Coming into the 2018-2019 season, the Jacksonville Jaguars were expected to be a top-5 team in the NFL. Heading into their week 6 matchup against the Cowboys, the Jags are 3-2 and searching for answers on the offensive side of the football. At the center of their offensive woes is 5th-year quarterback Blake Bortles, who thus far in his career hasn’t exactly lived up to the expectations placed upon him.
Drafted 3rd overall by the Jaguars in 2014, the 6’5 signal-caller was expected to be the centerpiece of a Jacksonville rebuild. Now in his 5th season, Bortles has struggled to find consistency and limit his turnovers. While many expected Jacksonville to seek other options at quarterback in the offseason, the Jags showed they were committed to Bortles, signing him to a 3 year $54 million extension.
“Blake’s growth and development last season was a key to the success we had as a team”, stated Jaguars executive VP Tom Coughlin in a February statement. “Blake has proven, with toughness and dependability, that he can be the leader this team needs going forward. Along with this contract come high expectations that he will continue to improve and help our team accomplish its ultimate goal.” The organization clearly felt that Bortles was ready for a breakout.
But at this point in the season, he’s thrown eight touchdowns and seven interceptions and is still struggling to move the offense. Known for his odd throwing motion and slow release, Bortles continues to throw far too many interceptions and have too many of his passes knocked down by opposing defensive lines. This has been problematic for the Jaguars team, who has been without star running back Leonard Fournette for most of the season with an injured hamstring. With Fournette unavailable, Jacksonville has had to lean heavily on the passing game.
The Jaguars’ mediocre performance on offense is not solely on Bortles’ shoulders though. The offensive line just hasn’t been able to keep pressure off Bortles in the pocket. Left tackle Cam Robinson was lost for the year with a torn ACL and his replacement, Josh Wells, will also be out for a couple weeks. Bortles has also been without his #1 receiver Marqise Lee, who suffered a season-ending knee injury during a preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons. Things will only get harder from here, as the Jags will be without tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins for at least 8 weeks and running back Corey Grant, who suffered a season-ending foot injury in last week’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
With injuries starting to pile up, the Jaguars will need Bortles to find a way to step up his game. Great quarterbacks find ways to overcome adversity to win game. This separates the men from the boys among NFL quarterbacks. Last week, Bortles had a disastrous outing, throwing four picks against the league-worst Chiefs defense. This prompted a sharp criticism from former New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan. “This guy is a turnover machine”, argued Ryan in an interview with ESPN. “This guy is just holding that thing back.” And this is coming from the guy who coached Mark Sanchez!
Given his tendency to crack under pressure, one can only wonder how long Jacksonville will continue to keep Bortles as their franchise quarterback. Fans continue to show their frustration with him and the Jaguars coaching staff are fully aware of his deficiencies. The Jaguars have assembled one the league’s best defenses, but fears are mounting that they are wasting this window of opportunity by continuing to commit to Bortles at QB.
At times, he has shown that he can play with the best of them. Bortles runs very well with the football, averaging 6.4 yards per carry over his career. He played relatively well in his postseason debut last year, throwing 3 touchdowns and no interceptions in 3 games, which was good for a 91.0 QB rating.
But Bortles’ Dr. Jekyll-Mr.Hyde routine is starting to get old. He is unlikely to sustain a long career in the NFL if he continues to follow-up strong games with horrible ones. Regardless of how the Jaguars finish this season, Jacksonville needs to consider alternative short-term and long-term options at quarterback this coming offseason. Otherwise, history will look unkindly upon a Jaguars team that squandered the best opportunity to bring home a Super Bowl championship that they have ever had.