The Kansas City Chiefs will enter Sunday’s contest against the Jacksonville Jaguars with a 6-2 record. After playing five of last season’s playoff teams in the season’s first eight games, the 3-6 Jaguars would appear to finally offer a soft spot in the schedule. Jacksonville opened the week as a 9.5 point underdog.
But the theme of the team’s media appearances this week has been to counter that narrative.
On Wednesday, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and selected players said that in spite of their opponent’s disappointing record, Kansas City isn’t taking the Jaguars lightly. Before Thursday’s practice, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy echoed those sentiments, highlighting the opposing team’s top young talent on both sides of the ball.
Spagnuolo recognizes the elite traits that made Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence the top selection in the 2021 NFL Draft.
“I didn’t realize he was 6 foot 6,” the defensive coach said of the former Clemson Tiger. “He’s a big quarterback. When he can sit in there — like most of these big strong-armed quarterbacks — he’s very accurate [and] gets the ball right where he wants to put it.”
Spagnuolo believes Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson — who coached the Philadelphia Eagles to victory in Super Bowl LII — has been the right match for Lawrence, augmenting his passer’s natural talents.
“I just think he’s operating in Doug’s offense really good,” he observed. “What I didn’t know about him is how athletic he is. Their movement passes — with him getting out on the perimeter — are way more impressive than I thought they were.
“My recollection of Trevor Lawrence was really from college, because I’m not putting on Jacksonville tape unless we’re playing them. I didn’t feel like he ever threw an incomplete pass in college. He’s a runner, too. He does his own options. I have a great deal of respect for him.”
While Lawrence has had an up-and-down second NFL season, he shares the backfield with a college teammate who appears to be on the verge of becoming a star. Second-year running back Travis Etienne has been tearing it up over the last month. After missing his rookie season with a foot injury, he currently ranks fifth in rushing yards.
Etienne has started only the last four games; Jacksonville traded previous starter James Robinson to the New York Jets after Week 7. Spagnuolo knows it will be a challenge to stop a runner coming in on such a hot streak.
“I think they knew exactly what they were doing,” he noted, “when they upgraded [Etienne] to being the guy: three straight games over a hundred [yards].”
With such a young roster, Spagnuolo recognizes that the Jaguars are still working through what does and does not work — which in some ways may make them more dangerous than a more consistent team.
“They’re getting a feel for who they are,” he theorized. “I think they’ve figured it out. They’re rolling. You put the tape on and early in the game, they’re running right down the field. They did it against the Giants; they did it against other [teams]. And they’re putting points on the board. There’s a lot of talent there. In a lot of ways, this will be a tougher test than last Sunday was.”
For his part, Bieniemy acknowledges that the Jaguars' defense has also benefitted from frequent high draft selections in recent years. This is especially true of a stout defensive line bolstered by former top-five selections Josh Allen and Travon Walker.
“It’s a very good defense,” claimed the longtime Reid assistant. “These guys have got some great athletes out there. They’re very very good up front. It seems like each and every week I come to this podium, I’m talking about that damn defensive line. These guys are another crew that [is] very good.
“They’ve got a couple [of] guys that have been drafted high. They play hard. They play fast. They fly around to the ball. They’ve got some nice young secondary players.
“This team is better than what their record states. Obviously, they’re young. But this is one of those games that if you take it for granted, you’ll find yourself looking up at the scoreboard — and you’ll be down a lot.”