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Interview with the Enemy: 5 Questions with Big Cat Country

There are plenty of interesting questions surrounding the Falcons’ London clash with the Jaguars, and we’ve enlisted the help of Big Cat Country’s Gus Logue to provide some insight into the state of the team heading into Week 4.

Jacksonville Jaguars v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

The Atlanta Falcons (2-1) got their first taste of defeat in Week 3 at the hands of the ascending Detroit Lions (3-1). Things don’t get any easier in Week 4, as the team now heads to London to face the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-2)—who were clear AFC South favorites entering the season but have struggled out of the gate after an impressive season-opening win.

Here at The Falcoholic, we like to think we keep you incredibly well-informed on all things Falcons. We’re not nearly as diligent in covering the Jaguars, so I’ve enlisted the help of Jacksonville expert Gus Logue. Gus is the site manager over at Big Cat Country, SB Nation’s site covering all things Jacksonville Jaguars.

I brought five questions to Gus on a variety of topics, including the Jaguars unexpected 1-2 start to the season, the play of Trevor Lawrence and Calvin Ridley, and the defense’s ability to slow down the Bijan Robinson/Tyler Allgeier pairing.

1) The Jaguars seem to be on a roller coaster ride to start the 2023 season after a very encouraging 2022. What are the biggest issues in Jacksonville at this point, and what are the team’s biggest strengths?

Gus Logue: Almost everything seems to be the issue right now after the Jaguars were embarrassed at home against the Texans. As Doug Pederson said on Monday, “This was a game that — it’s very rare — where all three phases really had a hand in this loss yesterday.”

The biggest issue for Jacksonville is its depth on both sides of the line. Cam Robinson (serving a four-game suspension) is sorely missed and we might see veteran backup Tyler Shatley get some run this week over starting left guard Ben Bartch (recovering from 2022 season-ending knee injury; allowed nine pressures through three games). On defense, Josh Allen is a one-man show. Former first-round picks Travon Walker and K’Lavon Chaisson have combined for the same amount of quarterback hits (3) as Arden Key, who Jacksonville let walk to Tennessee in free agency.

The strength of this team is supposed to be its offense. Until Calvin Ridley turns it around — more on him soon — the Jaguars will continue struggling to score more than anyone anticipated. The defense’s strength is against the run; Jacksonville ranks top-three in both Expected Points Added (EPA) per play and success rate allowed on the ground.

2) Coming off his best NFL season, how has Trevor Lawrence looked in the first three games? How’s former Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley fitting into the offense thus far?

GL: Trevor Lawrence remains an elite quarterback. But the Jaguars lead the league in drops and EPA lost on those drops, as many of them have come in the endzone. One such occurrence was a dropped touchdown by Calvin Ridley in the first quarter of Week 3, which began a snowball effect of comical errors for Jacksonville. Ridley has two endzone drops in each of the past two weeks along with two false start penalties last week. He ranks first on the team in targets, and 16th among all NFL players, but is 64th in both total EPA and EPA per target among 88 wide receivers with 10-plus targets (per Sports Info Solutions).

It’ll be interesting to see whether Jaguars coaches keep their confidence in Ridley and continue feeding him the ball — especially in a ‘revenge game’ against his former team this week — or if they focus more on pass-catchers like Christian Kirk and Evan Engram, who are in their second season in teal and have been more consistent thus far.

3) The secret to slowing down Atlanta’s offense is limiting the run game, and the Jaguars have fared pretty well in that area to start the season. What’s your level of confidence in bottling up the Bijan Robinson/Tyler Allgeier combo?

GL: I’m confident the Jaguars can contain Tyler Allgeier. Nothing against the talented second-year back, but Jacksonville’s top priority is stopping the run on early downs. It’s a philosophy that defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell brought over from his former mentor Todd Bowles in Tampa Bay: limit as many yards as possible on first and second down so the pass rush and secondary have easier jobs on third down. (Seems like Arthur Smith might have a similar approach on offense regarding the run setting up the pass.)

Roy Robertson-Harris — who has been one of Jacksonville’s best players this year — was asked by 1010XL’s Mia O’Brien on Wednesday about where the team needs to grow in order to generate sacks. (The Jags rank 6th in pressures but 24th in sacks.) He answered, “Stop the run so we can have fun, point blank period. We stop the run, that’ll lead to getting us more rush opportunities, and then we’ll go from there.” When O’Brien asked if the Jaguars — a top-10 run defense by any metric — have stopped the run so far, Roberston-Harris replied, “Uh, we’ve done okay. I feel like we do need to be a little more solid, we know what our standard is and we need to uphold that.”

As for Bijan Robinson... that’s a different story. Texans fullback Andrew Beck broke five tackles on his way to becoming the heaviest player to return a kickoff for a touchdown in league history last week. Yes, that happened on special teams as opposed to defense, but it doesn’t give me much hope for this team slowing down Robinson in open space. Caldwell said before the season that tackling was an area they wanted to clean up this year, but the Jaguars currently sit at sixth for most missed tackles on defense after finishing with the same ranking last season.

4) Desmond Ridder has been inconsistent at best over the first three games, with some flashy moments and game-winning drives alongside the highest turnover worthy play rate in the league. How will Jacksonville look to limit Atlanta’s hot-and-cold passing game?

GL: The Jaguars will dare Desmond Ridder to beat them. Caldwell’s defense leads the league in stacked box usage (34%, per Sports Info Solutions) and is aggressive up front. Jacksonville sent nine blitzes against C.J. Stroud last week but he completed two huge throws to fellow rookie Tank Dell. Expect the Jaguars to get beat a few times — likely by Bijan Robinson or Kyle Pitts, as I like Tyson Campbell’s matchup against Drake London — but generally be able to capitalize against an offense that doesn’t seem to trust its quarterback.

Ridder leads the league in both total turnover-worthy plays and rate of turnover-worthy plays (per PFF). Jacksonville ranks 10th in both pressure rate and turnover rate, as well as fifth in passes deflected. If Bijan Robinson doesn’t get going it could be a long day for the Falcons.

5) The Jaguars are currently 3-point favorites in London heading into Week 4. What’s your prediction for Sunday’s game?

GL: After Week 3, the Jaguars were coming off a sloppy offensive performance and I said they’d bounce back against an inferior Texans team. After Week 4, the Jaguars are coming off an even worse performance by the entire roster, yet I still believe they’ll bounce back in their next game.

It’s quite possible that I’m just Trevor Lawrence pilled, but in my eyes, the offense and overall team will be fine as soon as Calvin Ridley regains his form. It helps that Jacksonville’s defense matches up well against Atlanta’s offense on paper, so there shouldn’t be a ton of pressure on Pederson’s group to score on Sunday. I’m willing to bet on Ridley and the Jaguars one more time before I admit this franchise is in total disarray. If he and his new teammates don’t find their confidence this week, I’m not sure they ever will.

Many thanks to Gus Logue for taking the time to answer my questions. You can follow him on Twitter at @gus_logue, and if you’re in the mood for a Jaguars perspective on things, follow Big Cat Country at @bigcatcountry.

Looking for more Falcons-Jaguars coverage? Check out our Dirty Birds & Brews game preview show.