The Kansas City Chiefs are very familiar with their Week 2 foe. The Jacksonville Jaguars were their opponent twice during the 2022 season, with the Chiefs topping them both times. The second was in the AFC Divisional round, a 27-20 result that ended the Jaguars’ most successful season since 2017.
Former Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson is running the show as head coach and has formed a quality group of skill players around third-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence. He secured key players like wide receivers Christian Kirk, Zay Jones and tight end Evan Engram last offseason, then produced an offense that ranked in the top 10 in scoring and total yards last year.
The unit will be further improved in 2023, and there are multiple reasons, starting with the team’s new No. 1 wide receiver.
Calvin Ridley is back
The team traded for suspended wide receiver Calvin Ridley last season, anticipating his reinstatement for 2023. He is back, and it didn’t take him long to cement himself as the team’s go-to option.
Calvin Ridley in the first half of his Jags debut— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) September 10, 2023
22.2 PPR Pointspic.twitter.com/VjyGkcCt0y
In Week 1 against the Indianapolis Colts, Ridley saw 11 targets, catching eight passes for 101 yards and a touchdown. Most of the damage came in the first half, but it was clear that Lawrence and Ridley’s connection is already at a high level.
Trevor Lawrence made it clear he's confident & comfortable targeting his new WR1 Calvin Ridley. The duo had 7 receptions, 92 yards & a TD in their 1st half of football together— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) September 15, 2023
Anticipation routes hit w/ good timing, tight-window completion, plus a scramble drill TD to cap it pic.twitter.com/MyGdUcyDLA
Throughout the first half, Lawrence went to Ridley with good timing and clear trust. The first play of this clip is a comeback route for Ridley, a route that takes good anticipation to complete. Even with pressure pushing Lawrence off his spot, he gets the ball to Ridley on time.
In the next play, Lawrence attempts a tight window throw to Ridley on a crossing pattern. Lawrence understands there is little room between the defender trailing Ridley and the defender Ridley is running towards — but he felt confident that the throw would be completed.
The third play of the clip is another completion based on anticipation, but Ridley’s talent after the catch gets shown off with a very quick turn after the catch that allows him to gain yards upfield.
Natural ascension of Trevor Lawrence
The addition of Ridley is the headline, but the natural ascension of Lawrence as a quarterback is also important to note. He is in his third season now, but only his second without a joke of an NFL head coach like Urban Meyer.
Trevor Lawrence threw 3 of 8 most “improbable completions” per @NextGenStats, most of any QB in Week 1.— Cameron Wolfe (@CameronWolfe) September 13, 2023
This 18-yard TD to Zay Jones was deemed Lawrence’s toughest one & 4th toughest overall with 20.5% completion probability: pic.twitter.com/h78SAXTfKw
In Week 1, Lawrence showed off his confidence and arm talent with some incredible completions. This one may have been the best, however. On a simple goal-line fade to Zay Jones, Lawrence uses unreal accuracy and touch to put the ball exactly where it needed to be as Jones hauled it in.
He also completed 75% of his passes, a significant improvement over his rate of 66% last regular season. He ranked 13th among quarterbacks in that statistic last year.
His only interception against the Colts was very relatable to Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes. As Lawrence maneuvered pressure, he dumped off a pass to rookie running back Tank Bigsby in the flat. Bigsby proceeded to hot potato the pass into a defender’s hands for Lawrence’s only interception of the game.
The Chiefs did pick Lawrence off in last year’s postseason — when a blitz forced a hurried throw, and cornerback Jaylen Watson one-handed it. In Week 1, Lawrence only had two drop backs against the blitz and completed one of two passes for four yards.
Last season, Lawrence only mustered a 62.7 passer rating against the blitz. Five of his eight interceptions came on plays where the defense blitzed. It’s an aspect of the game that Lawrence will naturally improve on as he gains experience, but he wasn’t tested in that sense in the season opener.
Complementary role players
With Ridley garnering the attention of a true number-one wideout, the rest of the offense’s skill-position group can play off of that and find more mismatches than they were able to before.
Tight end Evan Engram is one of the most athletic players at his position in the NFL, and Jacksonville will use that in their pass game by taking advantage of defenses isolating a safety or a linebacker on Engram. The Chiefs held him to 45 receiving yards between the two matchups last year, but Ridley’s presence may open that up for Engram more.
It will be a worthwhile challenge for safety Justin Reid, who has been tasked with manning up tight ends on pass downs this season and preseason. He and the linebackers will need to be sharp in coverage over the middle of the field.
Third-year running back Travis Etienne will also be a featured part of the Jaguars’ offense in both the run and pass game. He carried the ball 18 times in Week 1 — but also finished tied for second on the team with five receptions.
He didn’t match the athletic-testing numbers of Detroit Lions running back Jahmyr Gibbs, but he has similar open-field ability; Gibbs led the NFL in forcing missed tackles (6) in Week 1. Etienne tied for eighth in that category with four missed tackles forced against the Colts.