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.

Related items

  • France v Poland: Deschamps warns holders not to take Eagles lightly in round-of-16 showdown France v Poland: Deschamps warns holders not to take Eagles lightly in round-of-16 showdown

    Didier Deschamps warned France must not underestimate Poland when they meet in the World Cup round of 16 on Sunday.

    Les Bleus have won all five last-16 matches since the stage was introduced to the tournament back in 1986.

    The holders are strong favourites to knock the Eagles out at Al Thumama Stadium this weekend in what will be the underdogs' first knockout World Cup knockout game for 36 years.

    France are unbeaten in their past seven meetings with Poland, but Deschamps says there can be no complacency from his side in Doha.

    "It's not a team we're used to meeting," he told FFF TV. "They have experienced players. Obviously, if there is one name to stand out, it's [Robert] Lewandowski, he's one of the best strikers in the world.

    "But it's not just him, it's a team that has good organisation, a good athletic presence. We have three observers here who are following them closely, we will have all the details. Don't underestimate this team."

    Deschamps rung the changes for France's final Group D match on Wednesday, which they surprisingly lost 1-0 to Tunisia.

    Kylian Mbappe, Olivier Giroud, Hugo Lloris, Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann were among the players who dropped to the bench for that loss.

    Poland will need to find a way of containing Mbappe, the joint-leading scorer in the tournament with three goals, while Giroud is one shy of becoming his country's all-time leading goalscorer as he currently stands level with Thierry Henry on 51.

    The Eagles were beaten 2-0 by Argentina in their last Group C game on Wednesday but took second place.

    Poland have faced the reigning champions twice in World Cup matches, beating Brazil 1-0 in 1974 and holding Germany to a goalless draw four years later.

    A quarter-final showdown with England or Senegal will be the reward for whoever comes out on top.

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    France - Antoine Griezmann

    Griezmann continues to deliver for France time and time again. No player has created more chances than the 11 he has produced for Les Blues in this tournament.

    The Atletico Madrid forward is the only player to create at least 10 chances in both this World Cup and Russia 2018 for France. He has already surpassed his total of 10 four years ago.

    Poland - Wojciech Szczesny

    Goalkeeper Szczesny has played a key role for Poland in Qatar, achieving a save percentage of 90. He had kept out each of his first 16 shots on target faced in the tournament prior to Alexis Mac Allister's goal for Argentina.

    Szczesny saved a Lionel Messi penalty in midweek, ensuring he has stopped a spot-kick in each of his past two World Cup games. He could be in for a busy game, given France's quality going forward.

    PREDICTION

    While there have been shock results aplenty in this tournament, France will not be expected to slip up when they attempt to seal a place in the last eight.

    Stats Perform's AI model gives the defending champions a 74.8 per cent chance of going through, with Poland at only 8.1 per cent to produce an upset.

  • Pulisic fit to start for United States in Netherlands clash Pulisic fit to start for United States in Netherlands clash

    Christian Pulisic was named in the United States' starting XI for their World Cup round of 16 tie with the Netherlands.

    Pulisic scored the USA's winner against Iran on Tuesday, securing their place in the knockout stage, but was sent to hospital for scans on an abdominal injury.

    On Friday, it was confirmed Pulisic had been cleared to play a part against Louis van Gaal's team at Khalifa International Stadium, and Gregg Berhalter did not hesitate in throwing the Chelsea attacker back in from the off.

    Pulisic has been directly involved in six goals in his past nine appearances for the USA, with four goals and two assists, having a hand in both of their goals so far in the World Cup. 

    Josh Sargent, however, did not make the squad due to an ankle problem, with Jesus Ferreira coming in for his first appearance of the tournament.

    The 21-year-old scored 18 goals in 35 MLS appearances for FC Dallas this past season.

    At 25 years, 84 days, the USA's starting team is the youngest in a World Cup knockout match since Slovakia (24 years, 239 days), also against the Netherlands in 2010.

    Van Gaal, meanwhile, stuck with the same team that started in the 2-0 victory over hosts Qatar last time out.

    That means the in-form Cody Gakpo partners Memphis Depay in a front two – the PSV forward could become the first Netherlands player to score in each of his first four World Cup appearances, with Christian Vieri the last European player to do so in 1998. 

  • Jets hope Mike stays White hot in Vikings test Jets hope Mike stays White hot in Vikings test

    The New York Jets will undergo a fierce test of their playoff credentials on Sunday as they face the Vikings in Minnesota, where they will be hoping Mike White can deliver another inspiring performance at the quarterback position.

    At 7-4, the Jets occupy the final Wild Card spot in the AFC playoffs, but a victory over the Vikings would move them just a game behind the Buffalo Bills (9-3) in the race for the AFC East title. The 9-2 Vikings can clinch the NFC North crown if they win and the Detroit Lions lose at home to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

    Having replaced 2021 second overall pick Zach Wilson as the starter following Wilson's dismal performance in the Week 11 loss to the New England Patriots, White led an outstanding offensive performance from the Jets in their 31-10 win over the Chicago Bears in Week 12.

    White threw for 315 yards and three touchdowns in the win over Chicago, his second career game with 300+ passing yards and at least three TD passes (in five career appearances).

    The last Jets quarterback with multiple career such games prior to White for the team was Ken O'Brien with seven (last occurrence was in 1991).

    White produced that display against a Chicago defense that has seen much of its top talent traded away and ranks 29th in the NFL by yards per play allowed (5.92).

    But the Vikings have been far from impressive on defense this season and are the second-worst on that side of the ball by yards per play given up (6.05), appearing to suggest this matchup is another excellent opportunity for White to build his case for being the long-term starter.

    And New York's defense is well-equipped to slow down the Minnesota attack. The Jets' win over Chicago marked the team's fourth time this season holding an opponent to 10 or fewer points, tied for the most such games in the NFL (with Dallas and San Francisco).

    The last time the Jets had at least that many games in a season was 2010 (five), their last campaign in which they made the playoffs.

    Minnesota's offense is powered largely by the continually superb exploits of wide receiver Justin Jefferson. 

    Jefferson and Adam Thielen each caught touchdown passes in the Vikings' Thanksgiving Day win over the New England Patriots. It was the ninth time each player has had a receiving TD in the same game, the most of any NFL team-mates since Jefferson debuted at the beginning of the 2020 season.

    The Jets have the talent in the secondary to potentially limit the Vikings' receivers, and the matchup between Jefferson and New York's rookie cornerback Ahmad 'Sauce' Gardner is an extremely intriguing one. Gardner has allowed receivers to get open on just 19.45 per cent of his matchups across man and zone coverage, the best rate of all cornerbacks, according to Stats Perform data.

    Yet if the game remains close, the edge appears to be with the Vikings.

    The Vikings are 8-0 in games decided by eight or fewer points this season after the 33-26 win over the Patriots on Thanksgiving. The only team in NFL history to finish a season 8-0 or better in such contests was the 2009 Indianapolis Colts (8-0).

    If Minnesota improve that tally to 9-0, rookie head coach Kevin O'Connell would join Jim Caldwell and Jim Harbaugh as the only head coaches this century to earn 10 wins in 12 or fewer games to start their career as an NFL head coach.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.