguars to be playoff contenders this season, or probably even next season either, but to look just as bad as last year's one-win team was unexpected. The goal for Jacksonville this season isn't necessarily wins, but progression. Build a foundation. What we saw last week was pure regression. Never, under any circumstances, should a rookie quarterback throw 51 times in his first NFL season, let alone his debut. That's on Meyer. For Lawrence's sake, it can't happen again.
3. Protecting Lawrence
The main storyline of Jacksonville's season will never not be about Lawrence and his development. Unless of course, Meyer bolts or quits. Last week, Lawrence certainly proved he has the physical tools to lead an NFL offense. His pocket presence and three touchdown throws were evidence of that. But the rest of his performance certainly proved that he's far from a finished product. He missed easy swing passes and slants, short throws we've seen him make time and time again. In all, he missed 10 passes from 10 yards and in. He threw off his back foot and on the run too often, leading to three bad interceptions. These mistakes are OK right now — he can learn from them. He's a rookie, after all.
What can't happen is what did happen against Houston: silly penalties that put Lawrence and the offense in no-win situations. He can't develop that way. He finished the day with the second-worst passer rating of any Week 1 quarterback (70.1). Per Pro-Football-Reference.com, his 12 "bad throws" were the most in Week 1 and 66 percent of his throws being "on target," ranked third worst.
Sunday, Lawrence faces a Denver defense that looks to be back to its old self (sort of), with Von Miller wreaking havoc like he's done for nearly a decade, and possibly linebacker Bradley Chubb in the lineup after missing Week 1. It's incumbent upon Meyer and the Jags to do a better job of putting Lawrence in more "winnable" situations, not just to compete on Sunday against Denver, but for the sake of the franchise.
Denver was one of the more surprising teams from Week 1 in their win over the Giants. Now, they have a chance to keep things rolling against a Jags team that looks totally lost in all phases of the game. I'd expect to see a whole lot of Miller coming off the edge to make life uncomfortable for the young Lawrence.
Prediction: Broncos 27, Jaguars 20
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.