Trevor Lawrence, rising Jaguars ahead of schedule under Doug Pederson

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At the very least, the Jaguars were expected to be marginally better this season than last season, when they won just three games.

After all, Doug Pederson was coming in, bringing stability to the coach after a chaotic 2021. His offensive philosophy could help Trevor Lawrence. And the 2021 No. 1 overall pick also had a year under his belt. Naturally, he should make big strides from a rookie season in which he threw a league-high 17 interceptions.

But what are the Jaguars doing right now? They go ahead of schedule.

At 2-6 through eight weeks, what was most promising about the Jaguars was their outlook for 2023 and beyond, with Lawrence more experienced in Pederson’s offense and next season’s addition of wide receiver star Calvin Ridley. But forget all that right now. Jacksonville (7-8) is already raising eyebrows this season, playing some meaningful football in late December.

The Jaguars, who have won three straight and five of their last seven games, can clinch the AFC South with a win over the Titans (7-8) in Week 18, and also have an outside shot at a wild-card spot. Pederson is worthy of coach of the year consideration for Jacksonville’s drastic turnaround.

“We can’t act like we’ve arrived, because we haven’t accomplished anything yet,” Lawrence said.

But the conversation is worth having: How did we get here?

Start with the rise of Lawrence.

His 2022 campaign started much like his rookie season, full of inconsistencies and turnovers. He had 10 fumbles — four fumbles and six interceptions — in the first eight weeks of the season. His struggles against the Broncos in London on October 30, he explained, “flipped a switch” for him. Lawrence felt terrible and responsible for the loss. He threw two interceptions in the game — one at the goal line and another with less than two minutes remaining — ending Jacksonville’s hopes of a comeback.

“I’ll never forget how I felt in that locker room after the game,” Lawrence said on Dec. 14. “Obviously it wasn’t a good day for me, and I really felt that way a couple of times, but none more than after that game. I felt like I let the team down… I never forgot how I felt in that locker room because I never want to feel like that. I’m going to start taking care of the ball. , but two, I just want to be the player that I know I can be, and I think that flipped a switch in me “.

Since then, he’s been a different player, performing like a franchise quarterback.

Through Week 9, Lawrence ranks third in the NFL in completion percentage (69.7%), tied for first in touchdown-to-interception ratio (14/1), second in passer rating (108, 2) and tied for third in EPA per run (0.22), according to TruMedia. He had signature moments in the dramatic Week 12 win over the Ravens (game-winning drive) and the stunning overtime win over the Cowboys in Week 14 (career-high 4 touchdown passes).

Lawrence’s passer rating is 96 this season, up from 71.9 as a rookie. The 24.1-point increase from Years 1 to 2 is the largest of any quarterback in league history, according to NFL Research.

Lawrence’s dramatic growth, along with his comfort in Pederson’s offense, has taken the Jaguars offense to new heights.

But Jacksonville’s 2022 free agent class also deserves plenty of credit. Many NFL observers scratched their heads when general manager Trent Baalke committed $259.5 million, including $155.25 million in guarantees, to seven players: wide receiver Christian Kirk (four years, $72 million dollars; $37 million in guarantees), right guard Brandon Scherff (three years, $49.5 million; $30 million in guarantees), defenseman Foye Oluokun (three years, $45 million; $28 million dollars in guarantees), defensive tackle Foley Fatukasi (three years, $30 million; $20 million in guarantees), cornerback Darious Williams (three years, $30). millions; 18 million in guarantees), receiver Zay Jones (three years, $24 million; $14 million in guarantees) and tight end Evan Engram (one year, $9 million; $8.25 million in guarantees) . But each of those seven players have been productive starters for the Jaguars.

Kirk, who has a career-high 988 receiving yards, is 12 yards from becoming Jacksonville’s first 1,000-yard receiver since 2019. Engram is having one of the pass-catching seasons for a tight end in history of the team, with his 68 receptions and tallying a franchise record at the position. Scherff has started every game at right back. Oluokun leads the NFL in combined tackles (162) and solo tackles (115). Jones has been a productive No. 2 receiver, with a career-high 778 receiving yards. Williams and Fatukasi have each started at least 10 games.

Defensively, the ability to generate turnovers has helped fuel the Jaguars’ hot streak. Since Week 9, Jacksonville has 14 takeaways, which ranks third in the NFL in that span. Start by getting after the quarterback.

The team has a 35% dropback pressure since Week 9, third in the NFL in that span, per Next Gen Stats.

“I think defensively the coaches have put them in positions to break free and run and get up the field in passing situations,” Pederson said.

If the Jaguars make the playoffs, they could be one of the most dangerous teams on the AFC side, with a franchise quarterback who has finally found himself surrounded by a strong supporting cast.

The 2022 Jaguars, in many ways, are the team no one expected.

“We’ve got two games left (in the regular season) to continue to prove who we are and put one foot in front of the next and keep building on those games,” Lawrence said. “We can’t look too far ahead and say this is the team we are now. We have to do that every week.

“Really for us, it’s about being consistent, continuing to do that (against Houston),” he continued. “Great teams win those games. The games you have to win, you win them. What we’re trying to be is a great team.”

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Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for for three seasons (2018-20) before moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.

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