Last Sunday, the Jaguars lost in disappointing fashion.
The Jags' first divisional match-up of the season turned out to be a close game (it shouldn't have been) that eventually yielded a bold mark in the "L" column (definitely shouldn't have happened).
I walked away from my T.V.
drunk with a familiar yearning to bang my head against a wall, as well as a strange obligation to apologize to myself for ever believing in a team that couldn't even beat a QB that was born before Viking 1 landed on Mars.
Still, somewhat amusingly, I didn't feel overly-perplexed or irritated with the offensive play calling.
Blake Bortles and T.J. Yeldon had blunder-free, reasonably-productive games. Yeldon passed the century mark for the first time in his young career, and Blake had arguably the most impressive half of his career in the first half. Jaguars offensive coordinator Greg Olson carried a balanced attack into Sunday's game -- one that should have yielded way more points, but the balanced attack we have all been longing for nonetheless.
I'm willing to chalk up Blake's mistake-free Sunday as a decent step in the right direction. However, this stride was completely dwarfed by the offenses' inability to get over the red-zone/second-half hump, as well as six separate drives into Colts territory without a single point.
Six drives into Colts territory without points. What.
Still, Blake Bortles found a way to distance himself from his performance against the Patriots in week 3, which is a testament to the "checklist" Blake has been referencing since the beginning of this past offseason.
Blake constructed this checklist during the offseason with his QB guru Tom House. The list refers to a set of proactive steps Blake can take when he loses grip on his grounded mechanics, or his game begins to tighten up. Bortles relapsed to a few bad habits against the Patriots in week 3, but took a step in the right direction within a more balanced offensive attack against the Colts.
Against the Patriots, we witnessed a few moments that could have been stamped "2014 Blake." Against the Colts, Blake displayed tendencies that more closely paralleled those of an actual NFL quarterback.
Here's a great example -- one of Marcedes Lewis' only catches of the season.
The play is set up in typical Greg Olson fashion. Clay Harbor bounces across the formation as the move TE, ultimately taking his spot stacked above Marcedes Lewis. I'll admit, I've really grown to like the pre-snap motion in Olson's offense and I'm beginning to understand the opportunities that this movement can uncover. Marcedes' crossing route is drawn out in red above.
At the snap, the edge rusher gets a good launch off of Luke Joeckel's side. Blake scans his first read to the right side, but will eventually target Marcedes Lewis, who is dragging the LB in single coverage across the middle. It's a quick, smart decision, but the most promising component to this sequence is Blake's footwork. The pocket is quickly closing in, but Bortles still takes time to turn his hips and aim the pass with his body. You can see Blake's adjustment in the frame below.
As Blake makes the decision to target his second read -- the Marcedes crossing route -- he rotates his body quickly to better place the pass. The frame above is a thing of beauty -- you can see exactly where the ball will end up, as Blake's hips are pointed to a spot a few yards infront of Lewis.
I have no doubt that this would have been an arm-pass last season, probably thrown into the linebacker's back. In this play, however, Blake reacts to the situation, turns his hips, and puts a bullet right into Lewis' numbers.
It's a simple play, but one that points to a more promising, consistent passing attack. Blake Bortles was bombarded with criticism concerning his footwork last season, and his effort to correct his mechanics has been a hot storyline through the preseason and the early part of the regular season. In plays like the one above, it's evident that Bortles' offseason work is paying off.
Even more criticism was placed on Blake's inability to throw the deep ball last season, and I think a lot of this criticism was misguided.
Bortles struggled with touch passes last season -- this is undeniable. However, the Jaguars also struggled to put themselves in position to truly unleash the deep passing attack. Slowing the game down for the quarterback by blocking positive plays together helps create opportunities in the passing game, and the Jaguars didn't have much success in creating consistent opportunities last year.
In fact, the Jaguars' offense was pretty inconsistent last season. The only times when the offense was consistent was when they were consistently bad.
Against the Colts on Sunday, however, the Jaguars were able to piggy-back plays into big-time opportunities. And, more importantly, the offense was able to take advantage of these opportunities.
The instance I am referring to started with a beautiful pass to Allen Hurns for 26 yards in the 1st quarter.
The Jaguars come out in a run-heavy formation. The two tight-end set (circled in yellow) features two bruisers -- Lewis and Nic Jacobs -- placed to the left. The Colts safety (circled in red) gets sucked into this run formation and loads the box.
The play features a play-action element. Blake fakes the exchange, and the Colts' safety is now stuck without an assignment. Meanwhile, Allen Hurns (green) makes his cut across the field. Look at Bortles' pocket. He has all day. All day. It's beautiful.
This is the moment that Blake begins his throwing motion. No pressure near him at all. Hurns is now separating himself from the defender. It might as well be Bortles and Hurns playing catch on the field alone.
Blake's pass is perhaps his best of the season so far. Perfect spiral, right on time, leads Hurns to the sideline. 26 yards.
The most beautiful thing about this play is that Greg Olson doesn't settle at it's conclusion. Olson immediately dials up a strategy to feed off of this momentum.
Here's the very next play:
Look familiar? It's the same set. Two tight-ends to the left, Yeldon in the backfield. You'd think that the Jaguars would punch the gassed Colts in the mouth with Yeldon here, but instead, the offense piggy-backs plays and takes another deep shot.
Play-action once again. This time, Blake starts to slide outside. Look at the Colts' safety -- thanks to the play before this, he immediately places his attention on the middle of the field. Allen Robinson is streaking down the right side, and the Jaguars now have a 50-50 shot.
Bortles hangs in and unleashes a perfect deep ball. The safety gets his head around and crashes deep right, but it's already too late. Allen Robinson beats his man -- a second-string cornerback who had just entered the game.
The ball falls right in front of Robinson, and he lays out to make the catch. Great play call, great pass, great execution.
However, the Jaguars fail to score a touchdown on the next three plays and settle for a field goal.
Blake's progress this season is visible -- it's hard to argue against it. The receivers are separating themselves more frequently, and Olson's system is all-around better than the system that was shoved into place last year. These are all ideas that accurately paint the Jaguars offense, and there are a few stats that highlight these points very well.
None of this, however, is enough to make a legitimate difference. On Sunday, the Jaguars could only score 13 points. The offense whiffed on opportunities to score touchdowns, and way too many trips into Colts territory resulted in no points at all.
Six, to be exact. Six drives past the 50, and 0 points. Unreal.
Make no mistake about it -- several components within the Jaguars offense look very much improved, but this offense is still very much a bad offense.
This, of course, could change as the season unfolds. There have been several flashes this season, and both Yeldon and Bortles put together steady games against the Colts. The Jaguars employ a young offense that could very well continue to grow as the season progresses. This is the expectation, I guess.
But losing, at this point, has nothing to do with season-long progression. The Jaguars failed to take advantage of a great opportunity on Sunday, and they are definitely not where they should be as a team right now.
An offense, of course, will only go as far as the QB takes it. Don't misplace your blame -- Bortles deserves his fair share as part of an offense that fell flat in the second half and failed to outscore Matt Hasselbeck.
Still, Blake Bortles made some great plays on Sunday and displayed components to his revamped game that mirror those of a long-term quarterback. Blake did some good things as he bounced back from his shaky performance in New England.
He just didn't do enough good things -- but hey, that's a discussion with a few moving parts, and one that invites it's own write-up.