The Jacksonville Jaguars and Los Angeles Rams are two teams trying to snap their respective three-game skids when they meet on Sunday evening at SoFi Stadium in LA.
The Jaguars' (2-9) offense under Urban Meyer is barely breathing this season, but over the last three weeks, they haven’t even had a pulse. It took almost three full quarters for Jacksonville to score a touchdown last week against a Falcons defense that has been generally bad for a long, long time. The Jags’ offense has only scored five touchdowns in the last six weeks, averaging out to about 15.5 points per game. Not great, Bob. Confidence in Jacksonville this season was certainly low. Integral progress was really the only expectation, especially for Trevor Lawrence. Regression, however, was never part of the plan, but alas, here we are.
Despite the three-game slide, the Rams (7-4) aren't in full-on panic mode — yet. They're still second in the NFC West and the fifth overall seed in the NFC playoff picture. But for a franchise with Super Bowl-or-bust aspirations this year, it's almost time for Sean McVay to order a Code Red. The LA offense that once looked unstoppable now looks completely out of rhythm and perhaps fatally flawed. A win this week against Jacksonville could prove vital as the Rams face four potential playoff teams to close out the regular season.
Jacksonville (2-9) at Los Angeles (7-4)
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 5, at 4:05 p.m. ET
Spread: Rams -12.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Somebody save Trevor Lawrence
Winning games this season and dropping draft spaces don't exactly help the Jaguars in their long-term rebuilding plans. What does matter this season is the development of Lawrence. I won't say that Lawrence has been regressing thus far, but it certainly doesn't feel like he is improving.
From a statistical standpoint, it doesn't look good for Lawrence. A 58 percent completion rate, more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (9), and a 72.3 passer rating speak for themselves. In his last five games, Lawrence has posed a 68.6 rating and is averaging just 4.6 air yards per passing attempt with only two touchdowns. He has just one passing touchdown in the last four games. His 32 interceptable passes are second most in the league, and his 29 "danger plays" are fifth. He is below average in passer rating in all but one of the 12 passing zones tracked by NFL's Next Gen Stats.
Any way you look at it, it's bad.
And yet, it's not totally Lawrence's fault. Jacksonville's receivers are the worst in the league at creating space from defenders. They rank dead last in receiver target separation and yards after catch per target. Their 25 combined dropped passes, second in the NFL, don't really help either.
It also doesn't help Lawrence's development that Meyer is clearly in over his head. Meyer said earlier this week that the offense was going to now be tailored to better suit Lawrence's skill set.
Dude. It's Week 12. Shouldn't that call have been made when — like, I don't know — you drafted Lawrence back in April?! Absolutely baffling.
Anyway, according to Meyer, the Jags will now run a more traditional spread offense with more run-pass options, faster tempo, and more designed runs for Lawrence. Essentially, Meyer and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell are trying to re-create a version of the Clemson offense where Lawrence was so special.
Time will tell if the strategy shift is enough for Jags owner Shad Khan to sign up for Season 2 of "The Urban Meyer Experiment." But for this week at least, it falls on Lawrence to adjust accordingly to major changes in the offense against three of the greatest defensive players of their generation in Aaron Donald, Von Miller, and Jalen Ramsey. Best of luck, Trev.
2. Stafford struggles
It's no coincidence that the Rams' three-game losing streak coincides with Matthew Stafford metaphorically faceplanting on the football field the last three weeks. But before we get to the numbers, it has to be said that Stafford is clearly playing hurt. According to ESPN's Dianna Russini, Stafford is suffering from a number of boo-boos ranging from chronic back pain, shoulder and elbow discomfort, and even a bum ankle. So that certainly plays into this equation.
Numbers-wise, Stafford has been bad. Like, arguably the worst three-game stretch of his career bad. Over the last three contests, Stafford is completing only 61 percent of his throws, has as many interceptions as he does touchdown throws (5), has a limp 77.5 rating, and has taken more sacks (9) and thrown more picks than the first eight weeks of the season. The most glaring fact is that he has thrown a pick-six in each of the Rams' last three losses.
The McVay offense relies chiefly on the efficiency of the passing attack, hence why he shipped Jared Goff and two first-round picks to Detroit for Stafford this past March. And through the first eight games of the season, the costly acquisition of Stafford looked brilliant – 22 touchdowns, four interceptions, 2,477 yards. But since, it seems the Rams' offense has been exposed, only averaging 18 points per game. If LA has any shot of fulfilling their championship hopes, they'll need Stafford and the offense to figure it out against Jacksonville.
3. Speaking of the Rams' offense…
It's clearly flawed. Yes, McVay is an offensive innovator and by and large a very good NFL head coach. But that doesn't mean that his offensive scheme still can't have holes.
The last two and a half years, it was Goff who was labeled the weak link of the offense. Fair enough. Ship off Goff and bring in Stafford. Everything is fixed, right? Meh, that's not how this works.
The Rams were most successful under McVay when the offense had a more balanced approach. It didn't matter as much that Goff couldn't make all the throws because Todd Gurley was in the backfield and the offensive line did yeoman's work creating space to run. That strategy worked great — until it didn't in Super Bowl LIII.
With Stafford faltering, the Rams' offense now feels more exposed because of their complete lack of a complementary running game. The Rams are 24th in rushing yards and yards per attempt (1,047 yards, 4.0 ypc), 26th in expected points from rushing (-19), and 27th in rushing touchdowns (7).
Gurley has been long gone, replaced by Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson Jr. a year ago. Akers has missed all of this season after an Achilles tear in June, leaving Henderson and Sony Michel to carry the load, neither of whom is designed to be an every-down back. It also doesn't help that the offensive line has regressed in recent years and receiver Robert Woods, arguably the best perimeter-blocking skill player in the NFL, is out with a torn ACL.
Lucky for Stafford and McVay, they're playing a Jaguars defense this week that seems to be losing more and more interest in the season as it wears on and is allowing about 150 rushing yards over their three-game skid. This might be the last time for the Rams to get things fixed before the rest of their schedule turns dangerous.
Even with the Rams struggling at the moment, they still have too much firepower on both sides of the ball for Jacksonville to handle. I think this week the LA defense comes back to life for the first time since acquiring Miller and the Rams' front seven makes life unbearable for Lawrence. Again, best of luck, Trev.
Prediction: Rams 29, Jaguars 16
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.