JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- More Christian Kirk. That was Jacksonville Jaguars coach Doug Pederson’s proclamation after the teams’ top receiver had just three catches over the last two games.
Kirk has to be a big part of the offensive game plan each week for the Jaguars to have any kind of consistent production.
And, apparently, to win games.
“We still have to find the ways to get Christian the football,” Pederson said. “He’s such a dynamic player for us that we’re doing everything we can to get him the football. You don’t ever want to be in a situation where he has three or four targets. He needs to be up there -- nine, 10, 11 targets possibly.”
Kirk had 27 targets and 18 catches for 267 yards and three touchdowns in the first three weeks, which included big wins over the Indianapolis Colts (24-0) and Los Angeles Chargers (38-10). But since then, he has been targeted 12 times with three catches for 71 yards in the Jaguars’ losses to the Philadelphia Eagles and Houston Texans.
Kirk had just one catch for 11 yards on three targets against the Texans, despite the fact the Jaguars rolled up 422 yards and Trevor Lawrence threw the ball 47 times with 286 yards passing. Receiver Marvin Jones Jr. and tight end Evan Engram had 21 combined targets and 13 catches for 173 yards to make up for Kirk’s missing production.
Kirk obviously wants to catch more passes than he has the past two games, but he understands being the top target each week is unrealistic.
“It's a very week-to-week basis, and I can appreciate that,” he said. “Even the first day that I got here and I talked to [offensive coordinator] Press [Taylor] he was like, ‘Hey, look, there's going to be some weeks where you get 15 targets. There's going to be a week where you get three. That's just how the game goes.’
“And I understand that. That's what happens when you have three guys. And for us with Evan and Travis [Etienne Jr.] and all the weapons that we have there's going to be a guy that doesn't get that much [work] that way. But it's just how it goes.”
Though, Kirk is still getting open at the same rate he did in the first three games. Per NFL’s NextGen Stats, his average yards of separation from the nearest defender when the ball arrives in the last two games was 2.7 yards, which is just slightly lower than the 3.1 of the first three games. Pederson said there were times Kirk was open against the Texans but Lawrence went elsewhere with the throw. The Texans’ Cover-2 defense also prevented the Jaguars from doing some of the things they wanted with Kirk, Pederson said.
This week, however, the Jaguars play the Colts again -- the team Kirk had his best game of the season against in Week 2 -- six catches for 78 yards and two touchdowns.
That performance came against a defense that is designed to pressure with four players and also play a lot of Cover 3 on the back end. It also sometimes results in a linebacker matched up on the slot receiver, which is what happened multiple times in Week 2 and Kirk exploited that going across the middle of the field.
Lawrence is hoping to see that again this weekend. If not, he’s not going to force the ball to Kirk – though he knows they need to get him the ball more than they have the past two weeks.
“So it's important [to spread the ball around] for a lot of different reasons, but obviously Christian is a great player and we’ve got to get him the ball,” Lawrence said.
“You've kind of seen how productive he can be and how much he helps us when he gets a lot of touches. Any great player you have, you’ve got to find a way to get him the ball. He's no secret. People have seen what he can do so it's not going to sneak up on anybody, but for us it's just how do we put him in really good situations to succeed, to be open, [and] to get touches.”