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O-Zone: Not that cool

Posted Jan 9, 2018

JACKSONVILLE – Let’s get to it …

Michael from Middleburg, FL:
There will be plenty of people hating on Blake Bortles this week, but I don't care. That man deserves all the credit and respect in the world for gutting out that victory Sunday. He put his team on his back and carried them. Would love nothing more than to see him light it up in Pittsburgh next week. One 'fer No. 5!
John: Ah, ‘tis the question of the week: Was Blake Bortles the reason the Jaguars beat the Buffalo Bills in an AFC Wild Card Playoff game Sunday or was he the reason they struggled in the first place? It seems to fit his career that the answer could be both. Bortles’ accuracy issues in the first half of the Jaguars’ 10-3 victory were pronounced. He looked very close to how he looked at times while struggling in 2016 – and his footwork issues from that season returned. Is this a late-season slip in mechanics? Was it a short-term thing? That seems reasonable, because while Bortles had not been perfect this season he had improved in a lot of areas – and he certainly had not had those issues so severely often this season. And yet, despite all of those first-half struggles, Bortles found a way to make plays with his feet on a field-goal drive at the end of the first half and on a third-quarter touchdown drive. What he did was enough to win Sunday. I doubt such a performance will be enough to win in Pittsburgh Sunday. I think Bortles will have to complete passes downfield – probably more than a couple. I also think the Jaguars will give him more chances to do so. If Bortles gets protection and makes plays like he made in early December, the Jaguars have a chance Sunday. If not …
Louis from Pickland:
Zonio, remember all that talk before the draft about Jalen Ramsey having bad hands and not being able to make interceptions?
John: I do remember that.
Tim from Fernandina Beach, FL:
John: Like you, I felt the offense had its training wheels on Sunday. Why do people insist on blaming Jaguars offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett? If I were a betting man, I put money on Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone for dictating the VERY (Caps on purpose) conservative game plan.
John: Why do people blame coaches? Because it’s always coaching in the NFL – and people blame offensive coordinators because when plays don’t work, it’s always play-calling and never execution. That age-old NFL truism aside, I do believe the Jaguars entered the Buffalo game with the idea that the only way the Bills were going to beat them is if the Jaguars allowed the Bills to get momentum with takeaways. The Jaguars had a high-percentage chance to win playing that way – and if that indeed was the approach, Marrone certainly signed off on it. When the Jaguars prepare for a game, they don’t do it with the offensive coordinator in one silo and the defensive coordinator in another. The plan is about what both sides of the ball can do to give the team the best chance to win – and Marrone certainly is in charge of that. I have no idea the plan going forward and I doubt Marrone plans to tell me. But I’d be surprised if the Jaguars can win in Pittsburgh with a conservative approach and I’d be surprised if the coaches disagree with that.
Gary from Fleming Island, FL:
Yes, Blake passing was sub-par and the running game was ineffective, but the coaches deserve a little discredit for the play-calling too. After the first interception running three screen passes? What happened to going for the big play after a huge turnover?
John: One reason you don’t go for the big play there is you need time to throw to hit big plays; the Jaguars’ offensive line has not pass protected great in recent weeks. But yes … the Jaguars were conservative in the situation in question and conservative in a lot of areas Sunday. Sunday’s game called for a conservative approach. I don’t think the Jaguars will take the same approach Sunday.
Tommy from Pensacola, FL:
John, I find it fair to criticize Nate Hackett. Yes, Blake is more comfortable in the offense and he should command it as such. But throughout the season the play calling has been inconsistent and erratic. Why no shots going deep, Sunday? I'm pumped we won and are moving on. But this isn't a new issue. And honestly, it's a fair criticism of the offense in general. Whatever. #GOJAGS #DUVAL
John: I understand this question because it’s always coaching in the NFL. I also know the Jaguars finished sixth in the NFL in total offense and fifth in points despite a bunch of players in and out with injuries and despite playing with two rookie receivers and a first-year receiver in the final half of the season. All of this in the first season in the offense. So, yes it’s fair to criticize because it’s always OK to criticize in professional football, but this hasn’t been the worst possible season for the offense despite the “inconsistent and erratic play calling.” (And yes, I used the quotes intentionally; I often use quotes when I’m laughing).
Ron from Jacksonville:
Is Mychal Rivera eligible to return from injured reserve? Don't you get two now?
John: You are allowed to have two players return from injured reserve. But that’s only for players who were on the active roster after the September 2 deadline. Rivera was placed on injured reserve before that, so he never could be eligible to return this season or postseason.
Howard from Homestead, FL:
What's your take on the sack by Dante Fowler Jr.? Honestly, was it legal? Was it clean?
John: Yes and yes. You’re allowed to tackle a player hard in the NFL if that player has the ball. Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor had the ball on the play in question and Fowler tackled him hard.
Travis from Winter Garden, FL:
O, offense playing not to lose lately, that's gotta change. Throwing screens into a stacked box repeatedly isn't exactly creative and doesn't help slow the defense down.
John: OK.
Kevin from Jacksonville:
Why is it that Leonard Fournette can't seem to really get going and average more than 3.0 yards per carry? Is it Fournette? Is the run-blocking poor? Are defenses still just keying in on him and stacking the box?
John: This has been a season-long issue, and I don’t know that it gets solved. The Jaguars despite being the NFL’s No. 1-ranked running team this season have not been a dominant running team much of the season. They have had a few games that felt they truly controlled the line of scrimmage – Seattle, Indianapolis and perhaps the first game against Pittsburgh come to mind. Beyond that, it has run well by committing to the run and having some long runs. So, this is really a season-long issue that has heightened in the last five or six games. Why the heightening of late? It does appear that Fournette is perhaps still dealing with at least some remnants of his ankle issues. And the run-blocking as a whole simply has not been effective enough often enough this season. As far as defenses keying to stop him … yes, there is an element of that. Fournette is still facing a lot of stacked boxes because teams know the Jaguars want to run to win. But it’s not as if there are eight or nine in the box all the time. The Jaguars are having some running opportunities. They certainly will have some against Pittsburgh. They need to start taking advantage better than they have, particularly in the last few weeks.
Josh from Dayton, OH:
Lack of production aside, BB5 avoiding turnovers continues to be a key part of the Jags formula for success, and he did that Sunday. We'll need that again the next four weeks.
John: #DTWD
JT from Rosamond, CA:
Why does the national media seem so intent on us going after Eli Manning? He is not the same quarterback that he was and he wouldn't be a step up from Blake. I know the offseason can wait, but this doesn't seem to make much sense for this team in the future.
John: The national media says things about individual teams because they don’t know individual teams as well as the fans of those teams or the local media that covers those teams. National media has 32 teams to cover, so it’s very difficult for them to have a local feel.
Dave from Duval:
Dear Mr. O: GRIT.
John: Yes.
C from Jacksonville:
Co heck with Pukeburgh!!!!! They better get ready because Sacksonville is coming!!! GO JAGS!!!! Lock it up!!!!
John: Breathe, my man. It’s a long week. Oh, forget that: you do what you need to do to get yourself ready and enjoy the game. (Just don’t set anything on fire. Doing that isn’t as cool as some people think.)

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