The Jacksonville Jaguars could be 3-1 as easily as they are 1-3 if their offense had at least plateaued to where they were last year. But they’ve regressed — and nowhere is that more obvious than in explosive plays.
And it’s not just Blake Bortles (although he is a problem and we’ll get to him later) because if you look around, you’ll see an offensive line that’s less consistent, a quarterback who at time is playing like a rookie, and skill players who are getting shut down by opposing coordinators with the Jaguars unable to adapt.
While all of the above was true last year, it was explosive plays — plays of 20 or more yards — that covered a multitude of sins. It was explosive plays that made the Jaguars offense look better than it was last year. And it’s explosive plays, when taken away, that are causing the offense to tread water through the first quarter of the season.
There’s no question that Blake Bortles has regressed from last year. He was making adequate decisions and completing throws just an inch or two closer so receivers could bail him out. This year? He needed to elevate the players around him instead of vice versa and it just isn’t happening.
Take for instance this Week 3 throw against the Baltimore Ravens. It’s the middle of the first quarter and Bortles is getting a good look thanks to an aggressive play call by offensive coordinator Greg Olson. His fastest receiver in Marqise Lee is flying down the middle and if this is on the money it’s a touchdown.
Instead, it’s woefully overthrown.
A lot of Bortles’ 72 throws of 20 yards or more last year were contested catches that relied less on Bortles’ accuracy and more on Allen Robinson or Allen Hurns going up and taking the ball away from the defender.
Now that most of Bortles’ attempts of 20 yards or more rely on timing and accuracy, we’re seeing how the young quarterback’s regression is contributing to a lack of explosive plays by the Jaguars offense.
We saw right away in Week 1 that opposing defenses were going to target Allen Robinson heavily this year. There were dozens of blown pass interference calls by the Green Bay Packers alone and it was obvious defensive coordinator Dom Capers centered his gameplan around stopping him by any means necessary.
Green Bay mugged Allen Robinson over and over. These are back-to-back plays in the first quarter. Tempo set early. pic.twitter.com/x12wcFd9pU— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) September 12, 2016
Capers got lucky. The NFL admitted later in the week they blew the game, but not until after the Jaguars lost.
It continued in Week 2 when the San Diego Chargers swarmed Robinson and Bortles looked unable or unwilling to look elsewhere for a primary target. And as it stands, the leader in receptions of 20 or more yards through the first quarter is Hurns with four. Robinson has just three.
That’s a stark contrast to last year when Robinson finished the year with 31 and Hurns had 19. Opposing defenses are taking away Bortles’ chance to throw it up to Robinson for a 50-50 opportunity and it was a bigger part of this offense than we may have realized last year.
The running game is just bad. It was never meant to carry this team in terms of plays for 20 or more yards, but when you’re getting one or two yards on first or second down, it doesn’t set you up to face a defense that’s on its toes wondering whether you’re going to throw or run in a short-yardage situation. And that guessing game by the defense is what sets up favorable matchups for the receivers and tight ends.
Not only that, but Greg Olson’s strength as an offensive coordinator came when he could implement play-action and read-option plays... two things that don’t work when your bell-cow back is averaging just 3.2 yards per carry and your team is rushing for 75.3 yards per game.
T.J. Yeldon has been #not #good through the first three games, rushing for just 84 yards total and a 2.4 average. And he’s the team’s leading rusher.
Unless Chris Ivory can inject something into this running game, opposing defenses are going to have an easier time covering the Jaguars’ deep threat in Allen Robinson, and Blake Bortles is going to struggle without the safety valve that is his best receiver.
An offense can’t be built on explosive plays. But it was a big part of what kept the Jaguars in games last year and now that it’s missing — thanks to Blake Bortles’ regression, teams targeting Allen Robinson better, and the running game’s ineffectiveness — we’re seeing a team that is leaning too hard on its young defense and special teams to be a contender in the AFC South.