Jacksonville Jaguars Offense Puts Super Bowl Ambitions on Hold Until 2020

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 14: Head coach Doug Marrone of the Jacksonville Jaguars watches the game against the Dallas Cowboys in the third quarter of a game at AT&T Stadium on October 14, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 14: Head coach Doug Marrone of the Jacksonville Jaguars watches the game against the Dallas Cowboys in the third quarter of a game at AT&T Stadium on October 14, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) /

During a four-game losing streak, it has become increasingly apparent that the Jacksonville Jaguars offense can only take this team so far.

Whilst it is also true that the renowned ‘Sacksonville’ defense from a year ago hasn’t maintained it’s championship caliber, the 2018 season has so far served as a stark reminder that Bortles and his offense serve as a limiter to the Jacksonville Jaguars Super Bowl aspirations.

It could be argued that there’s no reason to write off 2018 – considering the Jaguars made the AFC title game with a 3-2 start last season, but amidst their quest to improve on last season the Jaguars have been ravaged by injuries which look to have derailed any title ambitions.

Despite being only three games back with half of the season to go, the Jaguars are currently 0-2 in division matchups (both of which were home games) and would be lucky to secure a wildcard place as a result.

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As such, the remainder of the season will likely serve as an evaluation period for the front office in Jacksonville. Those in charge can use the next eight games to evaluate their own talent as well as looking at any potential changes that need to be made if the Jaguars are going to establish their status as a perennial contender.

Missing Faces – Before we’re able to talk about the things holding this team back from improving on their achievements of last season, it’s important to recognize the obvious injury difficulties that Nathaniel Hackett has faced in particular.

The number of injuries the Jaguars have suffered throughout the course of the year is nothing short of staggering. For the majority of the 2018 season, Jacksonville has been without their starting wide receiver, left tackle, tight end and two-thirds of their running back group. Fortunately for the Jaguars, they will be hoping to regain their offensive identity with second-year running back Leonard Fournette poised to return versus the Colts this Sunday.

During Fournette’s absence, the Jaguars have been left incredibly one-dimensional on offense (Blake Bortles set new career highs in passing attempts in back to back games vs the Jets and Chiefs), which has led to the Jaguars averaging nearly 50 rushing yards-per-game less than just last season. The lack of authority upfront has led to the Jaguars offense struggling to maintain drives, keeping the defense on the field more often than not – which rarely equates to winning football.

Patterns Emerging – The Jaguars defense has been getting some negative attention for the drop-off in play from a year ago, but to blame them for the tumultuous first half of 2017 would be misguided. There are multiple commonalities between the losses Jacksonville have suffered this year and they all point to a misfiring offense.

In each of their three wins, this season the Jaguars have scored 20 points or more, but have a pitiful record of 0-5 when they fail to reach the same total. Furthermore, through each of the Jaguars five losses the quarterback has been sacked at least three times, whilst the team is undefeated if the man under center is sacked no more than twice.

Whilst the week two victory in the AFC title rematch from last season felt like a showcase of what a Blake Bortles led offense could look like, it was the only week so far this year where the Jaguars have managed to convert over 50% of their third downs. Surprisingly, Hackett’s offense rank ninth in the league in third down conversion %, which sounds impressive for a team with such an average record until you learn that they are currently tied with the 1-7 New York Giants for 25th in the league in total first downs earned.

There’s one way those numbers correlate, turnovers.

The Need For Change – There’s no denying that Bortles has shown flashes of being a franchise quarterback during his time in the league, unfortunately for the former UCF passer every highlight seems to be overshadowed by multiple head-scratching decisions.

During the first half of 2018, the much-maligned quarterback was responsible for eight interceptions and three forced fumbles so far on the year – helping the Jaguars to the fourth highest turnover total in football (and the third worst turnover differential). So it seems that with the run-game faltering as it had before last year, the Jaguars are about as good as they had been before last year.

A team that relies so heavily on its quarterback isn’t designed to come from behind, but unfortunately, have very little choice when Blake only has one turnover-free game all season. A game which they still lost to the Titans despite the defense only giving up nine points at home. Further proof that this team can only go as far as the offense is able to take them.

Whilst he looked good against the Steelers in the Jaguars’ playoff run last year – and should have been trusted to move the ball late on in the AFC Championship game, it isn’t enough to discredit the eye-watering statistics that go against him. Bortles now leads the entire NFL in both interceptions and pix sixes since entering the league in 2014 (The number of interceptions below is now inaccurate as he has thrown a total of 72 – still leading the league since 2014).

Not only has Bortles shown that he struggles to be the guy to win games for his team, but the sad reality is the Jaguars haven’t been able to rely on him not to lose games for them either.

Finding a Replacement – The Jaguars recently signed Bortles to a contract extension which looks to keep him with the team for another three years, with a potential out before the 2020 season. The biggest issue now for the front office is finding a replacement who is both good enough to win a championship and cheap enough to keep the nucleus of the roster intact.

There were a variety of reports suggesting that the Jaguars were in the market for Kirk Cousins during the last off-season but considering the size of the contract given to him by Minnesota Dave Caldwell was wise to invest the teams remaining cap space in other areas. Especially considering defensive stars Jalen Ramsey, Yannick Ngakoue and Myles Jack are all in line for extensions after 2019.

With this in mind, Jacksonville would do well to try and find their replacement for as cheap as possible, but this then presents Caldwell with a difficult decision: do you try and find a serviceable replacement on the free agent market/trade block, or gamble your job on another rookie quarterback.

The only notable name projected to be on the 2019 free-agency market at the quarterback position is Teddy Bridgewater, who the Jaguars turned down the opportunity to sign just last season, as well as rejecting the idea of a trade (multiple times) for the former Louisville Cardinal. This makes the prospect of signing him in free-agency unlikely. So do the Jaguars look toward the 2019 NFL Draft?

A Waiting Game – It’s now only six months to go until the 2019 NFL Draft and as things stand the Jaguars are poised to have a relatively high pick. Unfortunately for the team, the landscape of potential quarterback prospects is far from set. Whilst there are a variety of names circulating – the most prominent being Justin Herbert (Oregon), it’s unknown how many of the potential prospects are going to declare after this season.

Names like Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State), Will Grier (West Virginia) and Drew Lock (Missouri) have all been attached to the Jaguars in mock drafts from a variety of outlets this year, yet out of all four names mentioned only Grier and Lock are in their last year of eligibility.

Justin Herbert has seemingly been the bookmakers choice for the New York Giants since the start of the season, which could leave any one of the lower ranked quarterbacks available for Caldwell but as of so far it’s unclear whether or not any of them have shown enough on tape to justify a first-round selection.

The one saving grace the Jaguars do have is that Bortles’ contract isn’t escape-able until after next year, which would give the Jaguars the time to develop a young signal caller with their bridge quarterback already in-house.

Next. Jaguars: Three BOLD predictions for the second half of 2018. dark

It’s also worth noting that next years’ class of quarterbacks will likely include NCAA champion Tua Tagovailoa and Georgia standout Jake Fromm, both of whom look ready to be top five picks. Whether the Jaguars decide to take a punt on one of this year’s quarterback prospects or wait for the next class of rookies and free agents, the one thing that looks certain is that the current offense has the Jaguars title ambitions on hold until 2020.