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2022 NFL season: Three things to watch for in Broncos-Jaguars in London

Denver Broncos
2022 · 2-5-0
Jacksonville Jaguars
2022 · 2-5-0

The NFL’s third and final London game of the year pits the Broncos against the Jaguars. 

Both teams enter the matchup at 2-5 and in desperate need of a spark after four consecutive losses.

Denver sits in the cellar of the AFC West. It’s familiar territory -- the club has finished last in the division for two years running -- but this is not the ride Broncos country signed up for after Denver made a blockbuster trade for Russell Wilson in the spring and paired him with an offensive-minded head coach, Nathaniel Hackett.

First-year head coach Doug Pederson had appeared on track to change the Jaguars' fortunes after a 24-0 undressing of the Colts in Week 2 and a 38-10 statement game in Los Angeles against the Chargers the following Sunday, but the good mojo ended there. 

While it’s all but a ceremonial home game for most teams that earn the overseas designation, Jacksonville might be hoping its familiarity with London provides a needed advantage come Sunday. The Jags are partaking in their ninth London contest, more than any other franchise, and they've averaged 5.8 more points per game across the Atlantic than in the United States since 2015.

The Broncos will keep that in mind as both teams look to avoid the likely death knell a fifth straight loss would sound for a postseason run.

Here are three things to watch for when the Broncos and Jaguars meet Sunday in London on ESPN+:

  1. Can either quarterback get going? Trevor Lawrence has improved upon his underwhelming rookie season, but he has yet to locate the consistency that made him the 2021 No. 1 overall pick out of Clemson. He was hot in both games against the Colts, completing a combined 45 of 52 passes for 400 yards, three passing touchdowns (plus two more on the ground) and zero turnovers. He also had a terrific three-touchdown performance to upset the Chargers. But the cold streaks have at times been downright icy. In his other four games this season, Lawrence has finished with a completion percentage ranging from 47.8 to 57.1, scored four times and committed eight turnovers. The road won’t get any easier against a fearsome Broncos defense. There’s been little streakiness to Wilson’s game -- his cold snap has lasted all year. His 58.6 completion percentage (31st in the league) and 83.4 passer rating (25th) are both career lows in what has to date been a Hall of Fame-caliber career. Nothing on offense has come easy since Wilson's relocation to Denver. He's thrown five TDs to three INTs and is captaining a unit ranked last in both points and red-zone touchdown percentage. Part of Wilson’s struggles can be attributed to a partially torn hamstring that held him out of Week 7 and a shoulder injury that required a procedure on Oct. 7. Nonetheless, the former Seahawk has remained steadfast in his optimism that the team will soon find its rhythm. His next chance to prove it comes early Sunday morning for those watching in the U.S.
  2. The Broncos D could be the main factor again. If Wilson and Co. were putting up points at even a league-average clip, Denver would be looking at an entirely different storyline approaching the midpoint of the season. The defense ranks in the top five in total defense, points allowed, passing, sacks, red-zone touchdown percentage, big plays allowed and yards per play. Aside from an uncharacteristic showing against the Raiders where the unit surrendered 32 points, Denver has held opposing offenses to 13.6 points per game. Denver has also allowed just seven touchdowns, the fewest in the league and the fewest by a team with a losing record through seven games since 1999, per NFL Research. In other words, Londoners will be witness to greatness on that side of the ball. The lone category the Broncos are severely lacking in is turnovers. They are tied for 23rd in the league with seven, which bodes well for Lawrence as he looks to reset his turnover woes with a third straight giveaway-free game. Another matchup to watch? Bradley Chubb and Denver's pass rush versus Jacksonville’s revamped offensive line. The Broncos enter Week 8 with 22 sacks. The Jaguars are tied for first in sacks allowed and have had four games where they gave up none.
  3. What will the Jags’ backfield look like sans James Robinson? One might argue that Jacksonville communicated the answer loud and clear in Week 7. Robinson took only 11 snaps against the Giants, had one target and didn’t register a carry before being traded to the Jets the following day. After out-snapping Robinson in every game since Week 3 -- but never by more than nine plays -- second-year RB Travis Etienne completed his backfield coup by logging 53 snaps against Big Blue with 14 carries for 114 yards and a score. Despite Etienne seeing 81.5% of running-back snaps that game, however, Pederson clarified Wednesday that Jacksonville still wants to “keep him from taking all the load.” JaMycal Hasty, who had one carry on three snaps against the Giants, is instead the one in line for an increased workload to help keep Etienne healthy all season. Properly balancing Etienne’s game-breaking abilities with his continued health could pay dividends for the club. He’s totaled 271 rushing yards since Week 5, sixth-most in the league, and has the second-most rushing yards (200) of any Jaguar through two career starts, per NFL Research. An Etienne-led backfield with a measured dose of Hasty may also prove the best way to exploit Denver. The Broncos defense is 15th against the run and second in passing yards allowed.

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