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2023 NFL season: Three things to watch for in Falcons-Jaguars in London

The NFL returns to London for a 16th year on Sunday, kicking off the 2023 International Series with a showdown between the Atlanta Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars.

The contest, which marks the 25th NFL game to take place at Wembley Stadium, is the lone one scheduled for the city's iconic venue this season.

With London their unofficial home away from home, the Jaguars will be hoping to leave their troubles back in the states during a two-week trip abroad. Jacksonville has failed thus far to live up to preseason expectations after two straight losses. It'll need to get back to .500 -- both on the season and in London (currently 4-5 all time) -- to start rewriting the early narrative of its season.

The Falcons are likewise on a mission to rediscover the win column in their third-ever trip overseas, having dropped to 2-1 last week. They do, however, boast a four-game win streak over the Jags dating back to 2007. If they push that to five straight before the rest of their division kicks off, they're guaranteed to keep pace with the winner of the Buccaneers-Saints game for first in the NFC South.

The quarter mark of the season is quickly approaching, and both of these teams have statements still to make.

Here are three things to watch for when the Falcons and Jaguars square off in London on Sunday:

Atlanta Falcons
2023 · 2-1-0
Jacksonville Jaguars
2023 · 1-2-0

  1. Will Trevor Lawrence, Jaguars start a turnaround? Last year, it was a London game in the middle of the campaign, Week 8, that marked Jacksonville’s lowest point. The team dropped its fifth straight result of the season -- and the third of its last four in London -- to fall to 2-6. Rather than continuing to unravel, the Jags instead found their identity upon returning to America, turning things around to go 7-2 down the stretch and eventually reach the AFC Divisional Round. Lawrence was a major catalyst for the playoff push. He threw for 2,273 yards, 15 touchdowns and two interceptions in the final nine regular-season games and looked every bit the superstar many foresaw him to be. But that Lawrence hasn’t been present the past two games. He’s completed just 60.1% of his passes with one touchdown, one interception and a 76.9 passer rating. Part of that struggle has been drops, as his pass catchers lead the league with nine, per PFF. Regardless, the combination has led Jacksonville to put up consecutive games of sub-20 points for the first time since Weeks 7 and 8 of 2022, the abovementioned London game. Will Lawrence and Co. flirt with another bottoming out in England, or can they use the change of scenery to get right? To do so, they'll need to find a way around a Falcons defense ranked eighth in passer rating allowed (78.5) and fourth in both passing yards per game (170.0) and completion percentage (58.3). If the Jaguars fall short, it could be panic time early -- especially with the Bills on deck.
  2. How does Bijan bounce back from his first clunker? The No. 8 overall pick has been as advertised, but after rushing for 180 yards with a 6.2 yards-per-carry average over his first two NFL games, Bijan Robinson found no real estate in Detroit. He took 10 carries for just 33 yards (3.3 YPC), the Falcons fell behind and they strayed from their comfort zone by asking Desmond Ridder to attempt a career-high 38 passes. It resulted in six points, 183 net offensive yards and a loss. The strengths of the two teams clash with each other again here, meaning Robinson might have to wow Londoners using his electric moves to create some space to operate. The Jaguars rank seventh in rushing yards allowed. Their front is stout enough to at least partially clog up Robinson, Tyler Allgeier and the rest of Atlanta’s ninth-ranked rushing offense. It’s likely the Falcons will circumvent this by also utilizing their new feature back in the passing game -- Robinson already has 14 catches for 102 yards and a touchdown on the season -- but if Ridder is pushing 40 attempts again it could mean another long day for Arthur Smith’s squad. Even with difference makers like Drake London and Kyle Pitts, and despite Jacksonville's much greater vulnerability through the air (27th in yards allowed), that’s not at all where Atlanta wants to operate.
  3. Ridley revenge game. A 2018 first-round pick, Calvin Ridley was a skyrocketing talent for Atlanta through three seasons, accumulating 217 catches for 3,061 yards and 26 touchdowns. Then, the wideout stepped away from the club five games into 2021 to focus on his mental well-being. He was later suspended for the entire 2022 season for violating the league’s gambling policy, and Atlanta shipped him to Jacksonville at the trade deadline last year, setting the stage for a London reunion 11 months later. Although he’s underperformed the past two weeks along with the rest of the team, Ridley showed he still has it with an eight-catch, 101-yard performance in Week 1 that included a TD. He is perhaps the most dynamic piece of a weapon-laden offense that includes wide receiver Christian Kirk, tight end Evan Engram and running back Travis Etienne. They’ll all get their looks -- Ridley, Kirk and Engram lead the team with an identical 173 receiving yards apiece -- but Ridley is sure to have a little more oomph in trying to produce against his former club. Cornerback A.J. Terrell, a budding Falcons star much like Ridley was, will do his best to make sure that doesn’t happen.

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