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Opponent Scout: Jaguars’ efficient offense boosted by electric Travis Etienne

Jacksonville’s second-year running back has become more of a playmaker as the season has gone on.

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Las Vegas Raiders v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

In our weekly Opponent Scout series, I break down the Kansas City Chiefs’ upcoming opponent by examining their strengths, weaknesses and tendencies — and how those things affect the matchup.

In Week 10, the Chiefs welcome the Jacksonville Jaguars to GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium for a Noon (Arrowhead Time) kickoff.

Here’s what to know about the Jaguars.


Jacksonville is nine games into the regime of head coach Doug Pederson, who served as the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator from 2013 to 2015. It is the Jaguars’ second year with No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence as their starting quarterback. They have played to a record of 3-6, now coming off a 27-20 comeback win over the Las Vegas Raiders.

The Jaguars rank 18th in scoring, but are eighth in total yards per game and 10th in yards per play; Jacksonville is also fifth in first downs. The Jaguars are fourth-best in yards per rush. On third down, they convert at the ninth-best rate — but only turn red-zone drives into touchdowns at the NFL’s 21st-ranked rate. The Jaguars rank 11th in offensive DVOA.

On the other side, the Jaguars are rank 11th in scoring defense and 16th in total yards allowed. They surrender the third-lowest average yards per rushing attempt and are 25th in team sacks. They rank 15th in both third-down and red-zone conversion rates. Jacksonville ranks 22nd in defensive DVOA.


The Jaguars have an efficient offense; they rank top 10 in EPA/play and success rate — and even rank seventh in dropback EPA/play. Pederson is making things easy as the play-caller for Lawrence, who was already an impressive processor.

When it’s working, the Jaguars don’t mind leaning on the ground game. In the last two weeks — following Jacksonville’s trade of running back James Robinson — second-year back Travis Etienne has taken the reins.

Etienne has averaged 5.1 yards per carry over the last two games, with seven runs of 10 or more yards. He’s forced 21 missed tackles. Even in their comeback victory last week, Etienne racked up 28 carries — chipping away until he broke off a few big runs at important points of the game. If he isn’t bottled up at the line of scrimmage, he is electric in the open field.

Pederson likes to take advantage of this effective running game with play-action passes that test the second and third levels of the field. 33% of Lawrence’s attempts go 10 or more yards downfield — and he is averaging 9.1 yards per attempt on play-action passes; that’s one of the NFL’s highest marks.

Lawrence was the draft’s first pick for a reason: he has the arm strength to push balls to the second and third levels of the field with velocity, fitting into windows more easily than lesser-armed players. His height also gives him great vision from the pocket.

But Lawrence is still a young quarterback who can put the ball in harm’s way once the original play breaks down. He has six interceptions this year — three of them in the red zone. He does not read the field as well from outside the pocket as he does inside.

On the flip side, Lawrence rarely takes sacks. Only one team has allowed fewer sacks than the Jaguars. If he isn’t hitting his primary reads, Lawrence does a good job of getting to his checkdown or getting what he can with his legs.


Jacksonville has a very young defensive group that displays natural athleticism at all three levels.

Up front, the Jaguars boast a strong rotation of edge defenders: Josh Allen, rookie Trayvon Walker, Dawuane Smoot and Arden Key. These players have combined for 12 of the team’s 16 total sacks.

Allen and Walker patrol the edges on early downs, but the Jaguars will bring both Smoot and Key into the game as interior rushers on passing downs. This is the ultimate NASCAR package: four edge rushers coming after the quarterback at once. Key’s explosiveness can help create space for one of the edge rushers — while in recent games, Smoot has been cleaning up against guards by himself.

Behind them, first-round rookie linebacker Devin Lloyd makes plays at the second level — especially in the passing game. He has defended seven passes and is tied for the team lead with two interceptions. He has the athleticism to eat up a lot of space — and overwhelm tight ends not named Travis Kelce.

In the secondary, Jacksonville has second-year cornerback Tyson Campbell and veteran Tre Herndon as the primary outside corners, while former Los Angeles Rams cornerback Darious Williams mans the slot. Herndon replaces original starter Shaquil Griffin, who was placed on injured reserve following Week 7.

Safety Andre Cisco — who has two interceptions and a touchdown this season — patrols the deep parts of the field, while safety Rayshawn Jenkins will more often play closer to the line of scrimmage. Jenkins missed Wednesday’s practice; he is dealing with a concussion.

The bottom line

Against the Chiefs, the Jaguars’ offense has the pieces to gain yards and put itself into scoring position; it will just come down to whether it can consistently finish drives. Lawrence will need to avoid turnovers — but Kansas City will need to force him into those situations by limiting explosive rushing plays.

Jacksonville’s defense will likely rely on its front getting pressure to affect Mahomes’ comfort level, hoping its playmakers can take advantage of hurried throws. Kansas City’s pass protection will once again be tested — but Jacksonville’s strengths are mostly in the passing game; its run defense is more vulnerable than the Chiefs have seen in recent weeks.

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