NFL

Trevor Lawrence looks ready for ascent to NFL's elite after outduelling Justin Herbert

By Sports Desk September 26, 2022

All the talk prior to the Week 3 contest between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Los Angeles Chargers surrounded the health of Justin Herbert, the quarterback viewed as having ascended to the superstar level of Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen.

By the end of an eye-opening afternoon at SoFi Stadium, the performance Herbert produced while battling fractured rib cartilage was completely overshadowed by that of a man crowned as a future great as early as high school as Trevor Lawrence's blistering start to his second season in the NFL reached new heights.

Freed from the shackles of working with the overmatched and underprepared Urban Meyer, Lawrence has quickly flourished in year two under the tutelage of former Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl-winning head coach Doug Pederson.

And his evisceration of a seemingly improved Chargers defense in a 38-10 rout served as a compelling reminder that – for all the talk of Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields and Mac Jones – he is, and always was, the best quarterback from the much heralded 2021 draft class at the position.

Furthermore, even on a day when the Indianapolis Colts shocked the Kansas City Chiefs, it rubber-stamped the Jaguars' status as the most exciting and dangerous team in an AFC South division ripe for the taking.

It is the long-term picture that is more important for the Jaguars, though, and that is suddenly very bright after the clearest demonstration yet of the potential Lawrence has to take his place alongside the NFL's elite quarterbacks.

The raw numbers – a 71.8 per cent completion percentage, 262 passing yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions and a passer rating of 115.5 – are impressive enough on their own.

Yet they do a poor job of illustrating how accurate, how composed and how devastatingly brilliant Lawrence was in helping deliver a result nobody outside of the Jacksonville facility would have thought possible three weeks ago.

There was little in a slightly underwhelming first quarter and a pair of red zone failures from the Jaguars to suggest Lawrence would outplay Herbert, and certainly not to the extent that he did.

But Lawrence finished the game delivering an accurate, well-thrown ball on 89.5 per cent of his 38 pass attempts, from which he threw just one pickable pass. Only four quarterbacks had a better well-thrown rate in Week 3 as of Sunday.

After twice coming up short from inside the 20, Lawrence then produced some of his best throws from inside the tight confines of the red zone, showing his incredible ability on the move for the Jaguars' first touchdown when he rolled to his right to evade the interior push of Otito Ogbonnia and produced a laser to find Zay Jones in the back of the endzone.

Zay Jones was the recipient of another superb deep throw over the middle on third down on the next drive, aided by Travis Etienne's blitz pickup of Derwin James, before Lawrence then hit Christian Kirk down the right sideline.

Lawrence showed his effectiveness rolling to both sides – a skill beyond many quarterbacks – when he looked to have finished that drive with a pinpoint throw to Evan Engram while moving to his left. Though that touchdown was overturned when a replay deemed Engram to have stepped out of bounds, the second half saw Lawrence punctuate the Jags' dominance in equally spectacular fashion.

James Robinson's 50-yard run put the Jaguars firmly in command and the running back duo of Robinson and Etienne allowed Jacksonville to play ball control before Lawrence hit Kirk on a high-velocity throw on a designed rollout for his second touchdown pass.

The final flourish was the defining moment of Lawrence's display. Having converted a third down by climbing the pocket under duress to deliver a dart to Marvin Jones Jr, Lawrence added the finishing touch on the Jags' final scoring drive by lofting a perfect throw over the head of Michael Davis and into the arms of the same receiver running a corner route to back of the endzone.

Marvin Jones deserves praise for a spectacular catch, but the stunning throw was yet another example of the ease with which Lawrence can dissect defenses with the physical gifts he has at his disposal.

Those attributes were wasted during Meyer's short stint in the NFL but Pederson has swiftly negated any damage done by the false start to Lawrence's career and seemingly put the man seen as the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck back on the path to stardom.

Through three weeks, Lawrence has a well-thrown rate of 85.8 per cent that is eighth in the NFL and he has a supporting cast that is quickly silencing critics of the Jags' team-building strategy.

All of Robinson's three touchdown runs have come on carries of 10 yards or more, giving him the most such scores in the NFL. Etienne, meanwhile, is eighth in yards after contact per attempt (min. 10 carries) among running backs with 2.73.

Kirk, after receiving a much-maligned $72million contract from the Jags, is justifying that deal by producing a big play on 45.8 per cent of his targets, the sixth-highest ratio among wide receivers with at least 10 targets, he and fellow free-agent acquisition Zay Jones combining for 37 catches, 22 of which have gone for a first down.

On defense, the Jaguars have registered 21 quarterback hits, a tally topped by just five teams, with the athleticism and versatility of their defensive front causing Herbert and other quarterbacks consistent problems. Edge rusher Josh Allen, a first-round pick in 2019, has registered a third of those hits and recorded two sacks and three tackles for loss while the Jaguars have also succeeded in quickly harnessing rookie first overall selection Travon Walker's freakish athleticism.

At the second level, another first-round rookie, Devin Lloyd, helped make Herbert's life miserable on Sunday with his skills in coverage. Lloyd had three pass breakups and an interception, providing help to a secondary that does not lack depth of talent. 

The Jags' strides on defense are reflected by them allowing opponents to score just six times in 33 drives, increasing Lawrence's room for error on the other side of the ball.

Yet such errors have been few from the former Clemson star and, while ups and downs are to be expected from a quarterback of his still limited experience at the highest level, Lawrence is playing with the confidence and assuredness of a man who may have already been through the worst of his pro career and survived unscathed.

Now with a head coach who understands how to make the most of his outstanding skill set and backed up by a talented if expensive supporting cast, Lawrence looks poised to grow into an even more dynamic and explosive playmaker at the game's most important position. For a franchise desperate to finally climb out of the doldrums, that development is priceless.

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