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O-Zone: Lighting it up

JACKSONVILLE – Let’s get to it …

Zain from Orlando, FL

I think fans had extremely high expectations of this defense; part of it was fanning and part of it was all the talk coming from the team, its players and media. Almost a full season later, this defense has underperformed - and you've given us a few good reasons why. But unexplained is how "un-clutch" this defense has been this year. How many fourth-quarter drives has the defense given up with the game in the balance – either to lose the game or get the ball back for a chance to win? This was one of the calling cards of last year's defense (until the Pittsburgh and New England games last year, of course) - not just consistency, or turnover production, but clutch-ness. That piece has nothing to do with the offense - at least in comparison to last year's. Any thoughts on this Zone?

It's fair to think the Jaguars have been “un-clutch” defensively; the unit could have played better in big moments at times this season. It’s also fair to remember that the defense has allowed 16, 20, 20 and nine points in losses this season. In all those games – losses to Washington, Houston, Pittsburgh and Tennessee – the defense played well enough to win, but the offense didn’t score enough to give the defense leads. Defenses in the modern NFL can only hold opponents down for so long and so often. Case in point: You could consider the defensive performance against Washington “un-clutch” because the Redskins scored 10 points in the fourth quarter. Had the Jaguars scored 21 or 24 points in that game, those 10 fourth-quarter points would have been considered mop-up points and hardly discussed at all.

Scott from Fernandina Beach, FL

Hi, John: There has been speculation that the Jags could/would/should move on from running back Leonard Fournette. I hope not, but if so, I hope they don't part ways with Carlos Hyde. I would like one of the two to be on this team.

OK.

Bob from Sumter, SC

In your opinion who are the players the organization considers core players given that there could be a lot of changes this offseason?

Cornerback Jalen Ramsey and defensive end Yannick Ngakoue pretty much for sure. Beyond, there’s not a lot for sure.

David from Section 236

Regarding not going back to quarterback Blake Bortles – particularly in the second half of the loss to the Redskins – I'd sure love more than you answering, "Sometimes it’s time to move on." I get why you move on to try younger talent (Ronnie Harrison instead of Barry Church at strong safety), for some "fresh air/spark" (Blake, originally), or because of a nagging injury and/or perhaps to send a message (Fournette), but by now I don't see which of those still apply at quarterback. Instead, for the last home game we all paid good money, went to the stadium and were subjected to what by then everyone knew was not an NFL quarterback even at his best (unlike Blake, at his best). Thanks.

I understand the desire for to hear a better answer than “sometimes it’s time to move on,” but in the case of Bortles … sometimes it really is just time to move on.

Lynne from Jacksonville

When Blake was playing, he was blamed for EVERYTHING. Now Kessler plays the same way and all of a sudden the real reason Bortles didn't play well is the exact same reasons. Kessler is on the ground wayyyyy more than Blake ever was and Kessler throws very few balls downfield. Yet, when Bortles did it all hell would break loose. If we really are ridiculous enough to lose Blake, he will move right up to the Steelers and get a Super Bowl ring. Jaguars Owner Shad Khan, please DON'T let Blake go. We just got him ready to be a REAL franchise quarterback. Our team will never be the same without him. I have been a fan since Day 1. I will always love my Jags and Blake Bortles. Fight for it, Blake. You can do this man!

Hey … one really, really, really, really – and perhaps a bit unreasonably – for Blake!

Travis from Ormond Beach, FL

Hey, John: I was thinking about the running game's struggles and it seems to me the last time they ran well was the Buffalo game – all the way up to when Norwell was lost for the year. Coincidence or was he that key to the ground game?

Losing left guard Andrew Norwell hurt. Fournette also hasn’t been as effective in two games since being suspended the week after the Buffalo game. It’s rarely one thing in the NFL, and this issue isn’t either.

Nick from Annapolis, MD

I was a big advocate against Lamar Jackson coming out of college, partly because of the injury concern for running quarterbacks. Still, it looks like the Baltimore Ravens might be on to something with Jackson. Over the past five-to-ten years, the effectiveness of quarterback runs seems to be on the rise. The way Baltimore is using Jackson appears to be working, and it appears he has been coached very well about running smart enough to avoid taking direct hits. He is basically tackling himself on most of his runs. Do you think this is the future, or is the availability of quarterbacks with great running ability and strong arms just not big enough? I'm a traditional guy myself, but it’s certainly intriguing to watch. He's averaging 4.9 yards per carry when everyone knows he wants to run the ball.

Running quarterbacks indeed are having more success than was the case perhaps 10-to-15 seasons ago – and Jackson has been effective as a rookie. Russell Wilson, though a far more advanced pocket passer than Jackson, also is very effective extending plays for the Seattle Seahawks. Still, when it comes to long-term effectiveness the ideal remains a quarterback who can win from the pocket – or who looks to pass first with escapability as a supplemental quality (Wilson). Until it works long-term, I’ll always be skeptical of selecting a quarterback who leans heavily on running first in the first round of the NFL Draft. The probability of injury – and the accompanying decline in effectiveness – is too great.

Paul from Jacksonville

I understand the Jaguars’ offense can't block for the easy stuff right now, can't block straight ahead runs, can't pass block etc. If you can't do the simple stuff, coaches are hesitant to open the playbook. However, it seems to me if you can't pass block or run block isn't time to move the pocket? To try to catch defenses over pursuing with reverses, jet sweeps, flea flickers, etc.? We might not score (we don't now) but we'd at least be fun to watch.

Would we?

Chris from Mandarin, FL

Just how lost is Fournette right now? I saw him make an incredible cutback Sunday at the line and broke away up the sideline. He looked to had room to get the ball to at least the 30 or 25 if he just kept running straight. Instead, he displayed uncommonly poor field vision once again and gets tackled near the 45. He normally picks the wrong holes at the line of scrimmage, but this play was alarming. He seems like he plays slow. What is going on?

Fournette does seem to have lost some confidence in the last couple of games. He played really well for a couple of games and hasn’t played well since returning from his one-game suspension. It’s fair to assume the offensive-line injuries aren’t helping his cause. What’s going on beyond that? Fair question.

Gabe from Chapel Hill, NC

The 2019 draft will be huge for this franchise. Is it fair to say that General Manager David Caldwell has not done well enough to merit another Top-5-to-top-10 selection? Also, #FreeMattScott

It’s fair for you to think that. What will matter is whether or not Khan and Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin think that.

Ryan from Dallas, TX

Can you explain the "healthy scratch"? What exactly does that mean? Is that decided by the player, the coaches, or both?

A healthy scratch refers to a player who is healthy being one of a team’s seven game-day inactives. It’s typically decided by coaches. Healthy scratches are often players lower on the depth chart who weren’t expected to be active; when that’s the case, it’s not news. Sometimes, when the decision involves more established players such as Jaguars strong safety Barry Church or running back Carlos Hyde in recent weeks, it’s more noteworthy.

Rocky from Jagsville

Zone, I read the O-Zone every day, as much to get entertained and have a chuckle to stay up on the pulse of the Jags and their incredibly diverse fans. Keep up the good work and thanks for being you ... you know ... you light up my life.... you are the king of all funk. Oh, sorry … it was getting away from me there. Thanks brother dude man!

Good eye.

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