The NFL is back in London, as a pair of embattled Florida teams, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Miami Dolphins, square off looking to get their seasons on track.
Last week, we delved into the history of the NFL in London and, with the help of former NFL players and current BBC NFL presenters Jason Bell & Osi Umenyiora, looked ahead to the NFL’s first London showdown of 2021, which pitted the Atlanta Falcons against the New York Jets.
This weekend, the Jacksonville Jaguars are back, for a record eighth contest on English soil. They’ll be taking on their in-state rivals, the Miami Dolphins. Neither team’s season has played out according to plan so far. The Dolphins’ path to disappointment has been largely a traditional one, defined by by injury – namely, to second-year QB Tua Tagovialoa – and serious underperformance by the presumed strength of their squad, the defense.
Jacksonville, meanwhile, entered the season with their eyes fixed firmly on a bright future. After all, they’d just drafted a generational quarterback prospect, Trevor Lawrence, with the first overall pick in the NFL Draft, and hired one of the best college coaches of all time to guide his development. Sure, contention was always going to be a ways off, but 2021 promised to be a season of optimism and excitement as fans watched the next great Jags team come together.
Alas, on the heels of positively brutal start to the season, the Jaguars produced a pair of encouraging and spirited performances that fell just shy of victory. Things looked to be on the up. That is, of course, until the aftermath of the second of those games, which took place in Cincinnati. Rather than accompany the team back to Florida after the game, Meyer strangely opted to stay in Ohio, where his family lives, in order to ‘spend some time with the grandkids’. Of course, that Saturday night, at his own restaurant, he was captured hanging out with decidedly not his grandchildren. The Jaguars’ as-yet-winless season has since devolved into a mess of downtrodden press conferences, lacklustre apologies, public scoldings, and incessant speculation as to whether Meyer is long for the NFL.
As part of last week’s media roundtable, Bell & Umenyiora also weighed in on the current situations and future prospects of the Florida-based sides set to do battle at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Thanks, once again, to both men.
- Career path: Dallas Cowboys (2001), Houston Texans (2002 – 2005), New York Giants (2006 – 2007)
- Position: defensive back
- Career path: New York Giants (2003 – 2012), Atlanta Falcons (2013 – 2014)
- Position: pass rusher
- Major trophies/awards: Super Bowl champion x2 (XLII, XLVI), Pro Bowl x2 (2005, 2007)
Q: Looking forward to next week’s game: Is there any way back for Urban Meyer?
OU: Of course. Of course there’s a way back. We all make mistakes. He made a mistake that the whole world was privy to, which isn’t an ideal situation. But he’s a grown man, and I think he’ll 100% be able to bounce back. He is a fantastic football coach, let’s not get that twisted. Look at the overall trajectory of his career, and what he’s been able to do in college.
Obviously the Jaguars are 0-4 right now and I think it’s going to take a little while before Trevor Lawrence actually achieves his potential. But they’ve got a good coaching staff and he (Meyer) is a good man – he’s not a bad person because he made a mistake. So is a way back for him? I think so, and I think we should cut him some slack.
JB: And he’s a great communicator. That’s what he’s always been in college. So really what he has to do is communicate with his team, understand them, and re-establish himself as their leader and as somebody who wants to see them be successful. We’ve both been in the locker room, it’s all about those conversations with your coaches, and that trust. He can go back and re-establish that.
Q: Along a similar lines, though setting aside last weekend in Ohio. A concern with Urban Meyer coming into this season was, after experiencing such an insane run of success in college, how would he deal with losing? This, of course, applies to most high level college coaches. Typically, when these guys jump to the NFL, they’re not taking over contenders. Meyer’s now got to get used to taking losses in stride. He lost something like nine games in seven years at Ohio State. If they lost more than one game in a season, it would be seen as a disaster. In Jacksonville, they’re going to lose more than one game every month.
