Instant analysis from Jacksonville’s blowout preseason win over Dallas

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Jacksonville refused to end the preseason with a sour taste in its mouth after struggling in the first two games. The team delivered its sharpest exhibition performance by far on Sunday afternoon in a blowout 34-14 win over Dallas, shining on both sides of the ball (albeit against the Cowboys backups).

The Jaguars enter the regular season with a bit of momentum on their side and a better idea of what the offense will look like under rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who was finally able to find some success after poor protection limited his impact in the first two games.

After struggling against the Cleveland Browns and New Orleans Saints, the defense also took a step up in the final outing. The starters that played didn’t allow any points, and the unit as a whole built off some of its most promising signs from the previous games. Here’s a rundown of the Jags’ performance.

Lawrence makes a statement

The first-overall pick didn’t have many opportunities to showcase his skill set in the first two preseason games, but he was named the starter this week over Gardner Minshew II, who was subsequently traded to Philadelphia. Now entrenched as the starter officially, Lawrence saved his best performance for last.

He wasted no time going right down the field, as he hit Phillip Dorsett II on a beautiful ball at the sideline for 38 yards. A few plays later, he capped off the drive with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Pharoh Cooper.

Lawrence went on to lead another touchdown drive that culminated in a dart to Laviska Shenault Jr. in the back of the end zone. Lawrence finished the game 11-of-12 passing for 139 yards and two touchdowns.

Though he was facing mostly backups on defense, Jacksonville was also missing four of its usual offensive line starters. The backups struggled again, though not as much as they did against New Orleans, and Lawrence handled the pressure better. The rookie looks to be game-ready, and regardless of how much the Jaguars’ record improves this year, they clearly have a stud in Lawrence.

Defense tightens up a bit

Jacksonville’s performance on defense should be taken with the same grain of salt that its offensive performance was. Dallas was without Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup. Still, even against an offense of almost entirely backups, the Jags’ defense played a lot tighter.

The starters forced four-straight Dallas punts to begin the game, and the run defense was once again strong. The Jags have allowed the fewest rushing yards of any team in the preseason, and against the Cowboys, they gave up just 76 yards on 21 carries.

None of the three Dallas quarterbacks who played were particularly effective, and the team finished below 50% completion. With four pass deflections and five quarterback hits, the Jaguars were much more competitive against the passing game than they were against New Orleans and Cleveland.

The Jags’ defense may be a limiting factor this season, but it at least showed signs of progress on Sunday.

Other notes

  • One of our storylines to watch involved the play of the receivers on the roster bubble. However, the final game made coming to any decisions even more difficult for the team. Tavon Austin didn’t play, while Cooper got the start and made two catches for 24 yards and a touchdown. Laquon Treadwell also caught a touchdown pass. Devin Smith, who signed with the team on Saturday, made a fantastic 45-yard grab, while Jeff Cotton had another strong game with three catches for 66 yards and Josh Hammond totaled five catches. You don’t have to be great at math to realize that not all of these guys can make the final roster, but it certainly doesn’t bode well for players who have had underwhelming preseasons like Collin Johnson, who was targeted twice with no catches on Sunday.

  • With Travis Etienne lost for the season, the Jags could take one more of their fringe backs than they initially expected. The beneficiary could be Devine Ozigbo, who had another impressive game, finishing with 11 carries for 68 yards and a score. Carlos Hyde, Nathan Cottrell, and Dare Ogunbowale haven’t done much to separate themselves, and if only three of these four make the final roster, Ozigbo has a good chance to sneak into that group.

  • James O’Shaughnessy finally made an impact in the preseason. After not registering a catch in the first two games, he led the Jags’ tight ends with three catches for 27 yards against the Cowboys. Chris Manhertz also had a nice 15-yard catch for a first down. Assuming at least one of the five tight ends currently on the roster don’t make the final 53, either Tyler Davis or Ben Ellefson are likely heading to the practice squad.

  • Jacksonville’s defensive line has been good at slowing down the run in the preseason, but not much else. It delivered a bit of a more well-rounded performance on Sunday, as Roy Robertson-Harris, who has had a bit of a quiet preseason, made a nice play to deflect a ball at the line of scrimmage. Meanwhile, Dawaune Smoot added to an impressive preseason with a hit on quarterback Cooper Rush, and Jihad Ward had two quarterback hits. Taven Bryan got a bit of a vote of confidence from defensive coordinator Joe Cullen this week, but it was another underwhelming performance as he totaled just two tackles. He’ll be a player holding his breath during final cuts this week.

  • Linebacker Shaquille Quarterman continues to have a monster preseason, as he tied for a team-high six tackles (four solo). He’ll likely find himself playing behind Myles Jack and Damien Wilson in the middle, but he should see a lot of action as a rotational player. The second-year former fourth-rounder is a major reason why the Jags felt comfortable trading Joe Schobert before the preseason.

  • Cornerback Tyson Campbell didn’t dress for the preseason finale, and that led to Sidney Jones IV starting. Though he tied Quarterman for the lead in tackles, he continues to struggle a bit in coverage this preseason. Until Tre Herndon returns from injury, he’s a player that will be relied upon as key depth in the secondary, and the Jags need him to play better. Chris Claybrooks had three tackles and a pass deflection, but he exited the game with an injury and didn’t return. His status moving forward is unclear. On the bright side, rookie Andre Cisco impressed against the pass again when given the opportunities, and the safety had a pass breakup against Dallas.