Four reasons the Jaguars offense is struggling to score

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars' offense is coming off a season low in total yards (221) and points (3) to go along with a season-high four turnovers and a season-high five sacks taken. Yes, the San Francisco 49ers have one of the NFL's best defenses, but the 31-point loss this past Sunday put a spotlight on the Jaguars' season-long offensive issues.

Coach Doug Pederson was expecting a surge in production in 2023 -- the second year with his offensive system -- and in the offseason didn't discard the possibility that the offense could be good enough to potentially break franchise records. He didn't discount the possibility that quarterback Trevor Lawrence could approach 5,000 yards passing, either.

But those high expectations haven't materialized through the team's first nine games. The points and yardage are down slightly from last season, and Lawrence has accounted for more turnovers (10) than touchdown passes (nine).

So what has gone wrong? Offensive coordinator Press Taylor believes there hasn't been the consistency needed for the offense to function at its highest level on a regular basis.

"I think the biggest thing is making plays early in games," Taylor said. "Whether it's converting the first third down to the game, which has been one of our engines to kickstart us, and then getting everybody opportunities, making sure we find a way to settle into the game, whatever that may be. Getting our best players touches early, giving them opportunities to impact the game from the jump, get everybody settled in and then be able to go execute."

Let's look at four of the offense's major issues ahead of the Jaguars' matchup against the Tennessee Titans this Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS) and what potentially can be done to solve them.

Struggling O-line

The underperforming offensive line -- of which the Jaguars have invested much capital in -- ranks as one of the worst in the NFL.

It ranks 31st in pass block win rate, which measures the rate that linemen can sustain their blocks for 2.5 seconds or longer. They're doing that only 46% of the time, ahead of only the 2-8 New England Patriots (44%). The offensive line also ranks 30th in run block win rate, which measures the amount of times a lineman wins a battle against a defender. The Jaguars are winning 68% of the time, ahead of only the 1-8 Carolina Panthers (61%) and 4-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (64%).

Lawrence has been sacked 24 times -- three shy of his entire 2022 season total -- and is on pace to be sacked 45 times, which would be the team's most sacks allowed since 2018 (53). Sure, the Jaguars have faced some of the league's top pass-rushers in the first nine games -- Nick Bosa, Chase Young, Chris Jones and T.J. Watt, for example -- but Lawrence also deserves some blame for holding onto the ball a little longer.

Lawrence has the second-quickest time to throw in the league in 2023 (2.44 seconds, behind only Tua Tagovailoa) -- but on throws in which he has 2.5-4 seconds, he has been pressured on 43% of his dropbacks, which is the highest rate of any quarterback.

"We have to do a better job up front," Pederson said. "Our backs are involved with protection [as well as] tight ends, so it's a collective effort. I do think sometimes when you get hit, the number of times as a quarterback, it can affect your eyes, and your eyes can drop and focus on the rush to touch. But one thing about Trevor that he's really good at is continuing to keep his eyes down the field. We've got to continue to coach him and help him and make sure he feels as comfortable as possible."

Pederson said another reason for the line's struggles is that they have not played together much. Walker Little started the season as the left tackle in place of the suspended Cam Robinson, but moved inside to left guard when Robinson returned. Walker suffered a left knee injury in his first game there and only returned to the lineup last week against San Francisco, making him the third player to start at left guard this season.

"That left guard spot has been a little bit of a revolving door, so there's some uneasiness there," Pederson said. "These guys, the more they play together, the more comfortable and confident they'll be in these next eight games."

The Jaguars have invested in their line with a first-round pick (right tackle Anton Harrison), two second-round picks (Robinson and Little) and a third-round pick (center Luke Fortner), and they gave five-time Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Scherff a three-year, $49.5 million contract with $30 million guaranteed in March 2022. But the Jaguars have not seen the fruits of their decisions, at least this season.

It's true that not much can be done to fix the offensive line other than them playing better and getting more reps. The team acquired guard Ezra Cleveland in a trade with Minnesota on Nov. 1, but putting him in the lineup would mean benching either Little or Scherff, a move that the Jaguars are unlikely to make.

Red zone and turnover woes

A huge factor in the Jaguars' scoring woes is how non-efficient they are in the red zone. Jacksonville ranks 29th in red zone efficiency (49.5%) and 31st in red zone scoring percentage (69.6%), and it has four red zone turnovers (which is tied for most in the NFL). In 2022, the Jaguars had four red zone turnovers the entire season. Lawrence has two (fumble and interception) of those turnovers, and receiver Christian Kirk and tight end Evan Engram have each lost a fumble in the red zone.

