“Well, you better be ready to roll, and you better be ready to improve,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “Jacksonville … they’re a team that’s going to come into this game desperate.”
Smith likes Jacksonville coach Doug Pederson and his staff. The Falcons and the Jaguars held joint practices in 2022.
“They have a really good team with good, talented players,” Smith said.
The Jaguars won the AFC South last season with a 9-8 record. They beat the Chargers in the wild-card round of the playoffs before losing to eventual Super Bowl-champion Kansas City in the divisional round of the playoffs.
The Jaguars were picked by many people to defend their title, the franchise’s first since the 2017 season. The offseason hype may have been misguided.
“You read into a lot of the hype (in the) preseason a little bit,” Jaguars coach Doug Pederson told the Jacksonville media Monday. “Right now, we’re not living up to that expectation. You want to pick up where you left off, but you know it’s a new season. You still have to go put in the hard work and preparation.”
This will be the ninth meeting between the teams. The Falcons lead the series 5-3 and have won the past four matchups. They won the most recent meeting 21-14 on Nov. 28, 2021.
One of the Jaguars’ biggest pickups was former Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley. He has 13 catches for 173 yards and a touchdown. He’s coming off a tough game. He dropped two passes and was called for two false starts in the loss to the Texans.
“I grabbed him coming off the field, and I reiterated to him to take a deep breath, stay locked in, stay engaged,” Pederson said. “I told him he was a big part of our system, the offense, and he’s going to have a lot of success.
“I just wanted to reiterate that confidence in him. Calvin wants to do so well, so good, so much. He wants to prove, but he doesn’t have to. He’s a good player, and he doesn’t have to do all that. Just be Calvin.”
Lawrence, who starred at Cartersville High and Clemson and was the first player selected in the 2021 NFL draft, has completed 73 of 113 passes (64.6%) for 736 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He has a passer rating of 84.5.
In addition to Ridley, the Jaguars have wide receiver Christian Kirk, tight end Evan Engram (Hillgrove High) and running back Travis Etienne.
“They’ve got a good quarterback,” Falcons linebacker Lorenzo Carter said. “Good skill players. We just have to come out and play our style of football.”
The Jaguars amassed over 400 yards in the loss to the Texans. They couldn’t overcome their miscues and untimely penalties.
“They’ve invested in essentially four pass catchers, and the quarterback they took No. 1 is a good player,” Smith said. “They played well at the end of last season, and we have to play real well. We know they will challenge us.”
The Jaguars’ defense is anchored by edge rushers Josh Allen and Travon Walker, a former Georgia standout who was the first player taken in the 2022 draft. Also, the Jaguars have former Falcons linebacker Foye Oluokun in the middle of the defense.
Oluokun leads the team with 37 tackles. He led the league in tackles in 2021 and 2022, with 192 and 184 tackles.
“It’s a good defense,” Smith said. “Good defensive scheme. I think (defensive coordinator) Mike Caldwell does a great job. They’ve invested a lot in their defense, too. It will be a big-time game for us, but that’s the challenge.”
The Falcons played in London during Smith’s first season. They defeated the Jets 27-20 on Oct. 10, 2021. Rookie tight end Kyle Pitts had his coming-out party, with nine receptions for 119 yards and a touchdown.
The Falcons will be trying to rebound from their first loss of the season.
“Can we learn from what happened (Sunday in Detroit) and not let that become a pattern?” Smith said. “Because that adds perspective, right? You come in here as bad as you feel on a Monday. That’s the journey of the NFL.
“Can we get back and get our third win and handle the travel, handle all of the other things that go with playing internationally, which we’re excited about, but it will be a good challenge.”
The Bow Tie Chronicles