There’s been a narrative going around that the Jaguars pass protection in 2016 was one of the reason’s Blake Bortles had a significant down year.
That narrative isn’t exactly true.
In fact, the Jaguars ranked around the middle of the NFL in terms of pass protection stats. Granted, there aren’t many true “stats” to grade an offensive lineman, but these offensive line stats from NFL.com and FootballOutsiders.com are telling.
According to the NFL.com stats, the Jaguars ranked 15th in the league in sacks with 34 sacks. The Oakland Raiders finished first with 18, and the Cleveland Browns finished last with 66.
Now, sacks can be subjective due to missed blocks by running backs, or the quarterback running into a sack on his own, but all in all, Blake Bortles didn’t dirty his jersey much compared to his two prior seasons: 55 sacks in 2014, and 51 in 2015.
Something to make note of: The Jaguars were the 28th most experienced offensive line in the NFL last year. This stat is formed by adding the number of combined career starts by each player with the most starts in 2016 along the offensive line -- The Jaguars tallied a combined 185.
For comparisons sake, the most experienced offensive line in 2016 was the Atlanta Falcons with a combined 481 career starts. The least experienced offensive line in 2016 was the Seattle Seahawks, with a combined 117 career starts.
Ranking again in the middle of the NFL, the Jaguars finished 17th in QB hits with 85. This stat, like sacks, can be subjective based on other factors, but QB hits fall more on the offensive line in terms of protection before the quarterback hits the ground, as the quarterback has the ball out before hitting the ground for this stat.
The Raiders, once again, ranked first in QB hits with 41, while the Browns, yet again, finished last with 140.
FootballOutsiders.com went more in-depth with their sack counts and offensive line stats. They ranked the Jaguars 27th in “adjusted line yards” with 3.47 yards per play, which is based on value from every run play and the distance the play went for.
However, FootballOutsiders.com ranked the Jaguars pass protection on the other end of the spectrum. Based on their “adjusted sack rate” statistic, which is determined by sacks/pass plays (including passes, sacks, and aborted snaps). The Jaguars ranked 9th in the NFL with an adjusted sack rate of 5.3%.
As you guessed, the Raiders ranked first in AS% at 3.4%, and the Browns finished last at 10.6%.
Based on these stats, the Jaguars seemingly weren’t bad at all at protecting the quarterback, and rather were simply average in comparison to the rest of the NFL in 2016.
According to Next Gen Stats via NFL.com, Bortles averaged 2.59 seconds between the snap of the football and his throwing release, which was the 23rd longest gap in the NFL. Logically, the longer the gap between the snap and the release is, the better the protection is. That doesn’t factor into how the quarterback takes advantage of the gap, though (See: Bortles’ 2016 performance).
Furthering my research, I reviewed each of Blake Bortles 2016 interceptions and timed how long he had in between the snap and his release:
Interception #1: Week 1 vs. Green Bay
Based on my iPhone stopwatch, there was a 2.46 second gap in between the snap and Bortles’ release. The pocket remains clean and Bortles is able to throw off of his front foot without having to escape the pocket.
This throw was a little behind the receiver (Marqise Lee), and was bobbled into an interception. Therefore, this pick doesn’t fall on the offensive line and rather on Bortles/Lee.
Interception #2: Week 2 vs. San Diego
Snap-to-release: 3.11 seconds
Description: Five man rush on 3rd and 4, Bortles receives some pressure on his blind side but is able to step up in the pocket and delivers a pass behind Marqise Lee. He gets hit after the throw.
At fault: Bortles for the bad throw after stepping up in the pocket, but offensive line allowed some pressure as well.
Interception #3: Week 2 vs. San Diego
Snap-to-release: 3.14 seconds
Description: Four man rush on 1st and 10, Bortles is given clean pocket to step into, completely underthrows pass to Allen Hurns for interception.
At fault: Bortles.
Interception #4: Week 3 vs. Baltimore
Snap-to-release: 3.8 seconds
Description: Four man rush on on 1st and 10, Bortles remains still after play action and underthrows Allen Robinson on a throw off of his back foot. One rusher generated pressure off of a combo block that Bortles could have avoided by rolling.
At fault: Bortles. Offensive line allowed only one rusher to provide pressure and Bortles could have easily avoided it.
Interception #5: Week 3 vs. Baltimore
Snap-to-release: 2.31 seconds
Description: Bortles wasn’t given much time to get this ball out before getting hit, and the pass to T.J. Yeldon was tipped at the line and intercepted.
At fault: Offensive line. Bortles wasn’t given much time before being pressured and A.J. Cann looked lost. Is it a coincidence the pass was tipped by the rusher right behind him?
Interception #6: Week 3 vs. Baltimore
Snap-to-release: 2.97 seconds
Description: Down 19-17 with 26 seconds left in the game, Bortles pocket is well protected and he throws the ball to a man-covered Allen Hurns. The safety jumps the pass thrown into traffic to seal the game.
