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O-Zone: Full strength

Posted Jan 10, 2018

JACKSONVILLE – Let’s get to it …

JT from Rosamond, CA:
This feels like going against the Broncos again in the playoffs. Everybody is killing us right now. Of course none of our favorite national media will pick us, but if we play our game we can beat anyone. Hope Good Bortles shows up this game.
John: Let Divisional Playoff Week officially begin – and indeed, no NFL playoff week is complete without complaints about a lack of respect, love or recognition. I say this not to dismiss the idea that the Jaguars this week will be overlooked by many and loved by few; that almost certainly will be the case. Few national analysts will pick the Jaguars. Few fans nationwide will give them a chance. People in Pittsburgh? The Pittstonians? The ‘Burghers? They certainly will dismiss the little Jaggies’ chances against Big Ben and his Mighty Band of Steel Marauders. All of that’s OK, and here’s why: National analysts – analysts of any kind, actually – don’t decide NFL games. Whatever the perception, the Jaguars indeed can beat anyone left in the postseason. That includes the Steelers. I believe the Jaguars have fewer ways to win than the Steelers, meaning the Jaguars probably need to play with a lead, get turnovers and make a big play or two – and I don’t believe the Jaguars can afford to get down multiple scores. But can they win in Pittsburgh? Absolutely because they already … you know … did.
Jon from Ocala, FL:
Hi O! What is the goal in the playoffs? From what I have read/heard from fans and national reporters, it seems that you need to score 25 points or more, even if you lose.
John: Hold on. I have to Google this.
Taylor from Jacksonville:
Is it fair to wonder if Keelan Cole should be on the field more than Hurns? I love Allen Hurns, and that crawl off the field to save a 10-second runoff against the Chargers was the personification of GRIT, but Keelan was ballin' and Hurns wasn't all that productive prior to the injury.
John: Cole played 32 snaps on Sunday against the Bills; Hurns played 31. Here’s the reality about the Jaguars’ wide receivers right now: there is no easy answer. No receiver in the group represents a magical solution to the passing game issues because there’s not a go-to, elite player in the bunch. The Jaguars have one of those: Allen Robinson, and he’s on season-ending injured reserve with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. What the Jaguars have at receiver is three young players – rookies Dede Westbrook and Cole and first-year veteran Jaydon Mickens – who play with the inconsistency that the combination of talent and inexperience often produces. They also have a couple of veterans – Hurns and Marqise Lee – who have been limited by injuries and are not yet back to their pre-injury level. The bad news for the Jaguars is Robinson isn’t returning until next season. The good news: at various times in their careers and this season the five aforementioned players have played at a high level. They can make plays. They are capable. The challenge now: have one or a couple of them make plays Sunday in the biggest game of their lives.
Peter from Perth, Australia:
Hey, O: A 2:00 a.m. wake up to watch the game over here is hard work, but the “W” makes it worthwhile. Any advice for telling the wife it’s happening again this week?
John: Yes, tell your wife I said she can—
Bob from Sumter, SC:
Is it me or does Myles Jack seem to be playing faster and making more impact plays lately?
John: It’s not you. It’s him. And he is.
Dane from Jacksonville:
If a forward shovel pass hits the ground, is it ruled as an incomplete pass or a fumble? What if the quarterback is in the process of getting sacked?
John: It’s an incomplete pass.
Brian from Gainesville, FL:
Big O, I know there were multiple factors affecting Blake’s performance on Sunday. Among the most significant and potentially most concerning was that he seemed extremely nervous. He seemed to have been very cognizant of the fact that if he turned the ball over the game would be at risk. Was this first-playoff jitters? Was it that the coaches beat the game plan into him so much that he psyched himself out? Something else? More importantly, can he shed it before the weekend? Can he regain his confidence now that the first game is notched in his belt?
John: You asked a bunch of questions and only time will determine answers. Yes, Bortles seemed nervous Sunday – and I have no doubt he was aware that not turning the ball over was the No. 1 key to victory. I think the Jaguars will have a game plan Sunday that allows him to throw earlier and therefore play looser. It’s not uncommon for quarterbacks to struggle in their first postseason games. Will a game’s worth of experience and a more aggressive plan mean improvement for Bortles? We’ll see.
Rick from Jacksonville:
John, I can be just as disappointed with Blake as anyone else, but I find myself rooting for the guy. There is a lot to like; I think he's improving over time.
John: #DTWD
Jack from Oviedo, FL:
Blake gets a lot of attention on his shortcomings, but watching Leonard Fournette … he appears to be giving up too soon on his runs. He had an open-field run with one defender to beat and he goes down with his shoulder instead of moving around him. He would have scored a 55-yard touchdown if he beat him. Blake is not getting the run game needed to win. What is up with our running back?
John: The Jaguars’ run-game struggles in recent weeks have been well-documented. The line has had trouble run-blocking, especially on the interior. The Jaguars also have faced a lot of run-oriented fronts. Fournette has been injured. But Fournette’s elusiveness as you note hasn’t been ideal, especially late in the season. The thought here is the ankle and lower-body issues of late probably play a role in that. We probably won’t know until next season.
Brian from Round Rock, TX:
John, I think at this time of year a team needs to game plan recognizing exactly who they are, not who they want to be. On offense, I think that means taking advantage of Blake's mobility and not expecting a dominating running game. They should try to get Blake going in the passing game with more intermediate and deep passes on early downs. What do you think?
John: I think the Jaguars will need to be more aggressive and take at least a few shots downfield Sunday. They certainly will have to do it more against the Steelers than they did against the Bills. I believe they will do that. Stay tuned.
Tom from Charleston, SC:
How can you not be majorly concerned about the lack of development in Blake? Something is horribly wrong when the offensive game plan is built around having to defend against your supposed franchise quarterback making-game altering mistakes. Dave Caldwell made a career-altering mistake by drafting him. It is a shame that the coaching staff has to keep trying to minimize his detriment to the team.
John: There’s this …
Chris from Mandarin, FL:
Blake Bortles threw a touchdown on fourth-and-goal in the playoffs in the second half of a tied game. That’s big-time stuff, John.
John: … and then there’s this.
Rob from Duuuvall:
I’ve heard a lot recently that we were sixth-ranked offense this year. I’d like to ask if defensive touchdowns count toward that statistic? If so, it would seem our offense may not deserve such a high ranking – and even if not, our defense has a lot to do with putting them in good positions to score.
John: The Jaguars were sixth in the NFL in total yards and fifth in total points. That statistic doesn’t at all prove that the Jaguars were consistent offensively, because that wasn’t the case. But it does show that the team not only was capable of scoring in bunches at times but that the offense was capable of producing points and yards on its own at times.
Jeff from Jacksonville:
There are a lot of good stats from Sunday, but here’s my favorite: zero injuries! The key disadvantage to not getting the bye was avoided and the Jaguars will be the healthiest they’ve been in a while going to Pittsburgh. Go Jags!
John: The NFL playoffs are as often as not about attrition. A key injury or two can bring down a team that otherwise might have contended, and a glance at the rosters of teams that make deep runs often reveal that those teams had remarkably good fortune with injuries. The Jaguars’ health on defense absolutely is a reason that unit has been consistent this season. The team’s best unit is at full strength at the most important time, which gives the Jaguars a chance on Sunday.

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