Jacksonville Jaguars Season Preview: 10 Things You Need to Know

0:49 | NFL
2017 Jacksonville Jaguars Preview
Friday August 4th, 2017

1. There’s no other way to put it: Blake Bortles was bad last year. His mechanics and decision-making regressed. It was hard to believe he was the same quarterback who, in 2014 and 2015, invoked phrases such as a “young Ben Roethlisberger.” If Bortles struggles again in 2017, his days as an NFL starter will end before Halloween. His biggest problem is his throwing motion. He has publicly admitted what the film shows: it’s gotten longer. The longer your motion, the greater chance you’ll suffer a mechanical glitch and, obviously, the longer it takes for the ball to come out. Good decisions can become bad decisions by the time your throw arrives.

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2. Even if Bortles’s throwing motion is reworked, he’ll never have the compactness of an Aaron Rodgers or a Tony Romo. That means he must run an offense that features slower developing routes. The Bucs do this with Jameis Winston. Naturally, downfield play-action is a heavy component of that offense. Bortles and the Jags were spectacular with downfield play-action in 2015. They must get back to that.

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3. Play-action is an even more natural fit in 2017 because with Doug Marrone, a longtime O-line guru and run-oriented play-caller now the head coach, and Tom Coughlin the front office czar, the Jaguars will be an old-school, smashmouth, run-first team. That’s why they drafted 228-pound LSU battering ram Leonard Fournette.

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4. The question is: What type of running game will the Jags feature? Their offensive line is not athletic, particularly at guard and center. That makes it difficult to run outside zone, where blockers must stretch to the perimeter. Even gap scheme runs, like “power” and “counter,” where there is a pull-blocker, can be challenging. Teams with poor athletes up front typically run a lot of straight inside zone. That is, between-the-tackle carries behind double-team blocks. Those teams also must throw more on early downs (which brings us back to the importance of play-action). And on early downs, you see a lot more conventional four-man rushes, as opposed to the disguised blitzes and D-line stunts that make unathletic blockers have to move laterally.

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5. Even if the Jags rediscover their play-action foundation, most NFL games still come down to converting in obvious passing situations. Wide receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns must be better. Stats don’t always paint an accurate picture, but the extreme ones do. Robinson’s receiving yards dropped from 1,400 in 2015 to 883 in 2016. He had severe difficultly getting off press coverage. Hurns’s numbers also plummeted: 1,031 yards in 2015, 471 in 2016 (in 11 games). He played the slot a lot more in 2016 and was less effective there than ever. Marqise Lee wasn’t great running routes outside, either. Expect Hurns and Lee to flip roles. Also, expect all three receivers to align in bunches just a few yards away from the offensive tackles. Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett loves this tactic, which gives your receivers clean access off the line against man coverage.

6. With the additions of marquee free agents A.J. Bouye (cornerback) and Calais Campbell (defensive lineman), plus the expected development of second-year men Jalen Ramsey (corner), Yannick Ngakoue (defensive end) and Myles Jack (middle linebacker), Jacksonville’s defense could be stacked. The more talented you are, the simpler your scheme can be—and the faster your defenders can play. Defensive coordinator Todd Wash is expected to run a Seahawks-style Cover 3, which is about as simple as it gets.

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7. There’s just one catch with Jacksonville’s talented D: the edge rushers. If the Jags are again without a consistent edge-rushing presence, they’ll have to manufacture pressure via blitzes—just like they did down the stretch last season. That’s not preferable for them. A lot rides on youngsters Dante Fowler and Yannick Ngakoue. Fowler is now two years removed from the ACL injury that wiped out his rookie season. The expectation is he’ll show the explosiveness and bendability that made him a No. 3 overall pick. Ngakoue was the featured pass rusher last season, often aligning on the weak side edge. He’s not a thundering athlete, but he produced eight sacks on the strength of his technique and mechanics, which are a work in progress (emphasis on progress).

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8. With so many questions on offense and so much talent on defense, it’s imperative the Jaguars force turnovers in 2017. That’s the point of playing a straightforward zone scheme. If this D is to improve on its league-low seven interceptions, the four-man rush will have to impact the QB more consistently.

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9. Second-year man Jalen Ramsey is a superstar in the making. He has the best body of any corner to enter the league in this era and the athleticism to match. After natural ups and downs, both physically and mentally last year, Ramsey came to life in December. He is perfectly built to be a boundary corner in Jacksonville’s Cover 3, playing the Richard Sherman role. Bouye is another long-bodied corner and has great route recognition. It will be very difficult to throw on the perimeter against Jacksonville.

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10. Much is being made about Myles Jack’s moving to middle linebacker and Paul Posluszny moving outside. It’s a long-term decision the Jags are making, though in the short-term, don’t expect much change. At 32, Posluszny’s play recognition is as strong as anyone’s in football. This makes him faster than his body should allow. It’s hard to envision him coming off the field in nickel, which is where 65% of the game is played. And since Telvin Smith, the league’s athletically rangiest linebacker, won’t be coming off the field, that leaves Jack riding the sidelines, just like last year.

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