The Jacksonville Jaguars look to be a lock for the AFC playoffs, but can they do any damage once there with their limited offense?
Numbers deceive. They deceive all the time.
For example, the Jaguars are ranked sixth offensively at 370.8 yards per game. They are buoyed by a dominant run game behind rookie star Leonard Fournette, averaging 163 rushing yards per game, 20 yards better than the next-best team.
On the surface, you would say not to worry about Jacksonville’s 23rd-ranked passing attack, because in the playoffs, you win with a run game and defense.
Through that prism, the Jaguars should be the favorite to win Super Bowl LII. Nobody has a better defense, with Jacksonville ranking third in yards allowed and first in points surrendered per game. They also top the league in passing yards allowed per attempt (5.9) and sacks (35), thanks to a collection of free agents and high draft picks.
So why isn’t Jacksonville getting more love? Why aren’t the 6-3 Jaguars, who are tied for first place in the AFC South alongside the Tennessee Titans not commanding more respect?
There are a litany of reasons that range from pedigree to unproven head coach in Doug Marrone, but the real reason lines up under center. Nobody believes you can win a Super Bowl in 2017 with Blake Bortles, and that assertion has some merit.
Now in his fourth NFL season, Bortles is still well below-average. The former Central Florida star has thrown 11 touchdowns against seven interceptions. He’s completing 58.6 percent of his throws, ranking 30th among qualified passers. His yards per attempt is 24th, checking in .01 yards ahead of Trevor Siemian.
But, ultimately, all of this is academic. Jacksonville plays an absurdly soft schedule moving forward and will almost certainly reach the playoffs for the first time in a decade. In that context, all that matters is what can the Jaguars do once there?
On Sunday, Jacksonville won a wild 20-17 overtime thriller over the Los Angeles Chargers, who invent new ways to lose every week. Here are two plays from Bortles that exemplify who he is, and what we might see from Jacksonville when it counts.
It’s 3rd and 5 from the Jacksonville 43-yard line, with no score in the first quarter. The Jaguars come out in 11 personnel, giving the defense a 2×2 look. The idea here is to clear out the middle layer for Marqise Lee’s drag route across the field, coming right to left. He is Bortles’ first read on this play.
Los Angeles bringing a blitz, rushing six. It’s Cover 1 behind it, with man coverage across the board and Tre Boston playing center field.
On the snap, we see tight end Julius Thomas chip Joey Bosa (right side of line). On the open side of the formation, Keelan Cole (No. 84) is running a corner route, while Allen Hurns runs a fly pattern. These routes are designed to both clear out the left side (where Lee is headed) and to occupy the deep safety. It works beautifully.
Lee breaks wide open. The Jaguars need the 48-yard line for the first down, something that is a given should Bortles make even a passable, on-time throw. But he’s Bortles, so despite a perfect pocket, he doesn’t throw. He doesn’t even think about throwing.
Look at that giant yellow circle. That’s a hoard of players heading downfield, leaving a huge gap for Lee to run into. He can also catch the ball and quickly turn upfield. If only Bortles would throw the ball.
Bortles is just now throwing the ball, allowing the corner to take a good route toward Lee and close the gap significantly. It’s also a much tougher throw now because of the angle. Bortles is also showing poor technique, not leading with his non-throwing shoulder. His left foot and left shoulder should be pointed upfield, toward Lee. Instead, his body is completely open.
The result is a bad, high throw. Lee can’t run through the tackle and ends up falling a yard shy of what should have been an easy first down. This gets forgotten because Jacksonville won, but the Jaguars can’t do this against better teams.