JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In the NFL, it all comes down to the quarterback. Bad teams with good quarterbacks have a chance. Good teams with bad quarterbacks usually don't. Great running backs don't take you to the Super Bowl. Walter Payton needed an historic defense to carry his Bears to the championship game. Barry Sanders never got there. Quarterbacks make the difference at the highest level.
So for the Jaguars, it's all about Blake Bortles. The first round, third overall pick looks and acts the part. He's tall, he's fast enough. His arm is getting stronger and he has that ‘it' factor that's not easily defined, or found when it comes to professional athletes. He likes playing the game but more importantly, he likes playing the position with all the responsibility and criticism that goes with it. Win and the QB usually gets too much credit. Lose, and he usually takes too much of the blame.
When Bortles entered the game against Indianapolis in the second half down 30-0 at home, he threw two touchdowns and two interceptions but gave fans hope. It's rumored that Shad Khan after the game in the elevator when asked how he felt said, "A lot better now. I've seen the future." And that pretty much summed up what everybody associated with the franchise was thinking. "It's going to be OK."
But in the subsequent eight games, Bortles production has regressed. He's still capable of playing at a high level, but his production has gone backwards. How does that happen? On one hand, defensive coordinators have a bit of a sample group to look at what Bortles can do and they devise a game plan to attack that. Simple enough, and usually talented players at QB eventually overcome those changes. Sometimes.
Bortles has moved from that free and easy initial feeling when he took over into a fog of whirling defenders and a cacophony voices in his head. He wants to be aggressive, that's his nature, but he doesn't want to turn the ball over. He admitted as much this week saying he wanted to "think less" when he's out there. All quarterbacks get into this fog as their career progresses. They have the ability, they see what's happening but they have just the slightest bit of doubt creeping around in their thought process that keeps them from making the best decision at that moment.
But the good ones come out of it. And that's what we should look for with Bortles over the last five games of the year. In that span, he should peek his head out of the fog a few times and see things pretty clearly. He's not fragile either physically or mentally, so he won't melt down like some other QB's have done in this stage of their career. He won't lose confidence. Head Coach Gus Bradley and Offensive Coordinator Jedd Fisch have tempered their criticism of Bortles a bit this week, perhaps hoping he'll start to move out of that fog on his own.
I'm pretty confident Bortles is the right guy for the job. He has the tools and the psyche, as well as the moxie to be a QB in the NFL. He'll need some help, especially at wide receiver sometime soon. If teams are going to play eight defenders at the line of scrimmage, like both Dallas and Indy did in successive games, and play press man coverage on the WR's, it's up to the wideouts to beat that coverage and get open. But they're not and that leads to tough decisions being made by Bortles.
Look for the Giants to do much of the same today against the Jaguars. They'll try to bottle up the running game and make Bortles and wide receivers try and beat them. The Jaguars will counter with trying to run the football and rolling Bortles out of the pocket a bit, putting guys in motion and using Marcedes Lewis as a target to give receivers some space and create matchup problems for the NY secondary.
That's the chess game today. Giants coach Tom Coughlin believes that if his team can control field position and force the Jaguars into long drives, eventually his defense will do something to turn the game. Or the Jaguars will make a mistake and turn it over.
Run the football, move Bortles out of the pocket and don't turn it over, pretty simple keys for the Jaguars today.