I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Bortles, in his fourth year, was still making plays that were costing us winnable games. You can’t turn rewatch losses against the New York Jets, Arizona Cardinals, or Tennessee Titans and think that with even average quarterback play those are double-digit victories.
And yet here we were — handing Blake three-year contract worth $54 million that locked him into the starter spot for the next two years. That’s about how long we have for this defense to be as special as it was last year. Why were we seemingly wasting it and not at least trying to get better at the quarterback position.
Then I looked at Blake’s red zone passing numbers and his efficiency close to the goal line and I had to admit that despite his warts, Blake does probably the most important thing in football very, very, very well.
I was intrigued by zero turnovers in the red zone. A touchdown every 3.3 pass attempts. The sixth-most red zone touchdowns in 2017. The fourth-best completion percentage from inside the 10-yard line.
The Jaguars passing offense was — dare I say it? — excellent in the red zone and his efficiency forced me to watch all 63 drop backs last year to see if it was truly because of Blake or some fluke of receivers, running backs, or defenders.
Blake Bortles red zone passing (2017)
Thanks to Pro Football Reference for all the stats, play-by-play, notes and more!
These are the raw numbers. While impressive, they actually under sell Bortles as a red zone passer.
In 63 drop backs in the red zone, Blake was sacked three times and attempted 60 passes. Of those 60 pass attempts...
32 were caught.
13 smart throwaways.
6 drops or incompletions due to fault of the receiver.
Only nine of Bortles’ pass attempts were truly bad throws, bad reads, or tipped at the line.
Heck, only one of the sacks was actually his fault.
If even half of the passes that were dropped were caught by the receivers, Bortles ends the year as a 58.3 percent passer in the red zone and gets into Tom Brady territory in terms of efficiency. As it stands, he’s already at the top of the league in nearly every statistical category — a little more from his receivers and he’s even better.
All red zone passing (2017)
Note: I only have here quarterbacks who attempted at least 40 passes in the red zone in 2017.
And here’s the thing — he’s been good at it for years!
Blake Bortles red zone passing (2016)
Blake Bortles red zone passing (2015)
Over the last three seasons, Bortles is a top-five quarterback in the NFL when you factor together touchdowns he’s thrown per pass attempt, turnover ratio, and completion percentage.
This isn’t some fluke. The Jaguars’ passing offense and its top-tier efficiency in the red zone is most linked to Bortles’ ability as a passer. He’s that good in the red zone — and with the right offensive philosophy elsewhere (as well as an elite defense on the other side of the ball) he’s the right guy to build a team around over the next two seasons.
Again, thanks to Pro Football Reference for their insanely helpful stats.