With the Jets getting set to visit the Jaguars in Jacksonville, I was able to ask Ryan O’Bleness of Big Cat Country a few questions on the state of the Jaguars.
1. How are things going for Blake Bortles? I was in the camp that thought the best move for the Jags would be to make an all-in move for a proven passer. Is he validating the front office’s belief in him? Can the Jaguars step forward from a playoff contender to champions under his lead?
I get a similar question almost weekly. Blake Bortles has been plagued by inconsistent play throughout his entire career. He is the kind of player who often takes a big step forward for one week or one stretch, and then two steps backward the following week or stretch. For example, in Week 2 against the New England Patriots, Bortles carved up the Pats for 376 yards and four touchdowns without the benefit of Leonard Fournette in the backfield. He then followed that masterful performance up with a dud against the Tennessee Titans. With Fournette out again, Bortles missed some easy throws, and totaled just 155 yards through the air on a day where the Jags were only able to muster six points in the entire game.
That is what Bortles is, and probably always will be -- inconsistent. When he’s on, the Jaguars are near unbeatable, but when he’s off, it makes you question just how far this team can go. To answer your question, I think that Blake earned the contract extension with his play last season, and I would say yes, this team can win it all with Blake at the helm. But I would also say that he is the single biggest variable from week-to-week and can ultimately be the reason for this team’s demise. It’s also important to remember that in addition to Fournette’s hamstring injury, the Jaguars have a depleted offensive line (including losing left tackle Cam Robinson for the season due to a torn ACL), lost No. 1 wide receiver Marqise Lee for the season, and are dealing with other injuries. That’s tough for any quarterback to deal with, and the blame shouldn’t completely fall on Bortles. I’ve always had the mindset that Bortles is the right fit for what the coaches want out of their quarterback in this offense, but understand there are potentially better options out there.
2. How has former Jet Austin Seferian-Jenkins done? Here in New York, fans were torn on him. He caught a lot of balls and brought production the Jets hadn’t had at tight end in a long time, but he had an absurdly low yards per catch rate and on the whole didn’t seem to be an impact player.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Bortles developed a nice chemistry throughout training camp, with ASJ often coming up with highlight reel type grabs throughout the summer. Unfortunately, that hasn’t translated too much against real competition. Seferian-Jenkins caught a touchdown pass against the Patriots, but hasn’t had more than 25 yards in any game. He’s had exactly five targets and three catches in each of the first three games of the season. His longest catch of the year is for 13 yards. All of that said, I think it’s important to realize what the Jaguars want to do on offense -- run the ball down your throat. Unfortunately, that’s been hard to do with Fournette on the shelf. But ASJ is a plus-blocker, and has really worked on improving in that area since joining the Jaguars, so that helps the team as well. He currently has a Pro Football Focus grade of 74.4, which ranks him as No. 10 in the league and is considered in the “good” tier. So while his receiving numbers may not always be pretty, he can help the team in other ways.
3. How has the void left by longtime Jaguar Paul Posluszny been filled?
Myles Jack has moved to the middle linebacker role full-time this season, and by all accounts, has played very well. Jack would come in for Posluszny on nickel packages last season, but now plays there in base packages as well. His sideline-to-sideline speed, incredible athleticism and prowess in pass coverage makes him a nightmare for opposing offenses. Poz is beloved in Duval, and he should be. He’s the franchise’s all-time leading tackler and was a leader. I think his leadership is what is missed most. Posluszny’s level of play was diminishing a bit with each year he got older, and he was on the field less and less as he was somewhat of a liability in pass coverage. Weak-side linebacker Telvin Smith has taken on more of a leadership role in the linebacker room and for the defense as a whole. Overall, Jaguars fans will always remember Poz, but we are more than happy with the dynamic linebacker duo of Smith and Jack. Rookie Leon Jacobs is starting at SAM (strong-side linebacker), but hasn’t played a ton of snaps yet.
4. Who has Leonard Fournette been? The ridiculous size, speed, and ability is there. The accolades are there. The star power is there. But to this point, has he really had a star-type impact for the Jags? His efficiency numbers are low, and until this past week, the Jaguars were playing extremely well when he wasn’t on the field. How good has he been so far, and where can he be better?
The efficiency numbers don’t look great for Fournette, but that’s not all his fault. He faced more eight-man boxes than any other player in the NFL in 2017. Jacksonville was running its offense through Fournette in Week 1 of this season against the New York Giants before he left the game in the second quarter. Once he was out of the game, the offense sputtered. The Jaguars were able to take advantage of a suspect New England defense and fire on all cylinders in Week 2, but then in Week 3, Fournette’s presence was missed against the Titans as the Jaguars struggled to get anything going -- through the air or on the ground. His durability has been an issue, though, as he dealt with an Achilles injury last season, and now a hamstring issue currently. He had similar issues in college. T.J. Yeldon has done an admirable job filling in for Fournette, but he is dealing with an ankle injury himself. Fournette struggled a bit with his vision and to create for himself at times last season, so that’s an area he can still improve in. But, for the most part, I have a lot of confidence in Fournette. He can beat you with speed or power, and the Jacksonville offense is much better off with him on the field.
5. What happened against Tennessee? Was there anything that led to the loss that is a legitimate cause for concern going forward, and what were the main takeaways from the game both positively and negatively?
That is the million dollar question. For whatever reason, the rival Titans have the Jaguars’ number. Tennessee was also able to sweep Jacksonville last season, despite the Jags still winning the AFC South. The Titans just seem to matchup really well against the Jaguars. This past weekend, the Jaguars played lights out on defense. Jacksonville allowed just nine points and 233 total yards, including a mere 83 yards through the air. “Sacksonville” also had three sacks, and allowed just five third down conversions on 15 attempts (33 percent). But the offense was abysmal. The Jaguars totaled just 232 yards (145 yards passing and 87 yards rushing). When you only score six points, you’re not going to win a lot of football games. Titans defensive end Jurrell Casey said the game plan was to shut down the run and put the game in Bortles’ hands, and that’s exactly what they were able to do.
I think the main takeaways are that A.) we still can’t trust Bortles to be consistent; B.) the Titans still own the Jaguars; C.) the Jacksonville defense is absolutely elite (as if there were any questions there); and D.) that the offense is better served with Leonard Fournette on the field despite the Week 2 explosion. Hopefully the No. 1 running back will play against the Jets.
6. Which players are the primary weaknesses on both the offensive and defensive sides?
As much as I hate to say it, Bortles is always going to be the question mark and perceived weakness of this offense and team for the reasons I’ve already mentioned. On defense, nickelback D.J. Hayden missed the last game. Hayden had been playing very well, so his absence makes the secondary take a hit. The aforementioned rookie, Jacobs, is a bit of a question mark as well. But fortunately, the Jaguars are so sound on the defensive side of the ball across the board, positions that aren’t always on the field such as SAM and nickelback, are the biggest concerns, and that’s a good problem to have.