Pump the brakes on the Jags, there are still too many flaws
Yes, they were one game away from the Super Bowl last year, and they do have the best defense in the NFL, but the Jaguars have some work to do to prove they are still a Super Bowl contender.
This in no way means that I think the Jaguars are a bad team, because they are not. They have gone from being one of the laughing stocks of the league, to one of the most feared teams in a matter of a couple years. Thanks to fantastic drafting by the front office (reeling in cornerstones Jalen Ramsey, Leonard Fournette, Yannick Ngakoue), and value free agency signings (Andrew Norwell, Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson), the franchise has suddenly found greener grass.
However, there are still plenty of holes and weaknesses on this football team, and I will not trust them as a contender until they are fixed.
This is what Jacksonville will need to fix in order to make it in the postseason:
Quarterback, Quarterback, Quarterback
The fact that Blake Bortles even gets any praise at all just baffles me. Playing the quarterback position with the league’s best defense behind you makes it a lot easier to get away with playing the way he does, and he has done that all throughout his career.
However, I’m not going to take anything away from him. He did take his team to the AFC Championship game in which they nearly dethroned the Patriots to reach Super Bowl 52. This was an impressive accolade for Bortles, and once again he defeated the Patriots in their week two matchup.
BUT, he did this riding the league’s most feared defense.
On the Jaguars’ defensive side of the ball, there are playmakers at EVERY. SINGLE. POSITION. Jalen Ramsey, AJ Bouye, Tashaun Gipson, Myles Jack, Telvin Smith, Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, Marcell Dareus, Malik Jackson… The defense is the reason that the team went as far as they did last year, especially since they ranked just 17th in passing offense.
Now this isn’t to credit everything to the defense, as the offense was also first in the league in total rushing yards and rushing yards per game in 2017. However, it did help that the defense was giving up the lowest average yards per game to their opponents at just 259 per contest, according to ESPN.
Blake Bortles is just simply average. He’s not good, he’s not great. He does just enough to get his team by, and had he been a little bit more aggressive this past year, the team might have reached the Super Bowl against the Eagles. If the Jaguars want to go further in the playoffs, Bortles must do more to complement his defense.
So far in 2018, he has been very Blake Bortles like, as his inconsistency from last year has carried over 2018. Each game that Bortles has played this season, his passer rating has been a roller coaster over the first five games. Posting a rating of 67.2 in the first game, 111 in the second, 72.5 in the third, 114.8 in the fourth, and 54.7 in the game against Kansas City, his play has fluctuated too often.
This type of inconsistency is unreliable for a team that is vying for a playoff spot, especially when Bortles is turning the ball over so much, and the jaguars will realize this by the end of 2018.
The Jaguars defense has been fantastic these past couple of years. Making quarterbacks uncomfortable and sticking like glue in man coverage is their specialty, which is what makes them one of the most feared units in the league.
However, what is concerning going forward is the team’s inability to force turnovers.
Not only are they not forcing turnovers, with only five total takeaways in as many games, they also lead the league with 12 total turnovers.
While this may be a reflection on the performance of Blake Bortles thus far (8 total turnovers himself), it is also a reflection on the defense’s ability to make key plays for their offense. Putting Blake Bortles in the best possible spot on the field is crucial in the success of the offense, and the defense has to do a better job of getting the ball back in their quarterback’s hands.
The talent is there, and the Jags have ball-hawking playmakers in the secondary. However, the defense has to be able to force turnovers to help limit the turnovers on offense.
Keeping the momentum is a game changer, and your defense has to put all the momentum into Bortles’ hands.
There have been many little yellow flags thrown this NFL season, and many of those have been a result of the new roughing the passer rule that was established this year. However, while the rule has been controversial and disliked by most of the players, you have to abide by the rules and adapt.
According to nflpenalties.com, Jacksonville is fifth in the league in penalties against them, and third in penalties yards against as well. For a team that has to be able to keep the momentum with Bortles at the helm, penalties can be a real momentum killer. Losing fifteen, ten or even five yards can really kill a developing drive, and Blake Bortles is not confident enough to throw the ball more than fifteen yards downfield.
Penalties can also cause frustration and stubbornness when a player is penalized, which can also have a negative effect on the rest of the game. Jacksonville has quite a few animated players, especially on the defensive side of the ball, and sometimes their passion can get in the way of what really matters.
The Jaguars will continue to be aggressive, and aggression can sometimes come at a cost. That cost will hurt the Jaguars more than most teams, as the quarterback play in Jacksonville is average at best.
This year is much different than last year
Unfortunately for the Jaguars, Blake Bortles is still Blake Bortles. While the defense is still as dominant as it was last year, the offense has lost key players to injury (Fournette, Lee) and free agency (Robinson, Hurns).
For this team to be successful in the AFC, they need to surround Blake Bortles with as much talent as humanly possible. He isn’t going to put the game on his back and win a game on his own, however, with the right weapons and protection he can play to his full ability.
The Jaguars will still win the AFC South handily, but I do not see this team making it very far in the playoffs. There is not enough spark on offense to convince me that they have improved in that department since last year.
Look for the defense to continue to do all of the work for the team this year. It will take them far, as it will for years to come, but it is difficult to win in the postseason with an average quarterback.
Jacksonville is not as good as they seem, and until Blake Bortles shows that he is more than just a rollercoaster ride, they will stay that way.