The Jacksonville Jaguars offense has been in a state of disarray the past two weeks, and in reality for every game outside of two this season. The offense looked great against a slow New England Patriots defense, eating them up with crossing patterns, and had some explosive plays against the New York Jets, but outside of that the offense has left a lot to be desired.
A big part of that has been the play of Blake Bortles, who quite frankly hasn’t been very good outside of those two games and was pretty bad the last two weeks.
But it’s not all Bortles’ fault.
There are shortcomings around him on the offensive line, players dropping the ball, and some weird play calling tendencies, but he himself also struggles and exacerbates the rest of the issues on the offense.
Bortles has also fallen back into his windup being a big issue and leading to a lot of batted passes at the line, which in turn has also lead to an uptick in interceptions because of balls tipped in the air.
There’s also been some case of where it’s clear Bortles is determining where he’s going with the ball before it’s even snapped, which has led to some ugly interceptions like the one on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys into triple coverage.
But we don’t need to hash out where Bortles ranks in average-ness, how good or bad he is, or even how much of the blame pie he should be getting. It’s not all his fault. There have been some issues on the offensive line and some of the receivers have dropped passes, or just outright aren’t what they thought they were getting as a replacement for certain plays.
But he is the starting quarterback in his fifth season in the NFL and recently signed a contract extension, so he’s going to get the brunt of the criticism.
A big problem with Bortles’ struggles however have to do with how the team built the offense around him — he was almost doomed from the start and it should have been clear there was a non-zero chance of that happening.
If you look back at how the Jaguars approached the offensive side of the ball, it’s kind of stunning. I think we can all agree that Bortles falls in the below-to-average area of quarterbacks in the NFL and he needs success around him to do well. He will have a few spikes where he just shreds a team when everything goes right, but if stuff around him is failing you’re going to see him really struggle. He’s just not a guy who’s going to elevate those around him and that’s fine. You can win with those guys, but you have to really insulate them from being relied upon.
That’s somewhere the Jaguars failed this season. I recently wrote about how the injuries for the Jaguars shouldn’t be the cause for tanking the offense, and I still stand by that, but when you couple those injuries with the gambles the front office took this offseason, it’s clear why you’re getting what they’re showing on offense.
Getting rid of good wide receivers
The first big gamble was moving on from wide receiver Allen Robinson and paying both Marqise Lee and Donte Moncrief. I don’t want to re-hash the whole argument again and I’m not going to pretend Robinson is lighting it up in Chicago (though, considering he’s coming off the ACL he’s doing just fine) but the Jaguars offense clearly misses his ability to make contested catches. The team currently doesn’t have a player on the roster who can do that with some consistency and they continue to try throwing them to Moncrief even though it clearly does not work and is not something he’s great at.
Then you paid Marqise Lee, who has been hurt every single season he’s been in the NFL and even when he’s healthy has been pretty average. Regardless, while it was a surprise Lee suffered a season ending injury in the preseason, it shouldn’t have been a surprise he ended up missing time. He has every single season he’s been in the league. I understand once the team let Robinson walk they had to do something at the position, but paying Lee and Moncrief has currently blown up in their face.
(Note: Since it’s always asked, according to my sources, the Jaguars had a similar offer on the table for Robinson to that of what he signed for in Chicago, but the Jags offer hinged on a lot of incentives where as Chicago’s didn’t.)
Revamping the tight end position
Another area the team took a big gamble on was the tight end position. It’s a position they haven’t utilized much with Blake Bortles, but when the team signed Austin Seferian-Jenkins we thought we’d have a nice one-two tight end combo with he and Marcedes Lewis, but then the Jaguars inexplicably released Lewis late into free agency. The team added Niles Paul (now on IR as well) as a special teams guy and depth at tight end, but otherwise left the tight end position untouched and kept only three tight ends on the roster.
This is a team that wants to primarily run the football and they cut a useful blocking tight end, went light at tight end and the tight ends they did keep were primarily of the receiving variety.
Going light at running back
Then you have the gamble at the running back position that has been an issue for a few weeks. The team entered the season in essence with two true running backs, both of which have had issues staying healthy in their NFL careers. It was very odd that the team not only kept six wide receivers, only three tight ends, and then only three (two) running backs as a team that wanted to run the football.
Where do we go from here?
So you know that you have a limited quarterback who is going to need help around him, but you take huge gambles at receiver, tight end, and running back. I’m sure they were calculated gambles, but it’s not like these weren’t questioned in the moment. There was lots of discussions around letting Robinson walk and the receiver position. Lots of discussions about releasing Marcedes Lewis and not really filling his role and lots of discussion about the curious decision to only keep three running backs on the final 53-man roster.
We all know Blake Bortles has limitations and needs help around him. We all know when he’s not getting that help the chances of the offense being a disaster is high. The Jaguars front office should know this too, which makes their gambles and that more head scratching. They present themselves and talk about wanting to be a run first football team and just need Bortles to not turn the ball over, but then a lot of the moves they made this offseason flew in the face of that.
The gambles they took on the offensive side of the ball in the moment were peculiar and as it stands right now, appear to being going bust. There isn’t much the team can do in the moment to rectify some of these issues and as long as the offense continues to struggle, it’s going to bleed into the defense struggling and in turn will produce some ugly results.
In short, the Jaguars need to figure out how to effectively score points on offense with what they have, and they need to do it quickly.