The suddenly hot Jaguars roll into New Orleans on Thursday riding a three-game win streak, but the health of QB Trevor Lawrence puts his availability for the Week 7 game against the Saints in doubt.
Lawrence left this past Sunday’s game against the Colts in the final minutes with a knee injury, but he told reporters this week that he was "optimistic" he will be able to play and officially is questionable for Thursday night.
He’s made 42 straight starts to start his career heading into Week 7, playing nearly every snap since his rookie season.
If Lawrence can’t go, it would be backup QB C.J. Beathard making his first start since late in the 2020 season with the 49ers. Beathard has completed 11 of 15 passes for 77 yards and one interception in eight relief appearances over three years in Jacksonville.
The Saints’ quarterback, Derek Carr, has also been durable throughout much of his career, but he also has been playing through pain this season. Carr suffered a right shoulder injury on a hard sack in a Week 3 loss at Green Bay. He struggled in a home loss to the Buccaneers but bounced back against the Patriots the next week and threw for 353 yards Sunday against Houston -- Carr’s high-water mark since arriving in New Orleans.
The Jaguars and Saints have met only seven times previously, with the Saints leading the series 5-2 and winning the past four matchups. The last time the Jaguars beat the Saints was in 2003, best known as the “River City Relay,” which featured one of the wildest finishes to a game in league history.
If Thursday is half as exciting as that matchup was nearly 20 years ago, we could be in for a treat.
Here are four things to watch for when the Jaguars visit the Saints on Thursday night on Prime Video:
- The health of the Jaguars, specifically Trevor Lawrence. Lawrence was limited in Tuesday’s practice and participated with a brace on his left knee, something he hasn’t previously done. But all indications are that Lawrence will try to play and work his way through the game. It could encumber his movement skill and running ability, the latter of which had been a bigger part of his arsenal this season. Lawrence has mostly carried on his 2022 success this season, but has averaged a fumble per game and has been sacked at a higher rate so far. Even if Lawrence can play, the offense will be shorthanded anyway, with linemen Walker Little (knee, out) and Brandon Scherff (ankle, questionable) and wide receiver Zay Jones (knee, out) banged up. The Saints' defense has been tough all season, holding five of six opponents to 20 points or fewer and forcing at least one turnover in every game. The Jaguars have the offensive weapons to withstand Jones injured, with Travis Etienne plus a trio of pass catchers -- Christian Kirk and Calvin Ridley and tight end Evan Engram -- who all have more than 301 yards receiving. The question will be up front, where the Saints’ D-line might have an edge.
- Saints looking for offensive identity, but with banged-up offensive line. The Saints benched first-round pick Trevor Penning last week, but it didn’t last long. Replacement James Hurst, who shifted from left guard, was injured early in the game, necessitating Penning to be reinserted. Then right tackle Ryan Ramczyk was evaluated for a concussion in the fourth quarter, bringing Nick Saldiveri into the game. It’s not clear if Hurst, Ramczyk, Andrus Peat or Landon Young will be healthy for this game. The Jaguars' Josh Allen is off to a great start this season, and Travon Walker and Roy Robertson-Harris also help fuel the pressure up front. This is what the Saints will face as they seek to gain more consistency offensively. They rank 26th in yards per play (4.6) and 28th in red-zone efficiency (36.8%). Carr is coming off his best statistical game as a Saint, working through an AC joint injury. Even with a high sack rate and some hot and cold performances, New Orleans’ passing game is less concerning than the rushing attack, which has struggled without Jamaal Williams, even with Alvin Kamara returning to the lineup.
- Jaguars defense thrives on turnovers but likely will be shorthanded. The last time the D was this impactful was the 2017 season, when the unit that fueled a run to the AFC Championship Game was nicknamed “Sacksonville.” This year’s Jaguars defense could use a good nickname, and it should center around its superpower to this point: taking the ball away. The Jags have forced a whopping 15 takeaways in six games, two more than any other defense. That’s a pace of nearly 43 turnovers for the season; no NFL team had more than Dallas’ 33 in 2022. The Jaguars have recovered seven fumbles (led by Angelo Blackson’s three) and eight interceptions (Andre Cisco and Darious Williams have three apiece). CB Tyson Campbell also has one pick, but will miss Thursday's game due to a hamstring injury, opening the door for Montaric “Buster” Brown to take his place. Brown, Williams and Tre Herndon will have their hands full with Saints WRs Chris Olave and Michael Thomas, who have been coming on lately. The Saints don’t turn the ball over at an alarming rate, with eight through six games, but five of those turnovers have come in the past two losses.
- Saints’ excellent defense will have hands full with Travis Etienne. Etienne arguably has been the Jaguars’ most valuable player this season, on pace for a career-high workload and ranking sixth in the NFL this season with 451 rush yards and five rushing TDs. The 215-pound Etienne’s 113 carries lead the league, and he’s likely to pad that total heavily with Lawrence and other offensive starters not 100 percent. The Saints defense has been among the better groups in the NFL, and they’ve been particularly stingy vs. running backs. Opposing backs have not scored a touchdown against them all season, averaging merely 3.6 yards per carry and 7.1 yards per catch. Derrick Henry managed 119 yards from scrimmage at the Superdome Week 1, but Etienne is not that type of back; expect him to have his work cut out for him. History also doesn’t shine kindly on Etienne in this building. Etienne grew up in Jennings, La., a few hours west of New Orleans, but his previous Superdome games have not been pleasant experiences. In college at Clemson, Etienne’s Tigers lost twice in the College Football Playoffs there – in the 2018 semifinals vs. Alabama and the 2019 title game against LSU. Then, in a preseason game at the Dome in Etienne’s rookie season, he suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury against the Saints. He’s likely hopeful that the voodoo magic against him in that stadium has been dispelled before kickoff.