All offseason I refused to let myself get too “in” on the Jacksonville Jaguars. I liked a lot of their moves in the offseason, I was befuddled by their lack of attention at the quarterback position, but otherwise I completely understood everything that the team was doing and could see the big picture. I consistently felt like they should probably win somewhere between six or eight games, but a lot of it would be dependent on the play of much maligned quarterback Blake Bortles.
Essentially, the team would sink or swim with his performances at quarterback. I had a saying I would repeat when people would get upset at me for being “negative” but I refused to let myself be fooled again because I’d been fooled so many times in the past, so I wanted to see it before I bought it.
I would repeatedly say: The Jaguars are bad until they aren’t.
Well, they aren’t.
The Jaguars are good again.
We all knew the Jaguars defense was going to be good and do most of the heavy lifting, but I don’t think anyone expected it to be a potential all-time great defense that straight up just kicks the other team’s ass more often than not, pardon my French. The Jaguars defense is able to completely take over games and suffocate the other team. In all five of the Jaguars wins, they’ve won by double-digits (in the “close” wins) and in their three losses, outside of a game that snowballed at the end, they’ve been within striking distance to win at the end. They’ve been a team who can completely obliterate the team’s they very clearly over match and play close with teams close to their equal.
It’s not just all the Jaguars defense doing this, either. While they’re usually the vehicle that keeps giving the offense chances, the past two games the offense has been able to beat up on inferior competition, which is something the team struggled with in the past.
I’m not ready to say Blake Bortles has turned a corner and is now a franchise quarterback, but over the past few weeks he’s seemed to regain a lost confidence thanks in large part to the defense giving him chance after chance, but offensive coordinator Nate Hackett has found what Bortles is comfortable with and stuck to it. Bortles isn’t really doing anything jaw dropping or amazing, but Hackett and company have found a way to mitigate his short comings and incorporate them into the offense.
Sure, he still has his misfires and near interceptions, but those are becoming fewer and far between as the team has integrated the things he can execute consistently. We haven’t seen any pick sixes, in part because the team has cut out those plays that Bortles would normally get picked on. The team has incorporated a lot more shallow crosses that create separation for him to throw into, as well as a lot of plays with natural spacing and picks.
The team has made the offense easier for Bortles and he does not need to take all those crazy risks or make those tight window throws that he needed to previously. He’s playing a lot safer as well, but not to a detriment. He’s hitting on his checkdowns and taking what the defense is giving him, way more-so than he has in the past, and I think that’s because the coaching staff has made things easier on him and helped him build up that confidence he very clearly lost in 2016.
We don’t see flappy arm “oh no not again!” Blake Bortles, but we see the Blake Bortles who’s pissed off and in his coach’s face because he couldn’t pile another touchdown on the team they’re beating up 23-7 at the end of the game.
Mind you, this has been without Leonard Fournette being active for two weeks.
Sitting at 5-3 and tied for first place in the AFC South means that the Jaguars are now in a sprint with the Tennessee Titans for the division crown which will likely come down to that late season showdown in Nashville.
Either way, looking at the Jaguars schedule and how they’re starting to hit their groove, anything less than the playoffs would be disappointing.