The Jacksonville Jaguars landed on the wrong end of a surprisingly lopsided loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Week 10, a game in which almost nothing worked offensively for the Jaguars.
A logical explanation for such a defeat could exist within the health of quarterback Trevor Lawrence (knee), who has put together a solid season, but hasn't advanced to a level of achievement most expected from him in 2023.
Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson attempted to delve into why the Jaguars haven't quite reached that point yet, and why they were essentially helpless in the 34-3 loss.
"Sure, one of the things that we haven't been able to do because of Trevor's condition with his knee is just move him a little bit more," Pederson told reporters on Wednesday. "Sometimes, you can create things off of that. He's been limited that way.
"Play-action pass can be an opportunity to shoot the ball down the field on first or second down, the screen game you've seen hit a little bit. Those are ways to create some explosives. Sometimes, just drop back and throw it. Just run past and use your speed on the perimeter. Try to take advantage of that while you're seeing teams do it in different ways."
Play action wasn't much of a viable route against San Francisco because of a deficit that grew to 20-3 early in the third quarter. Jacksonville also didn't run the ball well enough to make it a legitimate factor in the passing game, finishing with 59 net rushing yards in a game that became increasingly reliant on the pass as the 49ers built their advantage on the scoreboard.
Still, it was a 13-3 game at halftime. That difference didn't eliminate the run entirely, at least not yet, leaving some to wonder why Jacksonville's offense dug itself into a deeper rut as the contest progressed.
Pederson has an answer for that, too: The offensive line wasn't good enough.
"I just think they haven't played together for a length of time," Pederson said. "I think there's a lot of moving pieces there. OL [Anton Harrison] continues to improve each week, I said the other day that I thought he had one of his better performances against a really good front. Luke Fortner] and [[Brandon Scherff] are the staples there. [Cam Robinson] is Cam and that left guard spot has been a little bit of a revolving door right now. There's been some uneasiness there, but I think these guys, the more they play together, the more comfortable and confident they'll be in these next eight games."
The combination of a less-than-stellar offensive line and a quarterback with limited mobility due to a knee injury makes for a daunting scenario each week. Lawrence's athleticism, while not his greatest attribute, has helped him make plenty of special plays in the past, and if that is hampered, defenses have even more reason to rush without any hesitation. That's essentially what happened against San Francisco, a defense that played aggressively because there wasn't much reason to fear they'd be exposed. When Pederson tried to keep them honest with screens and shorter throws, 49ers defenders were there to blow it up. And when Lawrence was forced to throw downfield, he often didn't have much time to let a play develop and see a receiver come open. He also threw two interceptions, products of him trying to do too much amid chaos.
This is how the Jaguars finished with 221 yards and three points. But there is good news: Lawrence's knee is slowly improving.
"It's feeling better," Lawrence said this week. "It's finally getting to where I'm not going to really think about it as much and won't be as much as an issue. I feel like I'm starting to move pretty fluid and it's not bothering when I do much. Obviously, it's still a little bit here or there, it'll get aggravated. But that's a good question, I'm starting to feel comfortable and I'm happy about that with the progress I've made. We've been able to protect it the last few weeks and I'm excited to hopefully finally get going and just play normal, move around, all that stuff."
Lawrence injured his knee in Week 6 and was questionable for the following two games (though he has not missed a start this season) and has been off the team's injury report since the Week 9 bye.
Lawrence will continue to wear a brace on his knee. More importantly, he'll continue to play for the 6-3 Jaguars, who lead the AFC South, but can feel the Texans nipping at their heels.
They'll hope to have a better showing against another division rival, the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.