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Blake Bortles is insanely good at red zone passing

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Jacksonville Jaguars v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

When Blake Bortles earned a contract extension shortly after the Jacksonville Jaguars lost in the AFC Championship, there were a few emotions...

Fear.

Anger.

Hate.

Suffering.

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)

Player Team Comp Att Comp% Yards TD Int
Player Team Comp Att Comp% Yards TD Int
Blake Bortles JAX 32 60 50.79 250 18 0

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)

Player Team Comp Att Comp% Yards TD Int
Player Team Comp Att Comp% Yards TD Int
Tom Brady NE 56 90 58.33 358 26 0
Carson Wentz PHI 38 59 63.33 297 24 0
Jared Goff LAR 46 81 54.76 327 23 0
Russell Wilson SEA 41 73 54.67 298 22 2
Ben Roethlisberger PIT 48 89 52.75 314 21 1
Blake Bortles JAX 32 60 50.79 250 18 0
Andy Dalton CIN 30 57 47.62 194 18 1
Drew Brees NO 56 82 66.67 308 17 2
Kirk Cousins WAS 36 68 50 268 17 3
Case Keenum MIN 33 53 60 233 16 0
Dak Prescott DAL 33 61 47.83 241 16 3
Matthew Stafford DET 39 78 47.56 232 16 0
Jay Cutler MIA 31 53 55.36 201 15 2
Matt Ryan ATL 36 75 46.15 270 15 2
Eli Manning NYG 28 48 56 209 14 0
Philip Rivers LAC 36 70 50 239 14 1
Joe Flacco BAL 39 75 50.65 175 13 0
Alex Smith KC 33 71 44 207 13 0
Derek Carr OAK 24 47 51.06 127 12 1
Cam Newton CAR 30 62 46.15 211 12 1
Jameis Winston TB 22 44 45.83 203 12 0
Tyrod Taylor BUF 30 58 50 166 11 2
Trevor Siemian DEN 28 50 45.9 173 9 0
DeShone Kizer CLE 14 42 31.82 105 8 6
Josh McCown NYJ 23 41 54.76 148 8 0
Jimmy Garoppolo SF 25 45 55.56 151 7 1
Jacoby Brissett IND 15 43 28.85 123 6 1
Marcus Mariota TEN 24 49 45.28 186 6 0

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)

Player Team Comp Att Comp% Yards TD Int
Player Team Comp Att Comp% Yards TD Int
Blake Bortles JAX 42 72 58.33 285 19 2

Blake Bortles red zone passing (2015)

Player Team Comp Att Comp% Yards TD Int
Player Team Comp Att Comp% Yards TD Int
Blake Bortles JAX 52 96 50.98 368 27 2

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.

Summary

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.

Fin.

Again, thanks to Pro Football Reference for their insanely helpful stats.