‘Confident’ Jaguars ready to face struggling Saints

The Jacksonville Jaguars are heading in the right direction.

Meanwhile, the New Orleans Saints are struggling.

The Jaguars will try to win their fourth straight game when they visit the Saints, who have lost three of their last four games, on Thursday night.

“Their confidence is extremely high right now,” Jacksonville coach Doug Pederson said of his players.

The Jaguars (4-2) started the season 1-2, then won back-to-back games in London against the Atlanta Falcons and Buffalo Bills before returning home to beat the Indianapolis Colts last week and claim sole possession of first place in the AFC South.

Jacksonville leads the NFL with 15 takeaways and is second in turnover margin (plus-seven) and third in run defense (75.3 yards allowed per game).

“The team really in these last three weeks kind of figured some things out, figured out who we are as a football team,” Pederson said. “We’re beginning to eliminate some of those mistakes that happened early in the season.”

Pederson said quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who injured his left knee late in the game against the Colts and was limited at practice on Tuesday and Wednesday, would be a game-time decision. He’s officially listed as questionable, but the 2021 No. 1 overall pick has never missed a game in his career.

If Lawrence doesn’t play, C.J. Beathard would start in his place. He started 12 games with the San Francisco 49ers and had a 2-10 record during four seasons (2017-2020) with the team.

Guard Brandon Scherff (ankle) is also questionable for the Jags, who ruled out cornerback Tyson Campbell (hamstring), wide receiver Zay Jones (knee) and offensive tackle Walker Little (knee).

Linebacker Foye Oluokun warned that with the nature of the NFL, if the Jaguars don’t approach this game the same way they did the last three, the winning streak could easily end.

“It’s a week-to-week business,” Oluokun said. “So whatever we did last week is really pointless going forward because any team could beat you in the NFL. If you don’t bring in the right mindset going forward into next week and throughout the whole week of practice, a team can jump out on you.”

New Orleans (3-3) played its most complete game of the season in a 34-0 victory at New England two weeks ago, but offensive shortcomings that had plagued it going back to last season returned in a 20-13 loss at Houston last week.

But a long list of injuries will impact the team’s rebound attempt on Thursday.

The Saints ruled out tight end Juwan Johnson (calf), safety J.T. Gray (hamstring) and three offensive tackles: Ryan Ramczyk (concussion), Landon Young (hip) and James Hurst (ankle).

Safety Tyrann Mathieu (foot) and linebacker Demario Davis (knee) are questionable for New Orleans.

Last week, on the Saints’ last three possessions, they reached the Texans 11, 15 and 24, but came away without any points. The threats ended with a missed 29-yard field goal, a turnover on downs and an interception.

New Orleans has scored touchdowns on just 36.8 percent of its red-zone opportunities (28th in the NFL).

“That’s something that has to improve,” Saints coach Dennis Allen said. “That’s been our issue. We’ve been able to move the ball effectively at times this season and yet something happens that prevents us from being able to score touchdowns down there.”

The Saints outgained the Texans 430-297 but could not catch up after managing just two field goals after the first quarter.

Quarterback Derek Carr attributed some of the offense’s failures to communication issues.

“It’s not going the way I expected,” he said, “but we’re still 3-3 and a game out of first place.”