Blake Bortles is who we thought he was, and that's bad news for the struggling Jaguars
The Jaguars went all in on Bortles and so far, their faith hasn't been rewarded
In fact, Bortles is only tied for second in the league with nine giveaways through six weeks, one behind Derek Carr. Okay, actually, to anyone who has watched the length and breadth of his extended time in Jacksonville, this shouldn't exactly come as a surprise. It's simply more of the same.
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To everyone save for Jags ownership and team president Tom Coughlin and head coach Doug Marrone – who all decided to re-up with Bortles after the 2017 season, and, remarkably, empower him again and again – this comes as less than a newsflash. Because Bortles is not a good NFL quarterback, has ever-so-rarely even given the appearance that he might be a decent NFL quarterback, and the decision to entrust this team (and it's vaunted defensive unit) into his hands again could come with grave ramifications.
Luckily for the Jaguars, they still play in the AFC South, where mediocrity plays as quality given the historical grading curve required with these sad-sack reams, and where all four clubs currently carry a negative scoring differential into Week 7 (Cumulative division scoring differential: -69). Oh, and guess who else is tied with Bortles in the turnover race? Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson. The AFC South can't be stopped!
It's the division where teams routinely get together and conspire not to score touchdowns on offense, and even through that warped prism, it's still possible to make the case that Jacksonville has the worst starting QB in the division. Again, stop me if you've heard this one before. Same as it ever was.
If the powers that be in Jacksonville were willing to fool themselves after Bortles' brutal 2016, and then pretend that his 2017 playoff was some sort of a breakthrough, then there is no reason to anticipate them doing anything drastic now. It's almost impossible to do so, frankly at this particular position. They failed to add a younger, established back-up who could actually push him, and given the fact that eight wins might be enough to secure a home playoff game in this particular division, one would only imagine that the efforts to prop up the starter and distort reality will continue as the Jags battle their flawed AFC South foes through what should be another scintillating playoff race.
But it never should have reached this point. The decision to extend Bortles – even in so much as that extension truly provided nothing guaranteed beyond the 2018 season – threatens to doom a season that started with teammates like Jalen Ramsey guaranteeing a Lombardi Trophy. How bad is it? Let's take a look.
Marrone issued Bortles an apparently simple edict before the season – just don't turn it over. He throws eight picks and fumbles once in six games at a time when the Jags' running game is stunted without Leonard Fournette (who is far from a savior, I'd point out, and whose health has been in question seemingly since he entered the league). That's problematic … but hardly out of character.
Since Bortles entered the league as the third-overall pick, he has tossed 72 interceptions (in 68 games), most in the NFL, ahead of Philip Rivers (65) and Eli Manning (61). His interception percentage (2.9%) ranks 33rd, tied with Brock Osweiler and Trevor Siemian, and just a smidge better than Jay Cutler and Blaine Gabbert (3.0).
This is who is he, folks.
Since Bortles entered the NFL (from 2014-present), he ranks 34th with a passer rating of 80.8 – tucked between Brian Hoyer and Siemian – while completing less than 60 percent of his passes, averaging a modest 6.73 yards per attempt and with 99 TDs-72 INTs (his rating in 2018 is an almost-identical 81.1). The debate isn't – whether or not he should be the starter on a Super Bowl contender. It's not even – whether or not to keep him around at $18M a year. No, the salient question was, is and still remains: Is Bortles worthy of being an NFL starting quarterback, period? Could he beat out, in a fair fight, the likes of Josh McCown or Teddy Bridgewater or Chase Daniel or, gulp, dare I even broach the name of the quarterback the NFL tries to pretend doesn't exist, Colin Kaepernick?
Honestly, the crux of the argument is, if Bortles wasn't drafted as high as he was, and if the Jaguars didn't sign him to a pay-as-you-go extension with an immediate eject-pilot button in 2019, what precisely would have Bortles earned on the open market? And would there have been a single other team in the league who would hand him the starting job with no meaningful competition as the Jags did (Cody Kessler is the back-up in Jacksonville, lest you forgot)? And, well, I believe we all know the answers to these queries.
Only, the problem is even more acute now than ever. Because expectations have been ratcheted up to new levels in Jacksonville, and hopes were high after a couple of playoff wins, and they won't be able to keep this defense together for more than another year or two, and they don't have playmakers on offense, and Fournette is getting ruled out every Monday for the following week with this latest hamstring issue. And the defense gave up 70 points in two weeks, and, man, Ramsey was swag-free and barely audible after that 40-7 spanking the Cowboys feeble offense just put on them.
Now, gasp, what Marrone actually needs is more than a dude who doesn't turn it over. No, he desperately needs a gunslinger who can overcome the lack of a power run game, and not have the outcome be decided the moment the other team takes a two-score lead. What he must quietly wish he had, somewhere on his roster, was a quarterback who might be able to mitigate the fact that pass catchers like DeDe Westbrook and Donte Moncrief and James O'Shaughnessy are marginal NFL players, at best, despite them starting for this team, and undrafted free agent Keelan Cole isn't going to be able to bail out this quarterback, and just-signed Giants draft failure Ereck Flowers is not an NFL-caliber tackle, and all the money in the world they gave Andrew Norwell to play guard for them this offseason ain't gonna change any of that.
Suddenly, with the defense faltering, and when the Jags can least afford to have to play from behind, they are chasing games and Bortles is imploding. Since the Jaguars whacked the Patriots in Week 2, they are 1-3 and Bortles has a putrid QB rating of 75.51 in that span, with four TD passes, six picks and 13 sacks.
Here is what Bortles has done in the first half of the Jags' last three losses: 26-for-48 (55 percent) for 230 yards (4.79 per attempt) with no touchdowns, two picks and five sacks. That adds up for a rating of 49.83. No team can win that way, and this team as presently constructed certainly can't survive that, even against other offensively-strapped teams like Tennessee and Dallas. Against the Titans in Week 3, the Jags failed to score a touchdown. They bullied the Jets the following week, then failed to score on the suspect Chiefs defense until garbage time deep in the third-quarter while already trailing, 23-0. And then on Sunday they couldn't score in Dallas until trailing, 24-0, late again in the third quarter in garbage time and again facing a defense willing to sit back and concede yards and points to kill off the game.
Perhaps, things will get incrementally better whenever Fournette returns, though his availability has been a prevalent question. Maybe one of these receivers steps up to some large degree, as remote as that prospect seems given their limited pedigrees. It's conceivable the defense pitches a few shutouts and negates the possibility of the offense falling behind by 10 or 14 or 20 points at halftime.
They host the Texans and Eagles, two teams that can get after the quarterback, the next two weeks before their bye. Something had better change, and fast. But anyone thinking that Bortles will put the team on his back, or even morph into a merely average quarterback, to save the Jags is drinking whatever Coughlin and Marrone are. And if that's the case, at this point, you might as well make it a double.
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