JB: Yeah, that’s the hard part for him as the head coach, that’s what everybody’s questioning. Does he have the stomach to do this? And I think he does. The main thing that’s so different for head coaches coming from college is how they allocate their time. NFL coaches spend a lot of time in the building, in the facility, while college coaches are spending about 25% of their time recruiting.
He’s just getting used to that. But the staff he’s brought over have a lot of NFL experience. But it just takes time. I mean, he’s trying to build a franchise. That’s why he’s there. He’s done this before. I saw what he did when he went to (the University of) Utah. He’s a guy who’s an organisation builder. He can do the same thing here, but it takes time.
This year, it’s all about looking at Trevor Lawrence, seeing exactly what he does well, and then rebuilding the offense around what Lawrence does well in these years to come. This is all about growth. And that’s why it’s exciting to watch them to see how they keep improving.
Q: Which of the rookie QBs have you been most impressed with? Obviously we’ve got Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson coming to London. They’ve both had ups and downs so far. What have you seen from them thus far that you particularly like, and that would bode well for a long-term career in the NFL?
OU: For me it would have to be Mac Jones. I think he’s in the best situation, there’s no doubt about that. He has the best coaching staff, and he’s almost tailor-made for that football team. I think long term, he’s going to be the answer for the New England Patriots at the quarterback position. If I was a betting guy, and had to say that one of these guys is going to have more success than the others, it would be him, simply because of the situation that he’s in.
In terms of talent. I know people think it’s Lawrence, but Zach Wilson is the more talented quarterback to me. Lawrence was supposed to be more pro ready, and I do think he’s displayed some incredible attributes. But for me, it would have to be Mac Jones first, and then Wilson.
JB: I like Mac Jones, too, but I really like Trevor Lawrence. I’m a Trevor Lawrence fan. What I’ve seen on film is a guy that’s taken risks each week because he’s had to, but isn’t hesitant to keep throwing the ball. And he seems to improve his decision making a little bit every week.
This is what we heard about Patrick Mahomes early on. We’d hear that, in practice, Mahomes was throwing a ton of interceptions every day. But that’s part of figuring out how to throw the ball in NFL. It’s hard! The windows are much smaller. So I like the fact that he’s out there doing that, week in and week out. Also, for a guy that’s 6’6″, he is so athletic. He can run and that is the key. He’s just figuring it out. They’re going to build this team around him, and I really like his future. If we were doing the NFL Draft over again, I’d for sure take him number one, no doubt.
Q: What can Miami do to fix their offensive struggles? Obviously they’ve got Tua (Tagovailoa) coming back in Week 6, which should help.
OU: I think the Dolphins are now in an interesting situation because the quarterback. I’m not sure whether or not Tua’s the right quarterback for this offense. Tua was a fantastic player at Alabama, and they drafted him highly (#5 overall in the 2020 Draft), but I’m just not 100% sold on him as a long-term solution for that franchise. But we do need to give him a little bit more time, to see if he’s able to realise his potential.
Defense is where this team was supposed to hang their hat, and they haven’t played as well defensively as we expected them to, especially after the way they played last year. They do have a fantastic head coach (in Brian Flores), there’s no doubt about that, and good ownership. I think this team is only going to get better, but we just need to give Tua a little bit more time to see if he’s their quarterback of the future. If he’s not, they’re going to have some decisions to make.
JB: Yeah, I think for some teams it takes the first quarter of the season, those first four games or so, to figure themselves out, and figure out what they can and can’t do. I think that’s what we’re witnessing with the Miami Dolphins.
I’m with Osi – and it’s hard for me to say because I really want Tua be the guy – but I don’t know if they’re sold on him. They built the offense around his skill set as a distributor, but I’m not sure they’re sold on him. And I don’t know that they’re using Jaylen Waddle the way he should be used. It’s going to be interesting.
I think in this next quarter of the season they’ll be able to figure out who they are and what they are, and we’ll see if they can improve from there.