The Jacksonville Jaguars offense has been out of sorts, to put it nicely, through the first three games of the season. There are a lot of factors why, but one of the big reasons has been the play of quarterback Blake Bortles. Bortles is coming off a season where he was second in the NFL in touchdowns and broke franchise passing records, and most thought the offense wouldn’t be something the team would need to worry about in 2016 and would carry the team while the defense gelled, but here we are three weeks in and the offense, and Bortles, are nearing a crisis level concern.
Fans have been quick to turn on Bortles, I’ve gotten a few e-mails about how the Jaguars should give Chad Henne another try or even throw Brandon Allen out there and see what happens. So the question has now become: Is Blake Bortles bad?
The answer is complicated, so lets look at what is wrong with Bortles so far this season.
He’s regressed, mechanically
Beyond the throwing motion that Chris Collinsworth harped on during the preseason on national television (which isn’t really a big issue), Bortles mechanics overall have seemingly reverted back to what they looked like his rookie season. He’s throwing off his back foot a lot, he’s sailing passes and he’s not squaring his shoulders. Bortles showed a lot of improvement in these areas last season after working a lot with QB guru Tom House in the offseason prior to the 2015 season and it paid dividends. This season, he’s just a mess.
He’s regressed, decision-wise
Coupled with Bortles sloppy mechanics he’s also making boneheaded mistakes that he wasn’t making last season. Yeah, he threw a lot of interceptions last season, but this season they look more like they did his rookie year. He’s focusing in on some players like Allen Robinson, naturally, which are leading him to miss open receivers for positive yardage and he’s forcing passes Robinson’s way without success. Certain zone coverage now seemingly just sends him into a downward spiral and he doesn’t know what to do.
The offense isn’t sneaking up on anyone
Part of the Jaguars offensive success last season was that the offense was a surprise to a lot of teams, just their sheer ability to pick up chunk yardage. Teams are keeping more players in coverage, both safeties back and/or shading players to Robinson’s side and both players are struggling to deal with it. Teams are now actively trying to take Robinson out of the game more so than they were last season and both players are trying to figure out how to deal with. That’s a double whammy because when Bortles isn’t comfortable with the look he has, his default is to look for Robinson which is leading him to force some passes his direction.
The offensive scheme is exacerbating issues
It’s clear the Jaguars offense in 2016 is schemed differently than the offense in 2015. Bortles completion percentage through three games is actually up significantly on the season, sitting at 62.2 percent, but his yards per attempt are down significantly. That’s because the team is running a lot more horizontal with their routes instead of the more intermediate and deep routes that we were used to seeing last season. In truth, this is a symptom of Greg Olson’s offenses during his different stops in the league, but what they’re doing is also exacerbating Bortles’ issues. He’s not a quick, short passing quarterback. It would be like if you asked Brett Favre to play like Chad Pennington. It just doesn’t work out very well. Bortles’ strengths as a passer are when he’s out of the pocket and the intermediate/deep routes. He’s a chunk yards passer, not a dink and dunk guy.
Bortles is too tentative
Coupled with a lot of the other issues, it now appears that Bortles is actively trying to not make a mistake. He’s late on a lot of throws he wasn’t late on before, such as those crossing routes to Marqise Lee that have ended up in interceptions, because he’s playing so tight. Usually when quarterbacks play like that, it causes more mistakes because it’s in their head. You can see when things break down into chaos and Bortles just plays off instinct, he seems just fine. I don’t know if the coaching staff has tried to get the risky throws and interceptions out of him, but whatever is happening is making it worse.
Bortles is trying too hard to make a play
Simultaneously to being too tentative, there’s also a point where Bortles is pressing and tries to hard to make something out of nothing, because nothing else is working. We saw some of this last season when it looked like Bortles thought the team absolutely had to score a touchdown every drive to have any chance of winning the game, in most cases because it was true, but you can see that creep back in this season. Take the sack at the end of the game against the Baltimore Ravens. It’s a bad sack that you can’t take and you have to have the situational awareness to just throw the ball to grandma. Instead, Bortles spins out of the first sack and is just trying to make a big play, because at that point in the game someone needs to for the Jaguars to have a chance to win. He’s put in a bad situation and makes it worse by trying to force things that aren’t there out of desperation.
So is Blake Bortles actually bad?
Yes and no. He’s struggling this year and there are a lot of factors to it, but he’s not a lost cause. Bortles showed enough last season and even some flashes this year of the talent that is there and I believe is salvageable. It may not be with Gus Bradley at the helm and Greg Olson calling plays, which is another reason I think a change needs to be made but that’s a different story, but I think there is enough there. This season for Bortles seems somewhat of a two steps forward, one step back situation and we’re in the middle of that step back. This season is a bit concerning, but it shouldn’t be so alarmist that we’re talking about dumping him three games into the season. He’s not at that level just yet, even with how poorly he’s played. If Bortles doesn’t get it together over the next few weeks however, we may be looking at a situation where 2017 is a legitimate “prove it” year for the young quarterback.
As a friend who knows more about football than I do put it when we were discussing Bortles’ future, the book isn’t written on him, but we’re definitely at a moment of crisis. How Bortles and the organization respond to that crisis is yet to be seen.