Cardinals focused on starting fast against Trevor Lawrence, Jaguars

Sep 24, 2021, 1:39 PM | Updated: 1:42 pm

TEMPE — There are a few parallels when looking at the Arizona Cardinals and Jacksonville Jaguars.

Like the Cardinals did with head coach Kliff Kingsbury and quarterback Kyler Murray in 2019, Jacksonville is working with a first-time NFL head coach in Urban Meyer and features a No. 1 pick in Trevor Lawrence finding his bearings in the signal caller’s rookie year.

While the talent appears to be there under center, wins have been at a premium for the Jaguars, having lost the first two games of the new regime in 2021.

They may be on the opposite ends of the NFL standings, but that doesn’t mean Arizona can just coast by in Week 3.

Of the should-win games on the schedule, this is right up there at the top for the Cardinals, especially with the NFC West gauntlet beginning Week 4.

Much like the first two weeks, stopping the run is a top priority for the Cardinals defense.

“If the run game is working, it’s so hard to call a clean game because now the obvious pass downs become mixed downs,” Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said Thursday. “So stopping the run game early for a young quarterback is critical for us.

“That makes them one dimensional. Now, we can obviously play more pass downs and rush the passer and play coverage. If the run game is not contained, it makes it impossible to have a run-pass read on offense.”

Taking away Jacksonville’s running game has already proved successful for the Jaguars’ first two opponents, the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos.

Through two games, the Jaguars have compiled 151 rushing yards on 32 carries this season. James Robinson, who put up more than 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns over 14 games his rookie year in 2020, has just 72 yards off of 16 attempts in 2021.

That’s left Lawrence to shoulder more of the load early on in his career. And like a lot of rookie quarterbacks in his position, the growing pains are there.

Lawrence is tied for seventh with Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen for pass attempts (84) and is 33rd among NFL quarterbacks who have played two games this season in completion percentage (50%). The Clemson product has tossed four touchdowns to five interceptions and has rushed for 19 yards on four carries.

Lawrence’s NFL start has been a rocky one to say the least. That’s doesn’t mean it’s going to be a cakewalk for the Cardinals, however.

The signal caller was taken No. 1 overall in this year’s NFL Draft for a reason.

Just ask former Clemson teammate and Cardinals linebacker Isaiah Simmons, who isn’t underestimating Lawrence’s athleticism.

“His ability to run is something that not a lot of people talk about, but I know for a fact that he can run,” Simmons said Wednesday. “He can run the ball effectively. I guess something that’s kinda like shocking is his arm power is even better than his ability to run. I would consider him a dual-threat quarterback just from what I know he can do.”

A lot of eyes will be fixed on Lawrence as he makes just his third NFL start of his young career. The same can be said for an Arizona defense looking to start fast in Week 3.

After a strong showing against the Tennessee Titans in Week 1, the Cardinals’ defense was caught napping in the first half of Week 2’s matchup with the Minnesota Vikings, allowing Dalvin Cook to gash the unit on the ground before Kirk Cousins went over the top on the second play from scrimmage. Arizona righted the ship over the final 30 minutes, but needed some help from a missed 37-yard Vikings field goal to edge out Minnesota.

That type of luck is hard to come by in the NFL. The Cardinals know that.

“The first half was bad. It wasn’t good, but guys didn’t panic,” Joseph said of Week 2. “We got to halftime and made some adjustments and kinda just got refocused basically and it worked.

“The second half it was obviously half the yards, I think three points and 35 rushing yards. … The first half wasn’t good enough. They played faster and played better in the first half. We have to start better.”

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