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O-Zone: Go ahead and yell it

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Andy from St. Johns, FL:
Can we talk about the playoffs? I know this season is about "the future," but there is still a chance this year. Get it done, Gus! All I want for Christmas is a home playoff game. How nice would that be? Playoffs, Playoffs, Playoffs. There is still a chance, John. Why not us? It's not that far-fetched. Texans on the road and lay an egg in Nashville … Colts are in a freefall. Does Zach Mettenberger get on a hot streak and beat the Texans at home and in Indy? Does Gus rally the troops and get these last two games? It's great to dream, O, right?
John: It indeed is great to dream. Sometimes when I dream, I see my future and awake in a corner sob-shivering in a cold sweat and hugging my pillow like a baby holds his mommy's leg … but that's OK: other times I dream about Santa. Either way, all of that's a topic for another day. As for the Jaguars' playoff hopes, I'm not going to pretend they're great -- and there are a couple of reasons for that. One, the Titans at 3-11 are a long shot to win their final two games. Two, the Jaguars at 5-9 with a struggling pass rush are a long shot to beat a very good Saints offense on Sunday. That's not at all to say those things can't happen, but they're long shots. But yes, Andy, dream away my good man. Dream away.
John from Elizabeth City, NJ:
I know the pass rush – or lack thereof – has been pinned as the reason for the defensive struggles, but where is the focus on the secondary? Davon House always seems to get beat off the ball and must recover to even have a chance, we don't have a No. 2 cornerback and the safeties are constantly late to help. It's hard for the pass rush to even matter when week after week the middle of the field is wide open; even if you have a pass rush, that doesn't affect good quarterbacks with receivers running free across the middle.
John: We come from different places philosophically. I'm a big believer that pass rush is the first-, second- and third-most important element in pass defense. I have believed that for a long time and I believe it even more now that the rules are set up to make things even more difficult for defensive backs. It's almost impossible for even the best corners to cover wide receivers all over the field when quarterbacks have time to throw. It's also very hard to defend accurate quarterbacks – and most NFL quarterbacks are accurate when given time to throw. NFL quarterbacks are usually going to throw for a lot of yards. They're usually going to have stretches in which they complete a lot of passes. The difference in games often is how teams perform on third downs, and that's where pass rush matters most. The Jaguars' defense won first and second down pretty routinely Sunday. The unit lost third down just as routinely; as a result, the Jaguars lost the game. The Jaguars' secondary isn't full of All-Pro players, but House and Aaron Colvin are starting-level NFL players, and Johnathan Cyprien is, too. They're not elite, but they have looked worse this season than would have been the case had the front generated better pressure.
Marcus from Jacksonville:
You have lauded Brandon Linder as the Jags' best O-lineman. You have included him in the list of the Jaguars' best players overall. You believe he can swap positions and still play effectively. You even called him a "Pro-Bowl level player." Yet, he has only played one season in the NFL. When a player has a bad first season you implore fans to give it time … one year isn't enough to judge a player. But, in the case of Linder, you think his return will solidify the O-line and his presence is reason enough to not spend a high draft pick on a lineman. Why is it OK to write the book on a player after one good season but not after one bad season? I'm not saying Linder won't be great, I just feel like he's been deified in his absence and is going to have a hard time living up to his elevated status. Good luck, Brandon.
John: Wow, you're really going to be annoyed when you read my View from the O-Zone in which I say that Brandon Linder looks like a long-term Pro Bowl player. Look, he has that kind of ability and he played at a high level as a rookie. I don't believe his presence alone is a reason to not spend a high pick on an offensive lineman, but I do believe that his return – ALONG WITH perhaps an upgrade at center – will make a difference on the interior of the line. I have no idea if he'll live up to his elevated status, but I do believe he'll be good for a long time. Either way, I frankly don't get why you think I've deified him. #BrandonLinderisAWESOME!!! #GOBrandon
Bob from Jacksonville:
Do you think the Jags look for a new left tackle? Luke J. is not the answer. He has absolutely no lateral movement whatsoever. Either free agent or in the draft?
John: No, the Jaguars will not be looking for a new left tackle this offseason – either in free agency or the draft. Waiting for that to happen is going to be very frustrating for people. They're going to have to live with being frustrated.
Gary from High Springs, FL:
John, couldn't the release of Justin Blackmon be a psychological boost to the receivers the same way it was when Coughlin released Andre Rison?
John: No. Andre Rison was part of the team when he was released. Justin Blackmon has not figured in the Jaguars' day-to-day operations in more than two calendar years. The current Jaguars receivers never have shared an NFL locker room with Blackmon. He is on the suspended list, and is not part of the roster. His release wouldn't affect them in the slightest. Besides, I don't think they need a boost.
Mike from St. Mary's, GA:
Is that a "no" because Telvin Smith doesn't fit at the Leo spot, "no" because he can't rush the passer, "no" because there is more value in a pass-coverage linebacker than a pass rusher, "no" because you don't like him, "no" because your magic 8-ball said, or "no" because you just wanted to say it? Just trying to sort it out.
John: The question was whether Jaguars weak-side linebacker Telvin Smith could play Leo pass rusher. The answer was "no" because it would be very, very difficult to ask Smith to hold up as a defensive lineman – and frankly, I doubt he could do it. Also, his skill set is closer to free safety than defensive lineman. Mostly, it's because he's a really good outside linebacker and sometimes when players are good at a spot it is best just to let them play that spot.
Cory from Madison, WI:
Your recent answer about Gus Bradley ignores the fact that this was probably the easiest schedule in franchise history with how everything played out. This season would have met my expectations if Luck were healthy and we weren't playing against backup quarterbacks consistently. Five wins is underwhelming in that sense.
John: There are plenty of people who feel this way. The feeling is understandable and well-established, and it certainly has a prominent place in a discussion about Gus Bradley as a head coach. I'm not going to turn the O-Zone into a daily back-and-forth discussion over that point because there's not a whole lot more to say on the matter, but yes – the Jaguars had a real chance to win a few more games this season. From this view, that doesn't change the fact that they're improving and that I believe they will improve next season – but there's no doubt it's true.
Brian from Gainesville, FL:
Big O, the Bortles bashing among your readers and my fellow fans must stop. Bortles is THE franchise quarterback he Jaguars have been looking for since year one (no offense, Mark Brunell). He's big, strong, got great character, plays hard, leads his troops like a field marshal, takes explosive chances, and all around plays the game of football well, regardless of the young mistakes he will soon shake …
John: You went on and listed a bunch of really, really good statistics, but your point is well-taken and correct. Bortles is the future. He's the franchise quarterback. He must continue to improve, because where he is right now isn't good enough, but he already has improved and there's no reason to think that improvement won't continue.
Blaine from Winter Park, FL:
I still don't and won't ever yell "Duval," but I want to give a shoutout to those who do at games. They are the heart and soul of the team and deserve credit for sticking with the Jaguars through thick & thin. Mostly thin.
John: You're right that they're the heart and soul, and I'd advise you to go ahead and yell "Duval." It's sort of fun. You'd probably like it.

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