After giving fans some things to think positively about, it’s time for the reality check and dream crushing ‘Reasons to be Fearful’. We started so effusively with the Jags who look vastly different to this time 12 months ago. Though there this optimism, it isn’t all sunshine and cats in sunglasses in northern Florida. Let’s look at three things Jags’ fans should be fearful of heading in to the season.
Blake Bortles is coming off the back of his breakout year. Statistically, Bortles took leaps, bounds and other types of jumps forward. Finishing with 4,428 yards and 35 TDs, he completed 58.1% of his passes and had a decent 7.3 yards per attempt.
However, he also threw for 18 INTs and has 35 in his last two seasons (across 19 starts) which leads the NFL. Whilst you could say he is forcing the balls because the Jags have often been losing, that’s the same logic for his TD total too – they have to throw the ball when behind.
So which is true? Both. Also, though much has been said of the fact that Bortles pads his stats in garbage time, that isn’t necessarily true. Yes, he has a good number of passing yards and TDs when trailing by seven points or more but conversely he has plenty of ability to make things happen in competitive games. What is more important is his footwork, technique and decision-making. To illustrate, he was sacked 51 times last season. That’s massive! He is a big guy and so proved durable but to be taken down so often points to a number of factors, some that are on the quarterback, some that aren’t. Bortles has to take some of the blame even if he has been affected by shaky line play. Indeed, he deserve praise for not becoming a quivering mass of anxiety in the face of any people walking towards him, such has been the punishment he has taken through two seasons.
But it isn’t just the line. You can read copious analyses of Bortles’ footwork and the problems therewith. He makes some baffling throws, truly baffling. Sometimes it looks like pressure or he simply doesn’t see or the moment gets the better of him and his mind can’t override his muscle memory.
He does have that (trope alert) ‘gunslinger’ mentality which is great for his downfield wide receivers (see Jags Reasons to be Cheerful) but if Bortles can’t be smarter and protect the football better (remember, those sack and INT totals together aren’t all on other people) then the Jags offence, whilst doing great things for fantasy teams, will find themselves in track meets.
Bortles could have a fabulous season, and he will need to if the Jags are to have a shot at a +.500 record, but there are warning signs that he may struggle.
A second round pick last year and the free agent signing of a big bruising back, why would this not be great news? Well, a few things would have me sound caution on the running game.
The offensive line is improved but not fantastic and their ability to create lanes will be crucial for the two main backs, TJ Yeldon and Chris Ivory. They need to be guided through because I don’t think either are spectacular at making guys miss. Yeldon as a rookie struggled and Ivory likes to roll over guys (more on that below) rather than juke and jink his way past them.
Yeldon featured in 12 games last year and posted disappointing figures of 740 yards and 2 TDs. He clipped along at 4.1 yards a carry, good for 29th in the NFL but didn’t look like he had the strength to get through to the second level, busting out for only four 20+ yard carries on 182 attempts, or one roughly every 65 attempts. Though he was acclimatising and could make a step forward, Yeldon didn’t flash on tape in the way that promising (if frustrating) rookie RBs often do.
Ivory is a different beast. He ran for over 1,000 yards, run home 7 rushing TDs, ranked 20th in YPC and had 9 rushes of 20+ yards. So what’s the problem, am I right?
The problem is this – Ivory is a banger, a bruiser and he breaks down easily. You could see last season that, if not 100%, he couldn’t get through guys and his legs looked like he was trying to run in deep sand. His recovery time seems to be a while too. At his best, he is a beast, at worst he can’t get on the field and when he does, it is to little effect.
Behind these two there is not much. Denard Robinson has been a good contributor on special teams and has done ok in spots in the backfield but, as was always predicted when he came out of Michigan, his speed, whilst fantastic both straight-line and football wise, doesn’t adequately compensate for his size and strength. Jonas Gray is currently on the roster but I wouldn’t be holding my breath that he makes the final 53.
So, a rookie who disappointed and a guy who can’t stay healthy leading a converted QB and a roster bubble candidate. That’s why I’m worried about the running game.
Those eagle-eyed readers may recall I noted this as a reason for cheer for the Jags and it is. But looking at something on paper is one thing, the reality of the improvements of your opponents is another. Oh, and actually, you know, playing the damn games.
The Jags have the =23rd toughest slate based on winning record last year. However, this translates to playing the NFC North & AFC West with their two comparative fixtures being Bills and Ravens. Whilst neither of those latter teams are that former strength, that which they are, they are….sorry, I can’t go a week without crowbarring some part of Ulysses by Tennyson in to some aspect of my writing…but suffice to say that I’m not overly clear of the distance between the Jags, Bills and Ravens at this point.
Obviously, there are six games against the Colts, Texans and Titans and it would be certainly sensible to think they have a fair crack of going 3-3 or 4-2. But then facing road games at the Bears, Bills, Chargers and Chiefs looks like a 1-3 return (perhaps besting the Bears?) but also easily 0-4. Then they have Broncos, Packers, Raiders, Ravens and Vikings at home…yikes. I mean, based on what you see and think, 2-4? At best? So if we saw 3-3 in division (would be 4-2 but they go to London for one home game), 1-3 on the road and 2-4 that’s a six win season against a beastly schedule.
Thus, the strength of schedule on the face of it appears to be sign for hope but the reality of who they are actually facing could put this young, exciting team to the test. I for one am really interested to see how they stand up to it.
Gareth Duxbury enjoys football both American and Association. Follows Washington in the former, Sheffield Wednesday in the latter. His love of QB play only topped by his fandom of Inside Linebackers. He tweets from