The Jaguars are only converting 59.5% of their third downs in the red zone (20th in the NFL), and Lawrence's passer rating in the red zone ranks 27th. Mac Jones, Zach Wilson, Tyson Bagent and Bryce Young are among the players with a better rating.

Turnovers are an alarming trend for the Jaguars. They have 17 through nine games after having 22 all of last season. Only four teams have more turnovers this season than the Jaguars: Buffalo, Chicago and Las Vegas have 18, and Cleveland has 19.

So how can they fix it? It's a simple solution: Take better care of the ball.

"I think more of the issue, personally and individually, has been hanging onto the ball in the pocket and getting stripped," said Lawrence, who has thrown six interceptions and lost four fumbles. "If I am getting hit, keeping two hands on it. I got to do a better job of that. Then, collectively as an offense, we have to do a better job as a whole of just not giving the ball away. We've had too many this season."

Kirk said they put more emphasis on taking care of the ball at practice.

"I think we're one of the better teams that covers ball security throughout the week and puts emphasis on it," Kirk said. "It's just us as players. For example, mine, it's unacceptable and I understand that and those are things that can't happen and it'll lose us games."

Where is Ridley?

Receiver Calvin Ridley looked great at training camp, but that didn't carry over into the first half of the season. He has had two big games -- eight catches for 101 yards and a touchdown in Week 1, and seven catches for 122 yards against Buffalo in London. But Ridley has only had more than four catches in a game one other time.

He also hasn't caught a touchdown pass since Week 4 against Atlanta in London. He does have the highest per-catch average on the team (13.5) and has drawn nine pass interference or defensive holding penalties, but he hasn't had the statistical impact on the offense that many expected.

"If you make those plays, maybe we're talking that's nine more catches or something," Pederson said. "Maybe we're talking a little bit differently. ... It feels like we're not targeting him, but we are. Teams are also taking a safety his way. ... We do make a conscious effort to get him involved early in the game and as often as we can."

One thing that could help Ridley is the eventual return of Zay Jones, who has missed six games with a right knee injury, Pederson said. The Jaguars coach also said Jones is eligible to practice and play after a Monday arrest on a misdemeanor domestic battery charge stemming from an incident involving the mother of his child. On Monday, the Jaguars released a statement saying they were gathering more information about the incident.

Jones' presence can help Ridley by stretching the defense so it can't only concentrate on Ridley. Opposing defenses aren't worried about Tim Jones or Elijah Cooks -- who have been filling in for Zay Jones -- on the outside.

"You can be a little bit more balanced in your passing game [with Jones on the field]," Pederson said. "Zay gives you a comfort level that Trevor has. He knows exactly where he's going to be. He helps you maybe a little bit more on third down where he's going to draw some coverage his way. It's going to open up Calvin, it's going to open up Christian or Evan [Engram]. Those are things that we've missed a little bit with Zay being out."

Lawrence's production

Lawrence was one of the main reasons the Jaguars were able to rally from a 3-7 record and finish 9-8 and as AFC South champions last season. He threw 12 touchdown passes and only two interceptions, and had a passer rating of 103.4 in that seven-game stretch.

But Lawrence has thrown nine touchdown passes and six interceptions in the first nine games of 2023, and he has thrown for fewer than 220 yards five times, which includes two sub-200-yard games. Taylor said one way to get Lawrence rolling again is ... to get him rolling again. Bring back some of the rollout passes that have been missing the past three games, provided Lawrence's sprained left knee (which he hurt on Oct. 15) has healed enough to handle it.

"That's certainly been something as we build [game] plans of being conscious that our quarterback is probably less mobile than he's been in past," Taylor said. "I think as he continues to feel healthier and healthier, if we feel like that's something that gives us an advantage against the defense and it's something we'll be able to mix in, I feel like he'd be completely capable of doing it."

Lawrence has been very good on designed rollouts, completing 70.3% of his passes with a passer rating of 107.8. On rollouts to his right, he has been even better: 72.4% completions with a passer rating of 110.2.

"[His knee] is finally getting to where I'm not going to really think about it as much and won't be as much of an issue," Lawrence said. "I feel like I'm starting to move pretty fluid and it's not bothering when I do much.

"I'm starting to feel comfortable and I'm happy about that with the progress I've made. We've been able to protect it the last few weeks and I'm excited to hopefully finally get going and just play normal, move around, all that stuff."