At fault: Bortles. He had a very clean pocket and threw the ball into heavy traffic in the middle of the field.
Interception #7: Week 6 vs. Chicago
Snap-to-release: 3.88 seconds
Description: Bortles is given a clean pocket and plenty of time to pass the ball. His pass was definitely catchable, however a little behind Allen Robinson and it bounced off of Robinson into the defenders hands.
At fault: Both Bortles and Robinson. Had the pass been thrown more in-stride with Robinson, the ball likely wouldn’t have bounced out of his possession. However, Robinson needed to come down with this catch. The offensive line did a fine job on this play, however.
Interception #8: Week 7 vs. Oakland
Snap-to-release: 2.67 seconds
Description: Bortles is once again given a clean pocket and gets this ball out .08 seconds slower than his total season average. The ball is duck and thrown into triple coverage — Easy interception.
At fault: Bortles.
Interception #9: Week 7 vs. Oakland
Snap-to-release: 2.54 seconds
Description: Bortles’ pocket is kept clean once again. He steps into his pass and throws a decent pass to Robinson, but his dragged out throwing motion slowed the play down and the Raiders defenders made a good play on the ball. It is intercepted by former Jaguar Reggie Nelson.
At fault: Although Bortles’ poor throwing motion certainly affected not only this play but many of his throws on the season, this is a decent pass that the raiders simply made a good play on. No one of the Jaguars is really at fault.
Interception #10: Week 9 vs. Kansas City
Snap-to-release: 4.14 seconds
Description: Bortles has a lot of time and space to make a throw or move in the pocket against the five man rush, and instead Bortles gift’s this pick to the Chiefs’ linebacker.
At fault: Bortles. Chris Ivory was open on the check-down, and Bortles had both time and space to drag out the play rather than throw this ball.
Interception #11: Week 10 vs. Houston
Snap-to-release: 1.8 seconds
Description: Bortles picked up on the five man blitz and quickly threw far outside in the flats. Sure, there was some pressure here, but this pass was seemingly by design and the cornerback read it like a book.
At fault: Bortles? Play call? I can’t really make the call here, just seems like this play was a failure from the start. While Bortles was pressured here, there were several factors that caused the interception.
Interception #12: Week 11 vs. Detroit
Snap-to-release: 2.36 seconds
Description: Bortles stays still in his pocket with pressure absorbed by Jermey Parnell. This pass is thrown behind Marqise Lee and he bobbles it into an interception.
At fault: Bortles. The pressure is eliminated and he throws a pass behind Marqise Lee that Lee bobbles into an interception.
Interception #13: Week 11 vs. Detroit
Snap-to-release: 3.01 seconds
Description: Pretty much the same as the last interception. Bortles doesn’t have to move in the pocket and can step into his throw. His pass is behind Lee, who isn’t even looking for the ball until it’s out, and it’s bobbled into an interception.
At fault: Bortles.
Interception #14: Week 13 vs. Denver
Snap-to-release: 2 seconds
Description: Bortles gets this ball out quickly without much pressure. The pass was thrown on the inside of the cornerback, and Robinson bobbled the pass, leading to an interception.
At fault: Robinson. You’ve got to catch that ball.
Interception #15: Week 13 vs. Denver
Snap-to-release: 2.87 seconds
Description: Bortles receives pressure from his blindside and gets hit as he throws. Now, his read was horrible here and the cornerback was tightly covering Robinson, but since Von Miller got to Bortles fairly easily here, this one goes against the OL.
At fault: Offensive line.
Interception #16: Week 15 vs. Houston
Snap-to-release: 2.78 seconds
Description: Bortles has another clean pocket and time to work with, and with that he still underthrows his receiver and tosses his final interception of the year.
At fault: Bortles.
After re-watching and timing all of Bortles’ 16 interceptions from the 2016 season, it certainly looks like the pass protection wasn’t his issue in creating turnovers.
As I stated before, Bortles averaged 2.59 seconds between his snap and release all season, which ranked 23rd in the league. 10 of his 16 interceptions were thrown with a snap-to-release longer than his season average, and his average snap-to-release gap on interceptions came out to 2.87 seconds. Hypothetically, if you compare that outcome to every other NFL QB’s season-long snap-to-release gap, that would rank 45th among eligible QBs.
Based on the clips above, only two of Bortles’ 16 interceptions can be blamed on the offensive line for allowing too much pressure. The majority of the rest came on his poor throws and/or decision making, with a couple coming from the receivers as well.
In conclusion, the theory that the Jaguars pass protection was bad and was one of the reasons Blake Bortles struggled in 2016 is false. The run blocking was definitely abysmal, and hopefully it will improve this season with Cam Robinson at left tackle and a potentially shaken-up offensive line. However, protecting the quarterback was something the Jaguars were actually decent at last year.