The Dallas Cowboys will be traveling to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars this Sunday. Dallas is a 4-point favorite in this game according to DraftKings Sportsbook. We wanted to see how an expert on the Jaguars felt about that spread and other aspects of the game, so we hit up Big Cat Country with five questions. Check out their answers.
Blogging The Boys: It seems like Trevor Lawrence is starting to reach his potential. Is it just more experience, have they tailored the scheme somehow? What has changed?
Big Cat Country: I think the answer is all of the above. It was never an issue of talent, potential or work ethic with Lawrence. It was that many Jaguars fans had unfair expectations for Lawrence from the moment he was drafted because he was touted as a “generational talent” and as perhaps the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck. That was all true, but when you have those labels immediately, people tend to forget that there is still an adjustment period in the NFL, but it was always going to take some time for Lawrence to reach the level where he is now. Lawrence struggled as a rookie, and at times, early this season in his second year, but that isn’t uncommon in the NFL.
The biggest change for Lawrence, outside of continually gaining more experience, is the coaching staff. Keep in mind that Urban Meyer was not qualified to be an NFL head coach and very likely hurt Lawrence’s development much more than he helped it. This season, Doug Pederson is at the helm. Pederson — a Super Bowl-winning coach and former NFL quarterback himself — is the perfect coach to unlock Lawrence’s potential. Pederson’s ability as a play-caller to scheme up mismatches and put Lawrence in the position to succeed has made a huge difference.
Over the past five games, Lawrence has completed 130 out of 181 passes (71.8 percent) for 1,362 yards with 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions. He is playing really well right now, and he will only get better. He is the franchise quarterback the Jaguars sought for so long.
BTB: Besides Lawrence, who else has been playing better in this recent good stretch for the Jaguars?
BCC: Tight end Evan Engram exploded last week against the Titans for 11 catches, 162 yards and two touchdowns. He had five catches the week previous against the Detroit Lions as well. Engram is somebody to keep an eye on during Sunday’s game.
Meanwhile, wide receiver Christian Kirk has recorded at least four receptions in each of the past five games, and has scored three touchdowns during that stretch. Kirk has built a good rapport with Lawrence and leads the team in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.
Defensively, cornerback Tyson Campbell is really becoming a legitimate No. 1 cornerback. Also, outside linebackers/pass rushers Josh Allen and Travon Walker (rookie) finally broke through last week against the Titans and each recorded a sack after struggling to get home for several games this season. Walker also forced a fumble last week, while Allen recovered one. It will be interesting to see if those two can keep up the momentum and get pressure on quarterback Dak Prescott.
BTB: What do the Jaguars struggle with? How should the Cowboys attack them on Sunday?
BCC: Defensively, the Jaguars started out strong against the run, but have really regressed in that aspect throughout the season. Overall on the season, the team ranks a respectable 14th in the NFL, allowing 115.4 rushing yards per game. However, in the past seven games, the Jaguars are allowing 137.7 rushing yards per game. This bodes well for Dallas’ two-headed monster at running back with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard.
The team also struggles to defend the pass. The Jaguars have had some issues defending in the middle of the field and have been susceptible to things like crossing routes. Jacksonville ranks 28th against the pass (253.3 passing yards per game). If I were Kellen Moore, I would look to establish the run first, and then open up the passing and play-action passing game.
Jacksonville also struggles to sack opposing quarterbacks, ranking 29th in the league with just 23 sacks through 13 games.
Offensively, the Cowboys can’t allow Lawrence to get into a rhythm. Jacksonville’s offensive line is very good in pass protection, having only allowed 23 sacks (ironically the same number of sacks the team has recorded itself), the fifth fewest in the NFL, but Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence and company need to apply pressure and make Lawrence uncomfortable.
Travis Etienne Jr. and the running game has struggled to get going in each of the past four games, with Etienne not surpassing 54 rushing yards in any of those games. Dallas will want to keep Etienne contained once again.
BTB: Are Jax fans harboring hopes of a playoff run? Or really just looking for momentum heading into 2023?
BCC: The Jaguars have long been a dormant franchise, with the only real success in the past decade-plus coming in 2017. Entering the year, expectations from fans were fairly low. I think most just wanted to see progress after winning four games combined in 2020 and 2021. Personally, I expected the team to win six or seven games on the year. I think Jacksonville’s roster is a little bit more talented than fans and pundits originally thought.
Right now, the team sits at 5-8 with a chance to win a bad AFC South Division. Last week’s dominant win over the divisional-leading Titans was huge for the Jaguars to keep within striking distance of Tennessee.
I don’t believe Jacksonville will ultimately end up winning the division and making the playoffs, but this team isn’t afraid to compete with anybody. The most important things here are the emergence of Lawrence and bringing momentum into 2023 (keep in mind that wide receiver Calvin Ridley will join the team then as well).
BTB: The line is tightening to where the Cowboys are now only 4-point favorites. Is that fair, and are you taking the Jags to win, to cover, or to lose?
BCC: The four-point spread feels about right to me with the Cowboys being on the road. I think Dallas is the much more complete team, but it’s hard to predict which version of the Jaguars will show up on a weekly basis. I think the game will be competitive, but ultimately the Cowboys have too much talent to lose this game. I think the Cowboys win by exactly four points for a push. I likely would stay away from betting on this particular game, personally.
Cowboys 28, Jaguars 24