Unless they buy tickets, the Jaguars will not be going to the Super Bowl this year. If you’re thinking of attending yourself, be warned that lower bowl seats are going for upwards of $6,000 on StubHub, which even Marlins Man would have a tough time swinging.
Though they aren’t on their way to Super Bowl 50, or even a winning record, the Jaguars have stumbled upon a four-letter word called hope. There’s plenty of it with sophomore talents Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns all emerging as valuable contributors. Each has cemented their place among the hierarchy of future NFL stars.
For fantasy purposes, you can drop the word future. All three have given fantasy owners plenty to chew on this year. Sunday’s 28-23 loss to the Jets was a good test for Jacksonville’s resurgent offense. Let’s look at some of the highlights.
You can’t just roll out of bed and beat the Jets. They’re strong on both sides of the ball. Receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker give them a nice one-two punch in the passing game while Darrelle Revis is the ringleader of the Jets’ revamped secondary. That’s not to mention the murderer’s row they have with Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams all wreaking havoc on the defensive line. Certainly to beat a team of this caliber you need a concrete plan of attack.
Last week the Raiders hung 34 on the Jets by following a relatively simple blueprint. With Revis controlling the boundaries and the front seven bringing tons of pressure, the Raiders worked the middle of the field and funneled the ball to Michael Crabtree against an overmatched Antonio Cromartie.
The Jaguars used a similar approach on Sunday. Though he would eventually branch out to throwing deeper passes, Bortles peppered the Jets early with repeated short and intermediate throws. One of them came on this perfectly executed screen to T.J. Yeldon along the left sideline. Yeldon gained 21 on the play before getting pushed out of bounds.
Every time I’ve covered the Jaguars this year, I’ve come away impressed by Bortles’ mobility in the pocket. Though the Jets did sack him six times on Sunday, that number could have easily reached double digits if not for Bortles’ trademark elusiveness. Watch him step up in the pocket to deliver a 27-yard dart to a streaking Marcedes Lewis. This throw doesn’t have the prettiest spiral but it’s accurate and the timing is just right.
Some of Bortles’ best passes Sunday came under heavy pressure. Here’s one to Bryan Walters late in the first half. Bortles takes a lick from Sheldon Richardson as he throws but the ball still gets where it needs to go. Give Bortles credit for having the presence to find the open receiver even with a 294-pound behemoth heading toward him at full speed. For most quarterbacks, that play results in either a sack or an incomplete pass. Instead, Bortles was able to move the chains for another first down.
Of course, there were times when Bortles had to call his own number. This 10-yard tuck-and-run against a swarming pass rush shows good recognition as Bortles finds a crease in the defense and nearly picks up the first down.
Bortles now has 178 yards rushing this year, good for eighth in the league among quarterbacks. That’s something defenses have to game-plan for. If you have to put a spy in the middle of the field to prevent Bortles from running, that’s one less guy in coverage and one fewer pass rusher. That threat can create all kinds of possibilities for an offense.
Bortles threw for a career-high 381 yards on Sunday and he couldn’t have done it without Allen Robinson. At this point we have to acknowledge Robinson for what he is—a weekly WR1 with tremendous upside.
I’ve been skeptical of Robinson in the past because of his overall inefficiency. Even after grabbing six catches for 121 yards on Sunday, he’s still caught fewer than 50 percent of his passes this season. Under normal circumstances, that would be a red flag. But Robinson’s overwhelming volume (he’s ninth in the league in targets) paints a much brighter picture. More importantly, he’s averaging 17.7 yards per reception (fifth in the league), which means fantasy owners are getting their money’s worth with each catch.
If we learned anything about Robinson Sunday it’s that he’s essentially matchup-proof. He couldn’t have drawn a tougher assignment going up against all-world corner Darrelle Revis. You’ll notice Robinson was lightly owned on FanDuel this week for that very reason. Despite entering Sunday with six touchdowns and 586 receiving yards in seven games, only 4.6 percent of owners in the Thursday Night Snap were brave enough to start him against Revis. Robinson didn’t win every battle against Revis Sunday, but he won a few and that’s more than most players can say.
On this particular play, A-Rob was supposed to run an inside dig route but instead he does a little improv work and heads for the sideline. Revis bites on the play-fake and leaves Robinson open for a 33-yard catch. Few players in the league can win that one-on-one matchup. Robinson just did it with ease.
Robinson got a little lucky on this next play. That’s not to say it wasn’t a great catch. A-Rob does a phenomenal job to haul in this underthrown pass while having the presence to keep both of his feet in bounds. The lucky part was that Revis seemed to lose his footing on the play, which gave Robinson a two-yard cushion he wouldn’t normally have. But that’s what great players do—they capitalize on their opponents’ mistakes.
I’m still not sure how Robinson reeled in this next one. Not only did Robinson leave Revis in the dust (you’ll see No. 24 trailing off around the 40-yard line) but somehow he climbed the ladder to make a circus catch with Marcus Williams hanging all over him. Williams isn’t even looking at the ball, which should have triggered defensive pass interference. The flag never came but it didn’t matter. The 44-yard grab was Robinson’s longest of the afternoon.
Teams with two elite receivers always scare the bejesus out of me. If you lock in on one, the other is free to do whatever he wants. It’s one of those pick your poison scenarios. That’s what the Jags have here with Robinson and Hurns.
Hurns is no slouch. In fact, he has more 100-yard receiving games (three) than Robinson (two) this year. Sunday’s 122-yard performance came on the strength of five catches including this 30-yard touchdown late in the first half.
This one was a walk in the park. Speaking to CBS broadcasters Greg Gumbel and Trent Green earlier in the week, Antonio Cromartie noted that while Hurns doesn’t have raw speed like Robinson, he’ll use double moves to create separation. That’s exactly what happens on this play. Watch Cromartie bite on the fake as Bortles looks left and then throws right. Cromartie knows it’s coming but he can’t help himself. Hurns then uses his signature double move to waltz into the end zone for six points. A week after getting eaten up by Michael Crabtree, Cromartie spent most of Sunday getting torched by Hurns, who has quietly emerged as a WR2 in fantasy.
Bortles made mistakes Sunday. He was intercepted twice (both by Marcus Williams) and one of his two fumbles was scooped up by the defense. His passes weren’t always accurate and there were times when he held on to the ball too long. But we can overlook those errors because Bortles has made enormous strides. He owns PFF’s 10th highest grade among QBs (that’s out of 36 qualifiers) and ranks ninth in the league with 17 touchdowns. That’s more than Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Matt Ryan. Bortles’ performance is even more impressive when you consider that four of the Jags’ five offensive linemen have earned negative grades from Pro Football Focus this year.
The Jaguars aren’t going to make the playoffs but they’re no longer a laughing stock either. When the Jags are on television, I don’t change the channel anymore. That has to count for something.