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O-Zone: Burnt into memory

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Bill from Hammock, FL:
O man, I believe at this point we all realize the strengths and weaknesses of this team. It is obvious Blake Bortles cannot handle the passing game on a consistent basis. With a better offensive line than expected, why not try Chad Henne for a few series? How can it be any worse? And Bortles responded previously when competition entered the picture.
John: First, something always can be worse – particularly when it comes to NFL quarterbacking. As for why Bortles remains the starter, there are many reasons – perhaps most significantly his ability to extend plays. The Jaguars this season have allowed 10 sacks, including five against the Los Angeles Rams Sunday. While an improved offensive line is a factor in the low sacks total, it is the Jaguars' belief that that total would higher if not for Bortles' ability to elude the rush. Remember, this team very much wants to avoid bad down-and-distance situations; doing so is a major part of their offensive approach. The belief is that Bortles is the best option on that front – and that it indeed could be worse if he wasn't playing.
Brian from Section 235:
Is anyone talking about the lack of offense this past week?
John: No, this is the first I've heard of it.
Kevin from Section 115 and Jacksonville Beach:
John, we can't continue passing for three-to-five yards when we need 15-to-20 yards for a first down. I'm sure Hackett has something in the playbook to get the receivers past the sticks. This is happening even in short-yardage situations. Get to the sticks and just turn around. Frustrating to watch, but better than years past. GO JAGS!
John: Jaguars offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett certainly has plays that call for receivers to get 15-to-20 yards downfield. All teams do. But those plays bring higher risk of sacks, interceptions and fumbles – and this offense right now is not going to call many plays with high risk of sacks, interceptions and fumbles. This no doubt will be a source of frustration to fans and observers – and it can be difficult to watch. But when the game is within a score or two – as was the case throughout all of Sunday's game against the Rams – this Jaguars team more often than not likely will lean toward playing smart and protecting the ball as opposed to trying high-risk, low-percentage plays.
Sam from Boston, MA:
This team will continue to be what they've been for the last decade plus as long as Bortles is the quarterback. And that is the worst franchise in professional sports. By the way, the defense doesn't play nearly as well against competent offensive teams. They've been hyped far too much for a .500 team in a weak division. Gonna be a(nother) long season. Thanks Shad, Tom, and Dave. I noticed all the empty seats too. Get used to it. Come on spinmeister, put some lipstick on this pig of a team.
John: Your boldness and self-confidence are evident, though perhaps unwarranted. And it's certainly not spin to point out that your comment about the Jaguars' defense not playing well against competent offensive teams, though certainly bold, is incorrect – and even silly. The Jaguars defense' held the Steelers to three field goals and the Rams to 10 offensive points Sunday. Both teams are competent offensively with a nod toward pretty good. Still, overall … good email. Don't get discouraged. You'll get better.
Shane from Atlanta, GA:
Do refs forget that all turnovers are reviewed now? Why does it seem like every single game I watch has a ref blowing the whistle instead of letting it play out? And if the answer is "player safety," don't even let them have a chance to make a play once they get a turnover. Blow it dead and let their offense come onto the field. There were a lot of things that could've gone better, but that was just …
John: You're referring to the officials blowing a play dead in the third quarter Sunday on which Jaguars cornerback Aaron Colvin recovered a fumble and appeared to have a chance at a long return – possibly even a touchdown. I agree whole-heartedly that the play was crucial – and that it should have been allowed to play out. I said aloud at the time of the play that it was a bad call and I Tweeted as such. I assume the referee who blew the whistle had a bad angle. Mistakes happen, but that one hurt.
Dylan from Tulsa, OK:
So, since we don't seem to have any depth at wide receiver anymore and Martavis Bryant is now available, do you think we could trade some draft picks for him to get an instant starter and jump ball guy like A-Rob?
John: Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant reportedly requested a trade recently, and that's noteworthy. It's also noteworthy to remember there a difference between wanting something and getting something. I wonder if the difference might be very large in this case.
Chris from Jax:
Not to be a Blake defender or anything, but to be fair, there were a LOT of balls that hit receivers' hands Sunday. My ol' pappy taught me that if the ball hits a receiver's hands or numbers, there is no reason it wasn't a catch 99 percent of the time – other than a failure by the receiver to play the ball. Am I not down enough on Blake, or is what I'm seeing real?
John: Ol pappy has a point in this case. Not that Bortles is playing particularly well, but there's more going wrong with the passing offense right now.
Chris from Columbia:
Will we see a game this season where Blake Bortles puts the team on his back? I think watching him carry the team just once would add a significant boost to this offense for the rest of the year.
John: The Jaguars for now aren't inclined to have Bortles throwing the ball downfield enough to "put the team on his back." That's because right now the belief is their best way to stay in games is to run, play defense and play smart enough within that formula to win games. The formula has worked three times – and probably would have worked Sunday if not for 17 points allowed by special teams.
Evan from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL:
Have the Jaguars completed any deep passes this season? It seems to me that the opposing defense does not have to worry about a long completion – hence, limiting the field. Are there any other teams besides the Jaguars that can't throw the ball downfield either due to quarterback or receivers?
John: I don't cover other NFL teams, so I can't answer your final question. I can tell you the Jaguars' longest passes down the field this season were a 35-yarder to wide receiver Marqise Lee and a 30-yarder for a touchdown to Marcedes Lewis. Both of those came against the Baltimore Ravens, which not coincidentally was the Jaguars' best and most-balanced offensive game of the season. The Jaguars clearly need to hit passes downfield to get defenders out of the box. And yes, not being able to do so limits the offense and shrinks the field. Opposing defensive coordinators clearly believe the way to defend the Jaguars is to do whatever necessary to stop running back Leonard Fournette – and to make Bortles and this passing offense beat them. That's what I would do; heck, it's what anyone with one eye and half sense would do. It's realistically going to take more than a few plays and possibly even more than a game or two to get coordinators out of that thinking. That means the Jaguars are going to have to make plays in the passing game consistently to loosen up defenses. Will they be committed enough to making plays downfield to make that happen? Is that even a wise choice considering how this passing game has played so far. Those are legitimate questions. I'm not sure there are good answers.
Brian from Gainesville, FL:
Big O, why is it that you shy away from criticizing the refs? Is it a league rule thing because you're associated with a team? I know that the standing answer is that the team should play better and not be in situations where officiating hurts, but this is the proverbial game of inches. Many games come down to four or five key moments. The refs directly cost the Jags the game against the Jets when they threw that ridiculous flag on Poz and didn't offset it with a late-hit flag on the Jets' rookie. This past weekend they missed two obvious pass interference calls, ended momentum with a questionable illegal motion flag, and blew an obvious fumble recovery play dead before the return yards were determined. This is reminiscent of the league admitting so many errors in the Packers game last year. What's going on here?
John: I don't shy away from criticizing officiating, and the league/team has nothing to do with what gets mentioned here regarding officiating. I don't write about officiating much because there's rarely much productive to be said about the topic – and calls over the course of a season typically balance out. The officials without question missed the call on the Colvin fumble recovery and I thought Lee was interfered with late in the first half. But I also thought officials may have missed an interference call in the other direction shortly before the Lee call. Calls against teams tend to burn into and linger in the fans' memory –and calls that go in team's favor tend to be seen by fans as part of the game. Could we dwell on it here? I suppose, but toward what end?

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