Trevor Lawrence saw his first NFL playoff action on Saturday night against the Los Angeles Chargers.
It did not get off to the best start.
The second-year passer threw four interceptions in the first half, as the Jacksonville Jaguars eventually fell behind the visiting Chargers by a score of 27-0.
The miscues came early, perhaps as fans were still settling into their seats. The Jaguars offense was on the field to start the game, and on the second play from scrimmage, Jacksonville dialed up a run/pass option design. Lawrence made the decision to pull and throw, and in retrospect, it might have been a poor choice:
Rather than hand off to running back Travis Etienne Jr., who has two pulling linemen in front of him, Lawrence pulls and tries to squeeze in an in-breaking route to Christian Kirk in the slot. Defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day gets a hand on the throw, tipping it into the air. Joey Bosa tips the ball as well, before it settles into the waiting arms of linebacker Drue Tranquill.
The Chargers would score two plays later to take an early 7-0 lead.
However, the turnovers were just beginning.
Jacksonville got a little offense going on their next possession, but faced a fourth down in Los Angeles territory. Head coach Doug Pederson kept his offense on the field on fourth down from the Chargers’ 33-yard line, and Lawrence tried to squeeze in a throw to Zay Jones.
Cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. had other ideas:
In fairness to both Lawrence and Jones, Samuel Jr. was, well, a little physical at the top of this route from the receiver. But instead of a flag coming to the rescue, the play stood as called on the field, and the Chargers were gifted another possession.
They would settle for a field goal to take a 10-0 lead.
The teams would then trade punts on the next two drives, setting the stage for the third interception of the first half from Lawrence. This interception is in part a result of great disguise from the Chargers defense. Earlier this season, we noted how defenses are doing a great job of disguising their intentions during the presnap phase of the play. One such way is when a defense will have a defender trail a receiver who goes in motion before the snap. This is a signal to the quarterback — typically — that the defense is in man coverage. However, defenses are getting better at showing that indicator, but dropping into zone.
On this play, the Chargers indeed trail Kirk, who goes in motion across the formation. They run a mesh concept, with tight end Evan Engram and Marvin Jones Jr. running shallow crossers underneath. This is a great design to throw against man coverage, which Lawrence expects given the presnap indicator.
However, the Chargers drop into a two-high zone, with Samuel Jr. in the flat. Lawrence tries to throw a crosser, and Samuel just reads the quarterback’s eyes and jumps the route:
ESPN’s Mina Kimes pulled the “dots” from Next Gen Stats, which show the motion before the play, and how Samuel just sits in his zone before breaking on the throw:
Trevor INT dots. Davis follows Kirk in motion, suggesting man coverage...Samuel plays cover 2 and jumps the pass. pic.twitter.com/rbVhCGFB4V— Mina Kimes (@minakimes) January 15, 2023
It was Samuel’s second interception of the night.
He would add one more a little later in the first half:
With the Jaguars now trailing by 24, Lawrence tries to squeeze in a throw on 3rd and 10 to Engram. But Samuel makes a diving interception, getting his body in front of the throw and forcing yet another turnover, the fourth from the hands of Lawrence.
Lawrence was not the only Jacksonville player turning the ball over, however. The Jaguars defense forced a punt following that fourth interception, but the ensuing punt went off the helmet of Jacksonville defensive back Chris Claybrooks, who was retreating to block for the returner, and the Chargers recovered:
Los Angeles would take advantage of the short field with another field goal, to take a 27-0 lead.
Jacksonville would finally reach the end zone before halftime, cutting the Los Angeles lead to 27-7 on a Lawrence touchdown pass to Engram. Could a comeback be the works, or will this just be too little, too late?
This is just the first NFL playoff experience for Lawrence, and with how quickly Jacksonville turned things around this season after the short-lived disaster that was the Urban Meyer Era, it is likely that the Jaguars are just getting started, even if they end up falling short against the Chargers.
But this first half of playoff football will be one that Lawrence will love to forget.