Dear Blake Bortles critics: Your bias is showing


While it’s been a relatively successful season by recent Jacksonville Jaguars standards, it’s hard not to be disappointed with the team’s current 5-8 record given how the games and the division have shaken out. The Jaguars have blown several opportunities over the course of the year and subsequently are on the outside looking in at the playoff picture.

Regardless of the team’s status, one thing that is undeniable is the progress being made on offense and in particular by second year quarterback Blake Bortles.

That is unless you want to deny it.

Yes, believe it or not there is a contingent of people out there who not only think Bortles hasn’t improved significantly in his sophomore season but also believe he is a bad quarterback.

Who are these people? They come primarily from two camps – draft twitter and the analytics/numbers community.

Let’s start with the analytics folks, the group that has been thrown into the forefront thanks to Bortles’ recent performance in the Jaguars 51-16 thrashing of the Indianapolis Colts.

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In that game, Bortles recovered from a poor first half and put together a darn good stat line – 16 of 30 for 250 yards, 3 touchdowns, and a rushing touchdown. Those numbers added up to a nice 114.6 passer rating, the conventional quarterback rating statistic.

ESPN vehemently disagreed with that assessment, as they gave Bortles a horrific 3.8 QBR. If you aren’t aware, QBR is ESPN’s relatively new proprietary metric designed to more effectively evaluate how a quarterback plays given several different variables, primarily weighting towards how valuable each play is in regards to game situation.

Unfortunately, QBR has been shown to be hot garbage and less useful than a fart in a paper bag, as evidenced by Charlie Batch having the best QBR ever graded by ESPN in 186-yard, 2 interception outing in 2010.

Interpreting the comically stupid implications of QBR is outside the scope of the article, but the main takeaway is that a 3.8 QBR would lead one to believe Bortles had one of the worst quarterbacked games EVER.

Obviously that’s dumb, but ESPN doubled down in the form of a piece FiveThirtyEight Sports hilariously titled “The Jaguars Scored 51 Points; Blake Bortles Had Practically Nothing To Do With It.”

Go ahead and read it if you’d like, but the piece essentially says Bortles had nothing to do with any of the points the Jaguars scored. Where the piece loses all credibility is when it discusses Bortles 80-yard touchdown pass to Allen Hurns, a remarkable play in which the QB threaded the needle between the safety and corner.

"…a dangerous Bortles pass to Allen Hurns that was nearly intercepted but instead turned into an 80-yard touchdown. The latter was likely scored as a bad pass despite its good result, which is one of the selling points for QBR — that its individual inputs and charting make it a better representation of play than traditional QB rating (which put Bortles at 114.6)."

I discussed this in the post-game prediction recap and I knew some people would try to paint that play as a negative for Bortles. In reality, if Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady makes that pass they are lauded for making a terrific throw that only a few quarterbacks in the NFL can make. Instead, Bortles makes the pass so it’s pure luck and the receiver bailing out his quarterback.

It was an outstanding play by both parties, but the touchdown never happens if Bortles doesn’t have the arm strength and the balls to make that throw in the first place.

One of my favorite Twitter follows (Eric Stoner) put a bow on it:

That is exactly why Bortles has great conventional stats (30 TDs, second most in the NFL and most ever in franchise history) but he has horrific advanced metrics evaluations like the 3.8 QBR or an awful (-5.4) from Pro Football Focus. At least PFF has acknowledged Bortles improvement throughout the year, but it’s clear that Blake will probably never get the kind of praise he should be getting from the analytics community.

Going back to the two communities who dislike Bortles, let’s look at draft Twitter. There are plenty of examples to choose from on Twitter, but I’ll focus on Cian Fahey, a regular writer for Football Outsiders who does a good job posting articles with tape study.

Cian became the ire of Jaguar fans on Twitter in recent days thanks to an awful tweet someone unearthed from earlier in the season.

Yes, that is a really, really bad take and one that should set off a red flag. Cian is one of the many draft people who loved Teddy Bridgewater coming out of college and was not a fan of Bortles at all. For someone who is a heavy proponent of advanced metrics and writes for Football Outsiders it makes sense – Teddy was an efficient quarterback in college and was a darling in the eyes of analytics. Bortles was the complete opposite – a raw, unpolished physical specimen who barely knew how to play the position in the pocket and would need time to grow in the NFL.

If you’re unaware of something called confirmation bias, there might not be a better example than Cian’s timeline. He has spends an inordinate amount of time defending Teddy Bridgewater (who has 23 career passing touchdowns, 7 less than Bortles has this season alone) and absolutely refuses to acknowledge Bortles’ progression in year two.

Bortles had 11 touchdowns and 17 interceptions last year. He has 30 TDs and 13 INTs with 3 games left in 2015. If that’s not improvement then what is?

Bortles threw two redzone touchdowns in the second half. Even if you (incorrectly) want to take away credit for the 80-yard touchdown to Hurns, he still played a huge part in two Jacksonville scoring drives. There were plenty of positives to point to in the second half, unless you don’t want to admit you were wrong.

I could dig up more comically bad takes being thrown around on social media (like saying Bortles is going to throw for 40 TDs and still be a bad QB), but I’ve spent too many words acknowledging them already.

Don’t worry Jaguars fans – Blake Bortles is a good quarterback. Don’t let poorly constructed ratings and biased writers try and convince you otherwise.