The Jacksonville Jaguars have clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 2007. In 2007, David Garrad was the quarterback, Jack Del Rio was the head coach and oh yeah a stellar running back named Maurice Jones-Drew lead this team. The Jaguars find themselves currently fighting for the second seed overall in the conference.
The Jags have been moving in the right direction with their roster for a couple of seasons now, but it was slow to show up on the field. 2017 seems to have been the season that several years of moves have all come together at the same time to turn this team into one of the scariest outfits in the entire league heading into the postseason.
Let’s take a look as to how this team has gotten here.
Jacksonville as a team has really hit their stride and the credit should mostly fall to the defense. Led by four pro bowlers (A.J. Boyue, Jalen Ramsey, Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson) this unit is showing the world how great they are. The Jags are ranked third in the NFL in total defense. They are allowing an average of 284.1 yards per game. Jacksonville’s passing defense (168.9 ypg) tops the league.
Blake Bortles is growing up
This team has won seven of its last eight games, including its last three. In those three games, Bortles has completed 71% of his passes and thrown for 903 yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating is 128.6. It’s not just Bortles’ results that are encouraging, it’s his process. He has played with better pocket poise, moving subtly within it and only when necessary. His decision-making has improved. His precision accuracy has stabilized, including at the more challenging intermediate levels, where he’s made some tough, critical throws.
Does Jacksonville have a chance in making SuperBowl LII?
Although Bortles has had great success in the last few weeks, Jacksonville is still an unabashed run-first team. They have wound up running on 50.6% of their snaps, highest in the NFL. It’s like meat and potatoes as a ground game gets, with the ballcarrier often working behind double-team blocks.
If the Jaguars are to reach Super Bowl LII, they’ll have to be the first team since the 2005 Steelers to do so with a quarterback who is purely a complementary piece in a run-based offense. The Jaguars are built for power, and with the three-headed monster of Leonard Fournette, Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon (who has lately supplanted Corey Grant) Jacksonville’s backfield will have fresh legs throughout the postseason.
Jacksonville’s road to Minneapolis will likely go through Pittsburgh, New England or both. Those are veteran coaching staffs and fundamentally sound defenses; they’ll force Bortles, not Jacksonville’s ground game, to beat them. The Patriots saw Bortles up close in joint training camp practices. The Steelers faced him in Week 5 when he had 95 yards passing in a 30-9 Jaguars victory that the defense created. Those are different Patriots and Steelers defenses now, but Bortles is also a different QB. Only time will tell.