The biggest surprise of the season for the Jacksonville Jaguars has got to be not only quarterback Blake Bortles play as of late, but the offense as a whole, all things considered. During the preseason, most everyone was in a panic about the Jaguars offense because it had been a complete dumpster fire. The team could run the football, neither of the quarterbacks could hit the broad side of a barn and the offensive line was in shambles.
Then in the first week of the season the Jaguars lost wide receiver Allen Robinson for the season to an ACL injury. The passing game in Week 1 was almost non-existent and that carried into Week 2 before exploding in London in Week 3.
Many thought Week 3 would be the turning point, but it dipped right back down the next two weeks. Now, to be fair against the Pittsburgh Steelers the passing game really didn’t need to do anything and for all intents and purposes with its 95 passing yards, it didn’t.
The real gains in the Jaguars offense, namely the passing game, have come over the past three weeks. The team has consistently passed for about at least 250 yards for 63 percent or higher completion. A lot of people have been trying to pin point what happened to make the switch flip, but I think Ryan O’Halloran of The Florida Times-Union hit the nail on the head during a segment of O & O on 1010XL Tuesday evening. O’Halloran posited that it’s necessarily anyone getting better or developing, but the offense having had to reset themselves after the loss of Robinson for the year.
While I don’t think the Jaguars are running true mesh concepts and I haven’t totally dug into the All-22 just yet for a Jaguars example, this is a pure example of what I’m talking about from the king of mesh, Mike Leach.
Just little things like the above, making the decisions and the throws that much easier for the quarterback.
if bortles waited a second for this to develop he would've seen tennessee's busted coverage on the mesh. walden spying, no one on lee. pic.twitter.com/BmF9fk0PJS— charles mcdonald (@FourVerts) September 20, 2017
I’ve made mention over the past few games that Jaguars offensive coordinator Nate Hackett has seemed to find the set of plays that Blake Bortles is comfortable with and can consistently execute and has incorporated various versions of them within the offense. Have you noticed how often the team seems to roll Bortles to the right with some levels concepts giving him some easy targets? What about some pseudo mesh concepts, with players crossing the field and creating natural picks and open space for the quarterback to throw into? Those aren’t really things you’re going to have Allen Robinson doing, especially if he’s the focal point of your passing game. He’s going to be running the deeper route trees down the sideline and deep middle of the field.
The Jaguars losing Robinson forced them to completely change their passing game, because it has shifted so many other players to roles they simply didn’t fit. The team had no one else really like Robinson they could use, so the whole section of the playbook for him is essentially scrapped. You’re left with adjusting the playbook and game plans on the fly, which is likely why the offense appeared so discombobulated in the passing game outside of the run game, which is really what carried them with the defense until about three weeks ago. Sure the Baltimore Ravens game saw the passing game light the other team up, but they were also starting from midfield most of the game, so that makes it a lot easier.
I think Blake Bortles overall is pretty much the same guy he’s always been, with flashes of brilliance while simultaneously making you ask what the hell he was thinking, but the latter has been a lot less than we’re used to because Hackett is making it easy on Bortles. Bortles had been on pace to throw interceptions at about the same rate as he has in his career, but that rate is slowly sinking as the weeks go on because the Jaguars aren’t asking him to make those kinds of throws he has normally been picked on and he seems to make more of a conscious decision to not make those risky throws because he doesn’t have to. That’s kind of a double edged sword with Bortles however, as his willingness to attempt those throws often resulted in huge chunk plays.
I was very skeptical the Jaguars would be able to change Bortles into a game manager type quarterback, because that just feels to be the antithesis of what he is at his core, but over the past few weeks you can see that transformation happening. Luckily it’s been a smooth transition where the games are either close or he’s playing with a lead, so it still remains to be seen what happens when the team has to play from behind. We’ve only seen that twice (I’m not really counting the Los Angeles Rams) and it didn’t work out.
The team has been able to lean on their run game, but if the passing game can just maintain being “functional” at minimum the rest of the season, the Jaguars may not need to show us how they play from behind.
I personally still don’t believe Bortles is a long term answer at the position, but it’s still way too early to talk about things like extensions or keeping the fifth-year option at this point. But for now, he’s doing exactly what they need him to do and that’s all that matters.