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O-Zone: Holiday jig

JACKSONVILLE – Krimma eve …

Let's get to it … William from Section 423:
I know this a question you can't answer well, but with the Texans primed to enter the playoffs with a win over the Jags and the Jags finding a rhythm on offense finally, what do you think our chances are of pulling off the upset?
John: I actually think the chances are pretty good. Usually, I wouldn't say that about a team out of the playoffs playing a team fighting for the playoffs. That's because usually motivation/drive wins out over end-of-season "want-to." But the Jaguars clearly haven't quit on the season – as evidenced by the victory over the Tennessee Titans last Thursday and the ensuing locker-room celebration. The Jaguars are indeed improving, and they're playing like a team with a lot left to prove. That should give them a reasonable chance in a difficult situation on Sunday. (For clarification's sake, the Texans need to beat the Jaguars AND have the Chiefs beat San Diego AND have the Browns beat Baltimore, but … whatever; they're still in contention and that makes this a difficult matchup).
Joe from Ponte Vedra, FL:
John, Blake Bortles not only made big-time plays with his arm and legs against Tennessee, he did so while injured. His performance showed a lot of intestinal fortitude. I'm wondering if it solidified his status as a leader with that young offensive group?
John: It sure didn't hurt.
Pete from Jacksonville Beach:
I went to the Thursday Night game; television really is no substitute for going to the game. One of the things I noticed was two of Blake's sacks were on passes that looked like he was going to a quick slant. He just stood and didn't pass it and … boom, he was down. Were the sacks technically his fault since he didn't unload the ball in a timely manner?
John: Assessing blame and fault, though fun and satisfying on some sort of basic "gut" level, often is tricky when it comes to evaluating sacks. Often, a sack can be attributed to different areas, and that's true of the type of plays to which you refer. Ideally, you would like to have the line give the quarterback a touch more time so that a slight hesitation doesn't automatically lead to a sack; at the same time, it is the quarterback's job on a slant to get rid of the pass on time because that's what the play is – a timing play. But overall … yeah, those are the kinds of sacks coaches are discussing when they say a sack isn't always all on the offensive line. An experienced quarterback getting rid of the ball either for completions or timely "dirted" balls can greatly improve offensive efficiency and reduce sacks.
Omar from Duval:
Is Jeremiah George a core young middle linebacker to bring up behind Paul Posluszny? Or is he a practice-squad player forever?
John: Right now, he's neither. He's a backup behind J.T. Thomas.
Justin from Jacksonville:
I've resisted the idea that this team is probably better than last year's team, but I think you're right, John. Particularly considering this team has regularly started four-to-five rookies on offense in place of veterans last season, this team is better and has a chance to continue improving. This offseason is absolutely pivotal. (More-so than most).
John: I've said all season that this team is better than last year's, and aside from victories and losses, that clearly has been the case. People like winning, and they also have short memories, so it's easy to forget that except for four victories this team rarely was competitive last season – particularly against better teams. This year, the Jaguars have had long stretches of playing good teams very, very tough. That's the progress the Jaguars expected this season. While losing remains frustrating, that progress is significant. As far as the importance of the offseason … it's big. I don't know if it's bigger than any other, but it's important.
Jamie from an Oil Rig in the Gulf of Mexico:
Out of these players – Julius Thomas, Justin Houston, Kam Chancelor, Bobby Wagner, and an offensive lineman of your choice (you pick) – who if any do you see the Jags targeting in free agency this offseason? I understand you're not a big fan of free agency but since we have so much cap space this year, I would like your thoughts on this one.
John: If the players you mention were free agents, I'd be a far bigger fan of the process. That probably won't be the case. It will probably be the case that far lesser players are available in free agency, and until I know those names there's really not much to project.
Cody from Lancaster, OH:
Teams know the Jaguars don't throw the ball downfield very often for whatever reason, but when Blake Bortles is given the chance those plays more often than not result in big gains and moving the chains. So, why aren't they doing it? Short throws only move the ball a short distance and give more chances of turnovers since teams load the box and expect short throws.
John: The Jaguars don't throw the ball downfield often for a fairly specific reason. It's hard to successfully throw downfield in the NFL. You need a combination of many things to go right, particularly receivers getting open and offensive linemen holding blocks to make it happen. Often, throwing downfield works best off play action, and that means having established at least the threat of the run. The Jaguars haven't always had receivers getting open and they sure always haven't given Blake Bortles a whole lot of time to go downfield. The running game also hasn't always been effective enough to make play-action effective. It's not as if all of those things mean you should never try to go downfield, but many people seem to think it hasn't occurred to the Jaguars or offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch that throwing downfield might be a cool, productive thing to do. I assure you it's something they want to do, but there's a bit more to it than simply winding up and hurling the ball downfield.
Jeremy from Andover, KS:
In the last two decades, every Super Bowl head coach had 12 or more wins in their first two years as an NFL head coach except Dick Vermeil (nine wins) and Jimmy Johnson (eight wins). Assuming the Jags beat the Texans (although unlikely), Gus Bradley will have to lead this team to historical level improvements to reach a Super Bowl. Do the Jags truly believe in him that much? It seems like an awful lot of faith when the odds of history are stacked against you that much.
John: You've done some admirable research, and these sorts of statistics are fun to read until you realize that every coach that wins a Super Bowl gets there differently. And all of their franchises had different stories and different paths. I get a lot of emails with historical themes that want to study what former Super Bowl winners have done and how they have gotten there. What most fail to note is that this Jaguars build is unique in that it was essentially a complete overhaul. They started at a place where they were younger and less talented than just about every team in the NFL. When you start there, it takes longer to start the process of crawling out. So long as the Jaguars improve and so long as players continue to play for Bradley – and both of things continued to happen this season – there's no indication that Jaguars will stop believing in Bradley, nor should they.
Duran from Rapid City, SD:
I think it's hard for most fans to get excited about line play, but if you watch the way Brandon Linder just manhandles people at the line, it's impressive considering he's just a rook. He seems to have a lot of strength in his hands and doesn't like to be moved.
John: You're right.
Frank from Mount Vernon, IL:
After watching A Football Life with McCardell and Smith, it reminded me of how awesome the Jags were back then. I had to fight back the tears remembering those times and going to those games. Here's looking to the future, when the Jags will shine again! I believe we are finally on the right track. I just hope it happens sooner rather than later. DTWD!
John: Yeah, if you were a Jaguars fan I imagine it was hard to watch it without getting choked up. I covered those teams, and it gave me a few chills. So much younger then.
Andy from St. Johns, FL:
John, you have answered eight of my questions this year. If you answer one more question by the end of the year, it triggers a bonus. What do you plan on getting me?
John: Nice try … wait … darn.
Sam from Duval:
Hey Zone, do you think the Jags could go after a big-name tight end in the offseason? (Julius Thomas, Jordan Cameron.......) Is there any chance?
John: Sure, if one of those guys is available, I think there's a chance the Jaguars go after him. Shoot, if Cameron Jordan is available, he might even be on the radar, too. We'll see.
Ralph from San Marco:
I am bummed. Where are the O-Zone videos? Have I overlooked them? Was it decided the last ender was the ender? Inquiring minds want to know!!
John: Patience shall be rewarded, Ralph.
Daniel from Jersey City, NJ:
Dance O'Man, just Dance.
John: K.

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