The Jacksonville Jaguars were good in the red zone last year. As in, better than almost every other team in the league type of good — and no one contributed to that than quarterback Blake Bortles, who is an extremely volatile player. That is, he can go stretches where he would be considered one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the league and then make a decision that is so mind-numbingly frustrating that all you can do is scratch your head and wonder if you’re even watching the same player.
For 80 yards on the field, Bortles goes back and forth between great and awful, but in the red zone — those final 20 yards before the goal line — Bortles seems to flip a switch and I’ve always wondered how that can be.
This week, we’re taking a look at several aspects of this year’s Jaguars team with the help of Football Outsider’s Andrew Potter who was kind enough to try and explain what makes Bortles so much more effective and productive in the red zone.
The closest I can offer to an explanation is that Blake Bortles is a high variance passer. That is a beneficial trait for a below-average quarterback, and it shows up in his red-zone numbers. Bortles ran or threw for 20 red-zone touchdowns in the regular season last year, to only eight first downs.
Despite a completion percentage only slightly above 50 percent, 18 of his 32 completions resulted in touchdowns. His play-action splits mirror this — 14 play-action passes resulted in seven overthrows or throwaways, one first down, and six touchdowns. This strongly suggests that he is being coached to look for the end zone, and to throw the ball away if the pass is not there.
This combination of coaching and high-variance play has worked out well for Bortles in the red zone so far, but he is the same quarterback inside the 20 that he is on the rest of the field.
What do you think? Will Bortles’ effectiveness in the red zone continue into 2018, or will teams finally figure out how to shut down the most redeeming part of Bortles’ play?